With sunrise Tuesday, a new day dawned for Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa). Less than 24 hours prior, the eight-term congressman had been stripped of his committee positions by the new Republican leadership in the 116th Congress, a result of his being unusually careless in espousing his views on white nationalism in an interview with the New York Times last week.
The story had attracted national media attention, with many of his colleagues criticizing the rhetorical question he posed to the Times' Trip Gabriel: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”
President Trump, at least, reserved judgment.
“I haven’t been following it,” Trump said at the White House on Monday. “I really haven’t been following it.”
In one sense, it’s surprising — unbelievable, really — that a president would be unfamiliar with his party’s House caucus punishing a sitting member. Particularly when that president has faced similar criticism about the nature of his rhetoric. But in another sense, it does seem fitting. After all, much of Trump’s awareness of what’s going on in the world is driven by what he sees on Fox News.
On its flagship morning program, “Fox and Friends,” King was mentioned in no fewer than six segments during the 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. hours, according to the monitoring site TVEyes. But of those six segments, only one focused on Steve King the congressman. The other five dealt with Burger King, four of which related to Trump’s having purchased food from the fast food chain for an event at the White House Monday evening.
The fifth mention of Burger King related to a stabbing near one of the chain’s stores allegedly committed by a member of the gang MS-13.
King, the congressman, isn’t exactly a staple of news coverage. Over the past four months, he hasn’t come up much at all, save for the days before the midterm elections when it seemed, correctly, that he faced a stiffer challenge than usual. (MSNBC, perhaps expectedly, was more enthusiastic about this prospect than other networks.)
Note the last several days, though. The data only go through Saturday, so the surge in interest that accompanied his comments and the decision to hold him to account. But that surge is still obvious — at least on CNN and MSNBC.
Compare that to discussion of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who has a remarkable ability to seize the attention of media in general but conservative media in particular. After her election and at the time of her recent appearance on CBS' “60 Minutes,” there was a lot of discussion of Ocasio-Cortez and her policy ideas on the cable networks.
Fox News and Fox Business Network in particular.
On average over the past month, neither Ocasio-Cortez nor King has been a subject of a ton of discussion, but the former is much more likely to come up on the Fox networks and the latter unlikely to have been mentioned much at all through Saturday.
According to TVEyes, King was mentioned once on Sunday and 10 times on Monday on Fox News. On CNN, those figures were 13 and 62; on MSNBC, it was 23 and 29. On Fox Business, he was mentioned once over those two days.
It’s likely that, despite his assertion on Monday, Trump is familiar with King’s comments and the punishment that resulted. (Trump does, after all, have a track record of feigning a lack of awareness of things.) But it is also remotely possible that, as a dedicated Fox-watcher, the story never came to his attention.