Over the course of the report summarizing the findings of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III are a number of mentions and citations of news organizations. At times, those relate directly to reporting that informed Mueller’s probe, such as The Washington Post’s revelations about conversations between then-national security adviser Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador or the New York Times’s scoop about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. At other times, the citations are used to bolster points being made by Mueller’s team, as when they note a statement by President Trump about the June meeting by pointing to a Post report.
The Post and the Times are the most commonly cited news organizations in the report, but a number of television networks are also mentioned, including CNN, NBC News and Fox News.
The Fox News mentions are interesting, though. They tend to be qualitatively different from The Post or Times citations. Five of the eight citations are interviews of Trump or Donald Trump Jr. included because Mueller’s team wanted to assess claims the two made. One is included as the Mueller team notes a conspiracy theory pushed by WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, which Fox News had reported on. One is because Trump mentioned to someone else that he was watching Fox News. The eighth is used to identify Sean Hannity as a network guest when revealing that he reportedly knew about the Trump Tower meeting well before the Times did.
Over the course of Mueller’s investigation, Fox News consistently presented a much more skeptical view of the investigation than did other networks. Its friendliness to the Trump administration was manifested in its coverage of the Mueller probe. It wasn’t cited as much as the Times or The Post in part because it didn’t spend much energy on digging into what was alleged to have happened during the 2016 campaign.
President Trump noticed. On Tuesday morning, he praised the network’s morning show “Fox and Friends” — a show on which he made weekly appearances until he decided to run for president — and disparaged those on CNN and MSNBC. He also renewed his attacks on the Times, calling the paper “the Enemy of the People” and insisting that it would need to “beg for forgiveness” for its coverage.
The effects of Fox News’s approach to the Mueller probe are apparent in a poll released on Monday from HuffPost and YouGov. Aiding this conversation, the pollsters asked respondents which cable news network, if any, was the largest source of their news about Mueller’s probe. Among Republicans, 4 in 5 said Fox was their biggest source; two-thirds of the network’s audience in the poll identified as Republican. About 6 in 10 of those who identified CNN were Democrats.
We’re used to seeing partisan divides on the question of what Mueller found, but the HuffPost-YouGov poll adds another layer. For example, Fox News viewers were much more likely than Republicans overall to say that they understood Mueller’s findings “very well.”
They were also more likely than Republicans overall to say that no one associated with Trump’s campaign committed any crimes — a statement that seems to be at odds with several of the indictments obtained by Mueller’s team.
Broadly, Fox News viewers had a more generous view of what Mueller found than Republicans overall. They were, for example, far more likely to say that the Trump’s campaign’s relationship with Russia wasn’t a problem at all.
They were about as likely as Republicans overall to say that Trump didn’t try to obstruct Mueller’s probe and to say that the report broadly clears Trump of wrongdoing.
It remains unclear how broadly self-reinforcing is the Fox News-Trump supporter feedback loop. To what extent do those who strongly back the president resort to Fox News simply because they are agitated by the coverage elsewhere and to what extent does Fox News drive their loyalty to Trump? The HuffPost-YouGov poll suggests that, on certain key points, being a Fox News viewer is a more dependable predictor of loyalty to Trump’s point of view than is being a member of the Republican Party.
What’s interesting about that, of course, is that Trump himself falls into that category, as his tweets on Tuesday morning show. His loyalty to and support for Fox News is probably more robust than his loyalty to and support of the Republican Party. That’s certainly true among many of his supporters.
It’s been clear for months that Fox News was operating on another track in the context of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The report itself makes clear that Fox’s primary utility in that investigation was in providing an on-the-record source for commentary from the president and his team. And the poll released Monday shows the results: self-confident Fox News viewers who breezily dismiss the questions raised by Mueller’s report.
Which itself possibly relates to Fox News’s coverage.