The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The White House and Fox join forces to undermine anti-Trump protests as violent and fake

Fox News’s “Fox and Friends” has quickly emerged as a stalwart advocate for the presidency of Donald Trump. This may be due in part to the fact that Trump watches the show with regularity — so much so that a visual gag from the show about Trump flickering the lights of the White House at the hosts’ request went viral last week simply out of believability.

Part of that defense of the beleaguered president has been to dismiss the protests against him as harmful, violent and artificial. Consider this remarkable snippet from Monday morning’s show.

“Violent protests like this,” the host says over footage from last week’s violence in Berkeley, Calif., “not only disgusting but also dangerous. Now rioters protesting the president’s immigration order are accused of blocking an ambulance carrying a critically ill patient in Connecticut.”

It is true that a protest in Connecticut blocked a highway, delaying that ambulance. The patient lived, happily. But a local NBC affiliate showed what that protest looked like:

On “Fox and Friends,” this was a group of “rioters,” participating in “violent protests like” the one in Berkeley last week.

Blocking a highway is illegal, and the leader of the protest was arrested. But this is much more “civil disobedience” than “rioting.”

The day after that protest in Berkeley, we saw “Fox and Friends” hauling the same load. Alongside footage of crowds mingling next to a bonfire in California, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway lumped the violent protesters together with protesters at airports, suggesting that they all shared a collective misunderstanding of the president.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer appeared on the show on Monday to undercut the protests in a different way.

“Do you sense,” host Brian Kilmeade asks, “instead of being an organic disruption, do you sense that there is an organized pushback and people are being paid to protest?”

“Oh, absolutely,” Spicer replied. “I mean, protesting has become a profession now. They have every right to do that, don’t get me wrong. But I think we need to call it what it is. It’s not these organic uprisings that we have seen over the last several decades. The tea party was a very organic movement. This has become a very paid, Astroturf-type movement.”

First of all, it is true that there are organizations that are helping to organize protests against Trump. The millions of people who turned out nationally on Jan. 21 were participating in something that began with an idea from a woman in Hawaii. But progressive groups certainly helped encourage attendance and awareness of what was happening.

It is also true that this happened during the tea party movement. Groups such as Americans for Prosperity and Freedomworks helped encourage awareness and turnout for rallies in support of the movement. Those who came out in support of the effort did so motivated by their own enthusiasm, certainly, but the movement was encouraged by established organizations.

If Spicer were simply noting that progressive groups were encouraging the protests, that would be one thing. But he’s clearly conflating that institutional support with the protesters themselves being paid. Kilmeade asks explicitly if that’s happening and Spicer says, “absolutely.” (Notice that it’s “Fox and Friends”‘ host who’s raising the issue.)

There’s no evidence at all that any significant portion of the attendees at the various protests we’ve seen over the last month have been paid. We can’t prove the negative that none were, of course, any more than we can prove that no tea party protesters were paid. But there’s simply no basis for the idea that the recent turnout has been a function of “professional” protesters.

This argument centers on the same idea as that espoused by Trump on Monday morning: Opposition to his presidency is phony. Whatever your views of the president, that’s not the case, just as it’s not the case that all of the protests are violent riots.

The question that follows, then, is a simple one: Why is “Fox and Friends” pretending that it is?

Protesters in cities across the nation rallied against President Trump's entry ban executive order on Feb. 4. (Video: Thomas Johnson/The Washington Post)