It’s an interesting thought experiment to imagine what would have happened if Fox News Channel had access to some of the biggest stories about President Trump before other outlets. If it had been Fox that got the “Access Hollywood” tape in October 2016, how would it have handled the story? How would it have been framed?
Or would it have run? A report from the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, an extensive look at Fox News from one of journalism’s most respected investigative reporters, gives reason to think that the network may have been reluctant to run it at all. After all, Mayer said, Diana Falzone, a reporter for the network, learned that Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen had arranged to pay off adult-film actress Stormy Daniels so she wouldn’t publicly discuss an alleged affair with Trump — but the story was never published.
“But Falzone’s story didn’t run—it kept being passed off from one editor to the next. After getting one noncommittal answer after another from her editors, Falzone at last heard from LaCorte, who was then the head of FoxNews.com. Falzone told colleagues that LaCorte said to her, ‘Good reporting, kiddo. But Rupert [Murdoch] wants Donald Trump to win. So just let it go.’”
Ken LaCorte denies having said that, Mayer writes, although Falzone’s colleagues confirmed having been told about it at the time.
When new revelations about the Daniels payment emerged in July, we looked at how coverage of her story had compared across the three major cable news networks. Here, for example, were mentions over two weeks on the networks’ prime-time shows.
That trend continued. Fox News consistently covered Daniels’s story much less frequently than its competitors did. (The data below look at the percentage of 15-second segments in a day during which the subject is mentioned.)
On average, from Jan. 1, 2018, to the beginning of this month, CNN mentioned “Stormy” in 0.61 percent of segments. MSNBC mentioned her in 0.54 percent. Fox News mentioned her in 0.17 percent — less than a third as often as its competitors.
The characterization of the payment to Daniels as “hush money” led to that term being used regularly in the first half of 2018 by Fox’s competitors but not by Fox. It was used more regularly by the network once Cohen admitted to federal crimes in August and, most recently, when Cohen testified on Capitol Hill last week.
Cohen, of course, admitted to several types of crime in August and December: fraud related to a bank loan he obtained, tax evasion, lying to Congress, and campaign finance violations related to the Daniels payment and another, similar agreement to silence Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model. Those campaign finance violations directly implicated Trump, as Cohen reinforced in his congressional testimony last week.
When talking about Cohen, Fox was less likely than its competitors to mention campaign finance.
It was more likely, after Cohen admitted guilt on eight federal felonies last year, to mention his involvement in fraud.
It covered his admission of lying to Congress as much as its competitors did last year — and last week, during his testimony, was just as likely to mention that crime.
In fact, it mentioned that particular admitted crime as often last week when Cohen was testifying as it had when the story first broke.
This isn’t specific to the Daniels story. Although none of the networks gave McDougal’s story as much coverage as Daniels’s, Fox still trailed in its coverage.
And, circling back to our original question, Fox News has also mentioned “Access Hollywood” less frequently than its competitors did.
From Oct. 1, 2016, through the end of the year, Fox News mentioned “Access Hollywood” in 0.07 percent of its daily 15-second segments. CNN and MSNBC each mentioned it more than twice as often.
I keep thinking of a statement made by John Dean in an interview with Rolling Stone last year. Dean was White House counsel under President Richard M. Nixon until he agreed to testify against his former boss, helping lead to Nixon’s resignation.
“Nixon might have survived,” Dean said, “if he had Fox News and the conservative media that exists today.”