For several minutes during Tuesday's telecast, “Fox & Friends” displayed alternating graphics on the lower third of the screen.
One told viewers that President Trump had denied a Washington Post report that he revealed classified information to Russian diplomats during a meeting in the Oval Office last week. The other said that Trump had defended his right to make the disclosure.
This, of course, made zero sense. Either Trump did not share classified info or he did and was allowed to do so because the president has broad declassification authority. Both things cannot be true, however.
In case you're wondering, the second graphic was accurate; the first was flat-out wrong. The White House initially trotted out national security adviser H.R. McMaster to read a non-denial denial to reporters Monday night, but the president never said that The Post's report was untrue.
On the contrary, he tacitly confirmed its accuracy on Twitter on Tuesday morning, saying that he had “the absolute right” to share information with Russia.
What's striking here is that “Fox & Friends” offered viewers two avenues through which they could deny the seriousness of The Post's report. Would you like to believe that the story is false? We have a graphic for that! Would you prefer to acknowledge that the report is true but believe it is no big deal because the president can do what he wants? We have a graphic for that, too! Never mind the contradiction.
This is the kind of willful abandonment of logic you see at Infowars, the site run by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. I mean, literally the exact same abandonment of logic.
The Infowars homepage cycled through conflicting articles Tuesday morning. One, quoting McMaster, labeled the Post report false; another said that Trump had legally disclosed classified information.
Elsewhere in the conservative press, the strategy seemed to be to treat the president's disclosure as a minor story. According to the Drudge Report and Breitbart News, the big news of the day is that a private investigator says he has evidence that Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was communicating with WikiLeaks before he was shot to death in the summer.
Rich's family issued a statement saying it has seen no evidence to support the private investigator's claim.
On its website, Fox News also presented Rich as the lead story of the day.
To the extent that Trump's disclosure of classified information was covered by conservative news outlets, the focus was generally on the scourge of unnamed sources leaking to the press.
The lazy analysis here is that Drudge, Breitbart, Infowars and the like will do anything to defend Trump. Yet that is not quite right.
As I have noted on several occasions, some of Trump's biggest boosters in the media have started to grumble about his lack of follow-through on campaign promises. Witness this Sunday night tweet by Ann Coulter:
Notice that the things bothering Coulter are all policy-related. The Post's report on Trump's disclosure to Russia might reinforce worries about his temperament, but Coulter has never cared about temperament. She wants a wall. She wants deportations. She wants budget cuts. That is the stuff Coulter and her peers on the right side of the press care about. That is the stuff they will hold Trump accountable for.
The other thing to remember is that disdain for the mainstream media was a core tenet of the conservative media long before Trump entered politics. When The Washington Post (or the New York Times, CNN, etc.) breaks a big story — any big story — the default response is to attack it.
Unless a report documents Trump's failure to deliver something he pledged to his base, the conservative press is going to shoot at it.