Embattled Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt may have made some poor decisions about lodging and travel, but he also might have made a very smart one as he attempts to save his job: appearing on Fox News.
It is there, on the air of President Trump's favorite network, that Pruitt may have had his best opportunity to capture Trump's attention and win the president's favor.
A Thursday night report by The Washington Post's Josh Dawsey casts Fox News's influence over Trump in sharp relief:
Aides sometimes plot to have guests make points on Fox that they have been unable to get the president to agree to in person. “He will listen more when it is on TV,” a senior administration official said.
That's a remarkable statement, yet it is totally consistent with observable trends. The president's musings on Twitter are often inspired by what he views on Fox News and sometimes translate into action. This week, for example, a “Fox & Friends” segment about immigration appeared to trigger a chain of events that began with furious tweets and culminated in a directive to guard the U.S.-Mexico border with National Guard troops.
Trump plucked his next national security adviser, former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, from Fox News. White House director of strategic communications Mercedes Schlapp is a former Fox News commentator. The No. 4 official at the State Department is now Heather Nauert, originally hired from “Fox & Friends” to be the department's spokeswoman.
Trump recently considered another “Fox & Friends” personality, Pete Hegseth, to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs and previously eyed Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham and Kimberly Guilfoyle as candidates for White House press secretary.
It has long been apparent that Fox News is a forum where hosts and guests can deliver messages to the president. He sometimes quotes and praises people he has seen on the network's shows and counts Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch and prime-time star Sean Hannity among his informal advisers. Trump dined with Hannity at Mar-a-Lago last Friday, and the two golfed on Saturday.
Still, an administration official's claim that Trump is more receptive to information he sees on TV than he is to material presented in person is a testament to how powerful Fox News has become.
The downside for Pruitt is that this week's appearance on Fox News did not go as well as he might have hoped. Interviewer Ed Henry reminded Pruitt — and perhaps a certain viewer in the Oval Office — that Pruitt once called Trump an “empty vessel.” Pruitt also struggled to answer questions about his sweetheart deal to rent a room on Capitol Hill for just $50 per night, prompting stern fact-checks by Henry, such as this one:
HENRY: You're renting it from the wife of a lobbyist.
PRUITT: Who has no business before this agency.
HENRY: Hold on a second. [The lobbyist, J. Steven] Hart is at Williams & Jensen — major lobbying firm. ExxonMobil is a client.
Pruitt was wise to make his case on Fox News. Whether he impressed Trump, who likely tuned in, is another matter, however.