The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In Trump’s right-wing media universe, it was a day like any other

Here’s a look at Fox News’s coverage of the day Paul Manafort was convicted, Michael Cohen plead guilty, and a missing Iowa college student was found. (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

It’s Tuesday afternoon. Imagine, for a moment, that President Trump logs on to Twitter. News is breaking that could prove existential for his presidency. But his social media feed hardly records the magnitude of the developments.

Instead, a link from Sean Hannity of Fox News appears, announcing the intention of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, to enter a guilty plea but omitting the fact that Cohen’s admission implicates the president. A minute later, another link from Hannity comes through, this one about a former congressional IT staffer targeted by conspiracy theories cooked up by right-wing media and advanced by the president.

Trump’s carefully curated feed is a reflection of the ideological chasm that’s dividing the media and splintering society. Tuesday offered vivid evidence of the way in which right-wing media insulates Trump, and his most devoted supporters, from blunt assessments of his administration.

There were examples across social media, television, talk radio and conservative websites.

Alongside a Daily Caller story about Cohen were laudatory posts about Trump, from the president’s defense of free speech to his status as “the most feminist president.” TheBlaze gave prominence to Trump’s attacks on ESPN for not “defending our anthem,” foregrounding the president’s grievances with NFL players who kneel during the national anthem to protest police violence.

Meanwhile, conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh asserted that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III isn’t interested in what Trump’s former attorney has to say.

“Remember, Mueller passed off the Michael Cohen case,”  he said.

In one hour on Aug. 21, the presidency of Donald Trump was dramatically altered with the conviction of Paul Manafort and the guilty plea of Michael Cohen. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

But it was the president’s own universe on Twitter that became perhaps the starkest illustration of the alternative account that exists of his presidency.

As the afternoon rolled on, and a jury found Paul Manafort, Trump’s onetime campaign chairman, guilty of eight counts of fraud, the president’s feed presented him with commentary exculpating him of wrongdoing.

Also on offer to the president was an announcement from his own White House about business confidence and a supportive message from Donald Trump Jr. If he went online shortly before 4 p.m., the only “BREAKING NEWS” alert he would have seen was the one from Fox about the 24-year-old undocumented immigrant from Mexico who law enforcement officials say killed Mollie Tibbetts, the 20-year-old college student who disappeared last month in Iowa. The story led Fox’s homepage much of the day.

Alarm over the student’s death dominated the president’s feed, which has been replicated by the account @trumps_feed, created by The Washington Post’s Philip Bump. “OUTRAGE!” steamed Laura Ingraham. The only message the Fox News host posted about Tuesday’s legal outcomes was an opinion column criticizing CNN for seeking the names of the jurors in the Manafort trial.

Some of the early information available to Trump on social media about Cohen and Manafort arrived with the spin of Ann Coulter, the conservative commentator. She labeled the guilty plea “100% political” and asserted without evidence, as the president has often done, that it was actually Hillary Clinton who colluded with the Russians during the 2016 campaign.

Nowhere on Trump’s Twitter feed could he find the conclusions of others in the media that Tuesday was unparalleled in possible peril for his administration.

“No day during President Trump’s 19 months in office could prove as dangerous or debilitating as Tuesday,” wrote Dan Balz of The Washington Post. Gerald F. Seib of the Wall Street Journal called Tuesday “the darkest day of the Trump presidency so far.” CNN’s Anderson Cooper judged, “we have not seen a day quite like this.”

As Trump’s proponents denounced the “Mueller Witch Hunt,”  #TeamStormy became a rallying cry of the resistance, a way of acknowledging adult-film actress Stormy Daniels (a stage name for Stephanie Clifford), who came forward in January to say that Cohen had paid her $130,000 to stay silent about an alleged affair with Trump.

Clifford, for her part, was quick to declare victory.

Hannity dismissed Tuesday’s news as a bloodthirsty campaign against the president.

“The media is once again beside themselves with false reporting, speculation and hysteria,” he said. Hannity maintained that the wrongdoing targeted by prosecutors had “zero to do with Donald Trump or the Trump campaign” but was seized on by Mueller to smear the president.

“Is this not now the witch hunt the president has been saying, an attempt to turn the screws?” Hannity asked. The host said this was “persecution,” not “prosecution.”

Trump echoed Hannity’s verdict.

“It doesn’t involve me, but I still feel — you know, it’s a very sad thing that happened,” he said in Charleston, W.Va., where he arrived Tuesday evening to stump for a Republican candidate for Senate. “This has nothing to do with Russian collusion. This started as Russian collusion. This has absolutely nothing to do — this is a witch hunt, and it’s a disgrace.”

Given his media diet, he hardly could have concluded differently.

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