(Still image/CNN)

CNN’s Brian Stelter aired a video Sunday drawing a clear line between the rhetoric used by President Trump and the rhetoric that airs on Fox News Channel.

The segment paired comments from Fox News hosts with comments Trump made during a bilateral news conference at his Mar-a-Lago resort last week. Sean Hannity blames special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation on the Democrats in January; Trump makes the same claim in April. And so on.

“Fox said it first; the president said it second,” Stelter said.

But the video got that causality entirely backward — at least in terms of the quotes in the video.

It begins with the following pairing.

Hannity, Jan. 23: “The conspiracy theory that was cooked up by the Obama administration, by Democrats.”
Trump, last week: “Really a hoax, created largely by the Democrats.”

Crediting Hannity with originating the idea three months ago that the investigation of Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential campaign was a partisan hoax is completely unwarranted. Trump has been calling the investigation a hoax and a “witch hunt” for more than a year.

To wit:

That tweet also rebuts the next segment in the CNN video.

Hannity, Jan. 23: “As an excuse for why Hillary Clinton lost the election. That was never supposed to happen.”
Trump: “Softening the blow of a loss which, frankly, is a loss they shouldn’t have had.”

Trump makes the argument that the investigation is an excuse for Clinton’s loss constantly.

And so on.

Hannity, Jan. 23: “The FBI never was actually able to look at the DNC’s servers.”
Trump: “Their server! The DNC server was never gotten by the FBI. Why didn’t the FBI take it?”

Here, too, Trump led on the argument.

Brian Kilmeade, April 2: “The Robert Mueller investigation is tearing this country apart.”
Trump: “It is a bad thing for our country. Very, very bad thing for our country.”

Trump said the investigations of Russian interference are tearing the country apart in February on Fox.

“A lot of people are tearing our nation apart on this and other subjects,” he said about Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and the House investigation of interference. “They are tearing our nation apart.”

He has called the investigations “bad for our country” several times. He said it in January (“When you’ve done nothing wrong, let’s be open and get it over with because, honestly, it’s very, very bad for our country”). He said it in an interview with Sinclair Broadcasting’s Sharyl Attkisson in November (“I’ve been watching this for, how long, has it been a year? It’s very unfair. It’s very bad for our country.”) And, of course, he said it on Twitter.

Tucker Carlson, April 16: “There was no collusion. Everybody knows that; everybody’s always known that.
Trump: “There has been no collusion. They won’t find any collusion. It doesn’t exist.”

This, honestly, is one of the most baffling links in the CNN video. Trump said there’s no collusion well over 100 times, as we tallied in January.


Giving Fox News credit for this would be like giving Trump credit for originating the expression “fair and balanced.”

Abby Huntsman, March 25: “His administration is actually doing some pretty tough things against Russia.”
Trump: “There’s been nobody tougher on Russia than President Donald Trump.”

Again, Trump’s argument that he has been the toughest on Russia easily predates Fox News’s.

Hannity, March 28: “Trump is now getting tough on Russia. The mainstream media is now spinning in circles. Didn’t they claim he’d never get tough on Russia?”
Trump: “With the media, no matter what I did, it’s never tough enough because that’s their narrative.”

This one is less clear. Less than a month after taking office, Trump himself argued that he shouldn’t be tough on Russia.

“It would be much easier for me to be tough on Russia, but then we’re not going to make a deal,” he said during a bilateral news conference. “I don’t know that we’re going to make a deal. I don’t know. We might. We might not. But it would be much easier for me to be so tough — the tougher I am on Russia, the better. But you know what? I want to do the right thing for the American people. And to be honest, secondarily, I want to do the right thing for the world.”

In other words, that was Trump’s “narrative,” too.

The point of all of this is not to debunk CNN’s video, which does indeed show a convergence of what Trump says and what Fox News says. But it’s important to note how that relationship works. Fox News — and Trump’s longtime ally Hannity in particular — picks up and mimics Trump’s rhetoric, providing a boost to his arguments. That matters in part because Fox News is easily the most-trusted news outlet among Republicans, according to Suffolk University polling.


That, too, is symbiotic: Fans of Trump uninterested in critical coverage place more confidence in a network that is less likely to criticize him.

It’s clear that a large part of Trump’s victory in the Republican primary process was that he parroted the rhetoric he saw on Fox News and Breitbart News. Since his inauguration, though, it has been beneficial to Fox News to repeat what Trump says. The flow of argument goes both directions as Daily Beast’s John Avlon said on Stelter’s show, but in the examples presented by CNN, it’s Trump driving the conversation.