The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion ‘Fox & Friends’: No longer reliable Trump bootlickers

President Trump speaks at an agricultural bill signing in Washington on Dec. 20, 2018. (Jim Young/Reuters)
Placeholder while article actions load

“Fox & Friends” may never relinquish its spot as the most friendly set in all of television news for President Trump. Had the president merely tuned in to the opening moments of Friday’s edition, he would have been delighted to soak in the skewering extended to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who’d scolded Trump himself in a televised Oval Office showdown this month that he didn’t have the votes in the House for border-wall funding.

Well, the House just voted for border-wall funding, prompting “Fox & Friends” to replay that famous video of Pelosi. After it ran, co-host Brian Kilmeade said, “She was totally wrong. She must feel humiliated today.”

But moments later, the topic switched from domestic policy to foreign policy, specifically the news that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis would be leaving his post next year -- a story that broke just after Trump surprised Washington by announcing a military withdrawal from Syria. Kilmeade’s opinion on that one sounded far less laudatory of the president:

We now have Rand Paul as secretary of defense and secretary of state. This is Rand Paul’s foreign policy. . . . This is Rand Paul getting to the president saying, 'Pull out everybody. We don’t want to waste any money and time and have any influence. . . . If we wanted to elect Rand Paul, he would have gotten nine votes nationally. He can be secretary of state for Kentucky, that’s it. The president of the United States is looking past all of his advisers and going with Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul. If you’re okay with that, congratulations. That’s the foreign policy.

And that was just in the 6 a.m. hour.

Follow Erik Wemple's opinionsFollow

In the 7 a.m. hour, Kilmeade and his fellow couch-sitters welcomed White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to talk things through. The troop withdrawal from Syria was still, quite clearly, on Kilmeade’s mind: “He’s giving Russia a big win. Vladimir Putin praised him. He also is doing exactly what he criticized President Obama for doing. He said, ‘President Obama is the founder of ISIS.’ He just refounded ISIS because they got 30,000 men there and they’re already striking back with our would-be evacuation. . . . He’s really on the griddle with this.”

Sanders disagreed, and with pretty good reason. To aver that a U.S. president founded ISIS, after all, is a foolish and slanderous claim whether it’s applied to Obama or Trump.

Even so, Trump officials don’t come on “Fox & Friends” to get criticized, though that is starting to happen. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo must have been asking himself, “Can’t I get some ‘Fox & Friends’ softballs?” when he was grilled about the administration’s unconscionable foreign-policy response to the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. That interview drew congratulatory remarks from the “Morning Joe” duo over at MSNBC. There have been several other widely noted instances in which the program -- chiefly Kilmeade -- has taken issue with Trump stuff.

On Tuesday, the “Fox & Friends” crew teamed up on Trump over his apparent flop on the threat to shut down the government if he didn’t get funding for his wall. In a chat with White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, Kilmeade said, “The president has no leverage.” Conway disagreed. The voices of discontent on “Fox & Friends” helped to spark a rebellion against a wall-less package.

Skepticism toward the president on “Fox & Friends” grinds against a long history of bonhomie with Trump. Starting in 2011, the program welcomed Trump every Monday morning for call-in sessions, which would be better described as “free advertising.” Earlier this year, the Erik Wemple Blog slogged through hours of these sessions on the Internet TV News Archive, gasping at how frequently the hosts recycled Trump talking points, hyped his future as a possible presidential candidate, promoted his brand and projects and otherwise assisted in cementing him as an authority with the Fox News audience. On numerous occasions, Trump has praised the crew.

The Erik Wemple Blog asked Fox News for an interview with Kilmeade, though we haven’t heard back from the network. In remarks to the Hollywood Reporter’s Jeremy Barr in October, Kilmeade said of his critiques: “If they can find something that’s negative toward President Trump, it’s huge news. If I overgeneralize, it’s huge news," he said.

So now “Fox & Friends” is practicing occasional journalism vis-a-vis Trump. We’ll be sending no notes of congratulation to “Fox & Friends” for doing what others have been doing for years. Yet the impact could be something to behold: Trump-favoring voters, pundits, politicians, etc., may decide that if “Fox & Friends” is no longer making excuses for the inexcusable -- or ignoring it -- then they should stop as well. And if Trump finds this sort of dissonance on “Fox & Friends,” where will he turn for his early-morning propaganda fix? Reruns of “Hannity”?