The centrality of Fox News to President Trump’s politics is by now well-established. From his weekly gig on “Fox and Friends” in the years before he announced his candidacy to his reliance on the network once he was inaugurated, Trump has shown that his political philosophy guides and is guided by what airs on Fox News and Fox Business.
On many mornings, Trump’s first tweets are directly related to whatever is airing or has recently aired on “Fox and Friends,” a pattern so firmly cemented at this point that the default assumption on any given morning is that if Trump is suddenly tweeting about an unexpected topic, it was covered on Fox News within the prior hour. But often Trump leaves no question about that link, directly mentioning Fox News or “Fox and Friends” in his tweets.
We looked at 135 examples of his doing so over the course of 2018, including only tweets with such direct mentions (and excluding tweets where he mentions specific Fox News hosts that he happens to be watching). Thirty-four of those tweets were plugs for upcoming Fox New coverage, usually interviews with himself or his allies. Thirty-nine, though, were tweets amplifying Fox’s coverage of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe into Russian interference or the FBI investigation on which that probe was built. Ten dealt with immigration; 12 with the economy. Another 13 were expressions of thanks for people who appeared on the network to offer praise for Trump.
Often, what Trump was amplifying was incorrect, misleading or something that was short-lived.
Here, for example, was Trump’s first Fox-specific tweet of 2018.
Nearly every part of this is misleading or false. The dossier of reports from former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele mostly includes assertions that haven’t been proved; it hasn’t been “disproven.” It also was not the reason that the FBI began investigating possible coordination between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign; that honor apparently belongs to campaign adviser George Papadopoulos’s admission that he’d been told that Russia had emails incriminating Hillary Clinton. There were no hidden or “smashed” servers from which Democratic National Committee information was stolen. The “missing emails” Trump likes to talk about are ones that were on Clinton’s private email server that were determined by her attorneys not to include information related to her work at the State Department.
Note how much verbiage is needed to rebut Trump’s tweet, spun outward from a question posted by Fox News that’s obviously iffy: The most immediately apparent effect of the FBI’s intervention in the 2016 election was former FBI director James B. Comey’s announcement that the bureau had identified more emails from Clinton’s server.
Less than two hours later, Trump tweeted this:
Setting aside how fascinating it is that Trump cites “Fox and Friends” as the definitive source for data that’s compiled by his own government, this metric soon shifted as apprehensions at the border spiked.
A few days later, this tweet.
Let’s skip ahead to May. A good example of what Trump does with Fox coverage is lift up quotes and add his own context, as he did in the first tweet above.
The FBI, as part of its effort to root out possible coordination between Russian actors and the campaign, investigated several staffers, including Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. That effort included using a confidential informant who reached out to several campaign officials, apparently to figure out what they knew. Trump tried to whip this up into proof that the FBI embedded a spy within his campaign, something he dubbed “spygate.”
That’s also a misrepresentation of what Clapper said.
A good example of how the Fox-Trump cycle works came after the release of an inspector general’s report in June about the FBI’s investigations in 2016.
Trump here lifts up a detail from that report that was hyped in the conservative media, new details involving text messages between two FBI employees, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, which included disparagement of Trump. The Fox headline Trump quotes identifies these as “FBI texts,” which is obviously broad. Trump insists that this is the story that the “Fake News” doesn’t want to cover.
Let’s step aside here to raise the important and obvious point about why Trump focuses so heavily on Fox News.
The Internet Archive’s database of closed-captioning on cable-news networks allows us to visualize how much each network covers certain topics. Like “Strzok,” that FBI agent involved in the text-message exchange. Here’s the breakdown of coverage by network.
Over the past year, Fox New mentioned Strzok five times as frequently as MSNBC and more than four times as much as CNN. Republicans on Capitol Hill — and, in particular, Republicans loyal to Trump — have insisted that the Strzok text messages are at the heart of an FBI conspiracy focused on undermining Trump’s candidacy and presidency. It serves as a way of counterbalancing and undermining the Mueller probe.
Fox News has embraced it.
Compare that with reports about Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal attorney who in August admitted to committing eight federal crimes, including two campaign-finance crimes in which Trump himself was implicated.
MSNBC mentioned Cohen four times as much as did Fox News. CNN mentioned him more than three times as much.
The graph at the top of this article makes clear why Trump watches Fox News: It talks about what he wants to talk about. Its reporters and guests offer favorable assessments of Trump but also broadly focus on stories that cast him in a favorable light. Economic growth. The North Korea summit. Border security. Trump lifted up quotes from Fox News on each of those subjects over the course of the year.
Here’s a tweet from October.
This is Trump-friendly framing that the president needed only to quote. It’s not really clear what the figure means: Manufacturing jobs fell during Barack Obama’s presidency, following a huge drop during the recession. From the low point of that decline to the end of his presidency, manufacturing gained 916,000 jobs; through September of this year, there had been 385,000 jobs added. But, again, Trump prefers Fox’s framing to his own government’s numbers.
Sometimes Trump credited Fox for things that weren’t Fox’s. In early November, he touted a Fox poll showing that he had a 40 percent approval rating among African Americans. It was a Rasmussen poll that was covered by Fox — and it is a figure that hasn’t come close to being matched by any other pollster. (Rasmussen’s midterm polling in the same period also suggested that Republicans would win more House votes than Democrats.)
At other points, Trump seized on questionable assertions made on Fox News and converted them to administration policy. Most famously, he echoed host Tucker Carlson’s assertions about South African farmers:
We can end our review with this tweet, also from July.
Here, Trump is arguing that the FBI’s warrant to surveil campaign adviser Carter Page was “illegal” because it included information from the Steele dossier. Trump quotes at length “Fox and Friends” host Pete Hegseth, someone whom Trump at one point considered for a position in his administration.
On Monday, Fox News issued details about its New Year’s Eve coverage: Trump would ring in 2019 with an interview on its flagship network.
The interviewer would be Pete Hegseth.