Only hours after a blockbuster report reignited a national conversation about the White House’s cozy relationship with Fox News, President Trump doubled down.
In a string of tweets Monday night, the president unloaded attacks against his usual targets — mainstream media outlets and congressional Democrats seeking to investigate Trump and seemingly every aspect of his business and political dealings.
But on Monday the president landed his digital blows by quoting Fox personalities. Earlier in the day, he pinned a segment from Fox Business Network host Lou Dobbs to his account and wrote, “Presidential Harassment!” Later in the evening, he posted a direct quote from Tucker Carlson before doing the same for close confidant Sean Hannity.
“We the people will now be subjected to the biggest display of modern day McCarthyism....which is the widest fishing net expedition....every aspect of the presidents life....all to get power back so they can institute Socialism.” Trump tweeted, attributing the quote to Hannity, whose show was broadcast as the president fired off the messages.
The presidential Twitter citations essentially underscore the thesis of New Yorker staff writer Jane Mayer’s detailed piece published Monday morning: that the feedback loop between Fox News and the Oval Office has turned the network into an unshakably pro-Trump mouthpiece, with as much influence over the president’s decisions as his close advisers.
“As the President has been beset by scandals, congressional hearings, and even talk of impeachment, Fox has been both his shield and his sword,” Mayer wrote. “The White House and Fox interact so seamlessly that it can be hard to determine, during a particular news cycle, which one is following the other’s lead.”
Trump was apparently aware of the New Yorker report because the president cited Carlson’s own blistering attack on the magazine.
“The American Media has changed forever. News organizations that seemed like a big deal are now extinct. Those that remain have now degraded themselves beyond recognition, like the New Yorker,” Trump wrote, citing Carlson as the speaker.
Mayer, a seasoned investigative reporter who has penned books on topics such as the Anita Hill hearings and the Koch brothers, meticulously tracked the relationship between Trump and Fox News, particularly the affinity between the future president and Rupert Murdoch, the founder of 21st Century Fox and News Corp.
According to Mayer’s reporting, Murdoch recognized Trump was a natural fit for the working-class outrage his network was sparking. The New Yorker piece reports Fox executives were invested in Trump winning the 2016 election, going so far as to reportedly take questionable steps to handicap the Republican campaign.
Citing a “pair of Fox insiders,” Mayer reports how Roger Ailes, then the chairman of the network, tipped Trump off about a question coming his way from then-Fox host Megyn Kelly about the candidate’s comments about women during a 2015 Republican candidate debate in Cleveland. A Fox spokesman denied Trump was tipped off to Mayer. The campaign also denied Trump had prior knowledge of the question.
Mayer also reports that a Fox News reporter had confirmed Trump’s alleged affair and payoff of adult-film star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. The scoop, however, was shot down by Fox News higher-ups. “Good reporting, kiddo. But Rupert wants Donald Trump to win. So just let it go,” a network executive told the reporter, according to Mayer.
The executive — who is no longer with the network — denied he made the comment to the reporter, and later told Mediaite he had killed the story without speaking to network executives or to protect the candidate.
Mayer’s article also notes that it was Ailes’s departure from the network in July 2016 over allegations of sexual misconduct that changed the tenor of Fox News. Ailes enforced a split between news and opinion, insiders told Mayer. After he left, the two sides began to blend.
“The celebrity opinion-show hosts who drive the ratings became unbridled and unopposed,” Mayer writes. “Hannity, as the network’s highest-rated and highest-paid star, was especially empowered — and, with him, so was Trump.”
The crumbling of that barrier represented by Ailes, according to the article, turned Hannity and other network talking heads into surrogates for Trump. Mayer specifically points to a midterm campaign event last November in Cape Girardeau, Mo., when Hannity joined Trump onstage. The event earned Hannity a tepid censure from the network.
“‘Hannity’ is an opinion show, but when he went onstage with Trump he became part of the campaign,” former Fox host Greta Van Susteren told the reporter. “That was an egregious mistake. It was way over the line.”
But the most meaningful ties between the network and the president appear to be in their mirrored messaging. Citing data compiled by the left-leaning watchdog group Media Matters, Mayer reports that Trump has broadcast Fox News items more than 200 times on Twitter since August 2018.
The president has also often directly lifted his talking points from concurrent Fox coverage. Last month, as Hannity assailed former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe on his show, Trump hopped on Twitter and quoted from the host.
“'The biggest abuse of power and corruption scandal in our history, and it’s much worse than we thought. Andrew McCabe (FBI) admitted to plotting a coup (government overthrow) when he was serving in the FBI, before he was fired for lying & leaking.'” @seanhannity @FoxNews Treason!," the president wrote.