So Paul Duncan, 74, scoffs at the notion peddled by front-running Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump that Fox News has been “unfair” to him. “No, I don’t think so. He’s gotten more coverage by being on the ‘Fox & Friends’ TV show in the morning . . . for years than any other candidate has gotten,” says Duncan, who runs a real estate business with 68-year-old Jackie. “What have they done to him?” asks Jackie.
Good question. It’s a touch relevant, too, because yesterday Fox News announced a summit next week between top network executives — including top guy Roger Ailes — and Trump to resolve a spat between the two parties. The meeting follows a strange week in which: Trump ripped Bill O’Reilly’s show for failing to highlight an online NBC News poll showing Trump with a big lead; Trump announced via Twitter a boycott of Fox News because of unfair coverage; and then Fox News announced that Trump’s boycott followed the network’s cancellation of a scheduled appearance.
It’s unclear whether Trump genuinely feels that Fox News has been unfair or whether he has just run out of people and institutions to insult. Whatever the case, the Erik Wemple Blog was eager to hear the thoughts of attendees at the Values Voter Summit, a conference organized by the Christian public policy ministry Family Research Council. At this annual gathering of conservatives, we generally perform extremely unscientific surveys of attitudes toward media. This year, the goal was to see whether Trump had the backing of a key Fox News constituency as he heads into his summit with the network.
No, in a word.
“He’s a slimeball,” says Gary Hafemeister, 67, of Egg Harbor Township, N.J., who’s supporting Sen. Marco Rubio or Sen. Ted Cruz. Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, says Hafemeister, “bend over backwards” for Trump.
Paul Bothwell, 54, a big fan of the “Watters’ World” segments on “The O’Reilly Factor,” says he’s followed the Trump-Fox News brawl. “No, I don’t think they’ve been unfair to him.” How about the Trump allegation that Fox News poses tougher questions to him than the rest of the field? “It’s no different than when George Stephanopoulos asked tough questions of Mitt Romney in the last election,” says Bothwell, who’s with the National Organization for Marriage.
What does Trump expect? “I think that’s just part of being a candidate,” says attendee Anna Pilato. “I think he’s treated the same as any other candidate. They’re reporting the news.”
When asked about this spat, Values Voter attendee Julia DuVall, of Londonderry, N.H., cited the Fox News slogan in defense of the network, “Fair and balanced.” DuVall is another eagle-eyed tracker of Fox News programming. When the Erik Wemple Blog remarked that Trump was unhappy about Fox News’s refusal to pump up an online NBC News survey, the 75-year-old DuVall sprung to the defense of Fox News producers: “No, that’s not true because every day they show the poll that shows him way ahead, way ahead, they do that. See, he’s a liar,” says DuVall, who watches the network “all day long.”
Joe Ryan, a Ben Carson volunteer, was having none of it. “No way,” said Ryan, 80. “He has been unfair to Fox News in my opinion, especially when Megyn Kelly got trashed by him in that first debate. . . . He’s getting mad at all of the media now.”
Frustrated with the lack of Fox News-oriented opinion, the Erik Wemple Blog decided to try a little push-polling in a chat with Values Voter attendee Curren Webb. Don’t you think Fox News has been unfair to Donald Trump? we asked. “I don’t think that’d be true,” responded Webb, 40, of Omaha. “Anytime I’ve watched Fox, they have not, in my opinion, been biased against any of the Republican candidates before.” Webb favors Rick Santorum and says that Trump “had it out for Megyn Kelly from the beginning.”
Trump has polled well among the evangelicals who each year pack the Values Voter confab. A recent poll by none other than Fox News, for example, found that Trump led the pack among “white evangelical Christians voting in the Republican primary” with 29 percent support, eight points ahead of Carson. Fox News itself, of course, wasn’t competing in that poll. If it had, it may well have pounded Trump. Over the years, Fox News has given prominent placement to the concerns and agenda of these reliable Republican voters, and they have responded with high viewer loyalty. A couple of years ago, we found one attendee who watches the Fox News prime-time lineup every night, plus the repeats.
Trump himself made a showing at the Values Voter event today, holding up his Bible for the audience to behold. He started out slamming teleprompter-dependent politicians, then proceeded to give an incoherent presentation. There were a couple of Fox News references, though nothing too savage. Perhaps he doesn’t want to poison his upcoming session with the Fox News brass. Surely his empty set of grievances will accomplish that, however.