At the top of his Wednesday night program, Fox News host Tucker Carlson apprised viewers that the usual script was getting tossed. “The President is speaking to supporters in Greenville, North Carolina. We will be taking portions of it live, especially the newsworthy moments,” said Carlson, as if the network’s producers could predict newsworthiness. “Right now, he is talking about the four radical freshman Democrats, Antifa, and more broadly, the direction the Democrats are moving. We are going to go back and listen in. It’s interesting.”
The “listen in” strategy sure did vacuum up a newsworthy utterance from President Trump: “Better health care. And we’ll also always protect . . . you have to remember this. Are you ready? Because they give us a bum rap,” said Trump. “Patients with preexisting conditions are protected by Republicans much more so than protected by Democrats who will never be able to pull it off.”
As Trump was feeding those lines directly from Greenville to Fox News living rooms around the country, the other two main cable news networks were doing their own thing, together: On CNN, host Anderson Cooper was discussing Trump’s politics of hate; on MSNBC, host Chris Hayes was discussing Trump’s politics of hate. Both of these networks have learned the perils of running the live remarks of a liar.
But Fox News? The more Trump lies, the better. And what a whopper they broadcast on preexisting conditions. Under the landmark health-care law passed during the Obama administration — the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare — "health insurance companies can’t refuse to cover you or charge you more just because you have a ‘pre-existing condition.’” The prohibition on discriminating against people with preexisting conditions — which is a lot of people — proved to be a helpful and popular reform.
Perhaps that’s why the president sought to take credit for it. Falsely, of course. The truth of the situation couldn’t possibly have been more contrary to what he told his rally attendees and Fox News viewers: Republicans fought Obamacare as it bumped its way through Congress in the early years of the Obama administration, and they continued doing so for the balance of the Barack Obama’s two terms in office.
These days, the Trump administration is backing a lawsuit that would invalidate Obamacare and its protections for preexisting conditions.
For the balance of the hour, Carlson continued letting Trump set the agenda, sneaking in a segment about abortion and Planned Parenthood. Once the president finished his remarks, Carlson invited a commentator to marvel at Trump’s extraordinary political instincts.
We’ve asked Fox News if the network ever set the record straight about the health-care lie; how it views these falsehood-filled rallies; and how to balance Trump’s words with fact-checking. We’ll update this post if we receive a response.
Coverage of the Greenville rally focused on another newsworthy moment, when Trump criticized Rep. Ilhan Omar — a Somalia-born U.S. citizen and Democrat who represents Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District — the crowd in Greenville began chanting, “Send her back.” The focus on this un-American and racist moment only thickened on Thursday as Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House, attempted to distance himself from a spectacle of his own making. "I was not happy with it,” he said. “I disagree with it.”
The belated denial extends the shelf life of a story that began on Sunday, when Trump used Twitter to unleash racist attacks against Omar and three other first-term Democratic congresswomen of color. He instructed them to “go back” to their home countries, even though Omar is the only one of the four to have immigrated to the United States.
Amid the quite justified furor over the president’s racism, there has been some attention on what is perhaps the most consequential policy lie of the Trump years. The Associated Press did a fact check rebutting Trump’s claim that Democrats couldn’t “pull it off” when it came to preexisting conditions. “Democrats did pull it off,” noted the fact-check. Speaking on CNN on Wednesday night, Daniel Dale, the network’s recently hired fact-checking ace, busted Trump: “This is extraordinarily false, Don,” said Dale, speaking to host Don Lemon. “This is like up-is-down stuff.” What’s more, noted Dale, Trump and his people have presented no plan in case preexisting conditions protections fall away via a pending federal lawsuit.
But again, “send her back” has flooded the media zone.
The lesson from the foregoing is a disheartening one. A president as prolific in the pursuits of dishonesty and racism and misogyny can generate more awfulness than even a well-staffed national press corps can monitor, contextualize and denounce. During the early days of the Trump White House, this blog asked whether Trump could outlast the media. Days like Thursday suggest the answer is “uh-huh” — with a lot of help and encouragement from Fox News.