For the second time in as many months, President Trump made large-type headlines on Wednesday in a televised session with top congressional lawmakers. “Trump Stuns Lawmakers With Seeming Embrace of Comprehensive Gun Control” read the headline at the New York Times. How thoroughly did the president get behind beefier regulation of firearms? Here: “He called for comprehensive gun control legislation that would expand background checks to weapons purchased at gun shows and on the internet, keep guns from mentally ill people, secure schools and restrict gun sales for some young adults. He even suggested a conversation on an assault weapons ban,” wrote the New York Times.
Fox News was on the case as well. On “The Story with Martha MacCallum” on Wednesday evening, Fox News’s Trace Gallagher reported: “And on the national level during a blunt and often surprising back and forth between the president and a bipartisan group of lawmakers, Mr. Trump appeared to embrace comprehensive gun legislation that would expand background checks, raise the age limit to buy guns, and keep weapons away from the mentally ill. Here is the president talking about the NRA. Watch this back and forth.” The broadcast proceeded to show a clip of Trump accusing a Republican lawmaker of being “afraid” of the National Rifle Association.
That particular Trump went into hiding when Fox News host Sean Hannity got around to addressing the day in gun politics. As he launched into a monologue about the policy response to the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the host highlighted one point that Trump had made in the bipartisan session. “Ninety-eight percent of all mass public shootings in the United States since 1950 have taken place in gun-free zones. It’s terrible. Have you got to have defense, too. You can’t just be sitting ducks. And that is exactly what we have allowed people in these buildings and schools to be,” said Trump in the “Hannity” clip.
And then cable television’s most prominent Trump booster resumed, “The president is so right.” Nifty! Hannity cherry-picked a portion of Trump’s remarks that most align with the Hannity/NRA worldview. And then he did what he does best, which is blast away at gun-control-loving Democrats. In fact, Hannity showed choice clips of various lawmakers voicing support for additional restrictions.
Then he said this: “Maybe these Democrats have already forgotten the complete and utter failure of the bureaucracy.”
Um, the president of the United States apparently succumbed to that variation of amnesia as well. Expanded background checks and the various other measures that Trump advocated in that White House meeting, after all, don’t get accomplished without procedures, regulations, comment periods and so on. Yet committed viewers of “Hannity” might have come away from his program on Wednesday night unaware that those darned Democrats were agreeing quite a bit with the president.
One of the definitions of “gaslighting” stresses the act of “systematically withholding factual information from, and/or providing false information to, the victim — having the gradual effect of making them anxious, confused, and less able to trust their own memory and perception.” Hannity is a champion withholder.
The episode underscores the futility of talking about a single Fox News. There are two or three of them: One is the island of “Fox & Friends,” which has established an early-morning malarkey feedback loop with the president. Another consists of the bona fide news programs headed by folks such as Bill Hemmer, Harris Faulkner, Chris Wallace, Bret Baier and MacCallum; they cover the day’s news. Another is the prime-time contingent of Tucker Carlson, Hannity and Laura Ingraham, where Trumpism in various guises rules the night.
These hosts bring their own quirks to their shows. Carlson, for instance, has the courage to blast away at Trump when he really, really disagrees with him — as he did when Trump, in his January meeting with lawmakers on immigration, expressed too much moderation for the host’s liking. Hannity, on the other hand, apparently prefers a more passive-aggressive response. Just broadcast Trump’s betrayals out of existence, the better to avoid reckoning with the stubborn fact that Trump has no convictions other than that he’s fabulous.
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