It’s easy and, admittedly, a bit unfair to use employment changes to paint employers with a broad brush. But as a metaphor, a job switch announced Monday morning is irresistible.
Targeted Victory, a Republican consulting firm, reports that it has hired Sean Groman to serve as executive vice president of its relatively new public affairs arm. In that role, the firm said, Groman will help bolster the team’s goals, including “[u]nderstanding the importance of authentic storytelling and content at the local and national level.”
Before joining Targeted Victory, Groman was executive producer of Fox News Channel’s “Fox and Friends.” Whether you agree that the Fox News flagship morning show understands the importance of authentic storytelling, there’s little question that it can create “tailored messages and content that appeal” to the audience.
Again, just because one Fox News alum went to a Republican P.R. shop doesn’t necessarily tell us much about the network itself. More telling is a comment made over the weekend by one of “Fox and Friends’s” most avid viewers, himself once a weekly commentator on the show: President Trump.
Trump was seemingly irritated that the network was airing a town hall event with Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., and a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 — and, therefore, potentially an opponent of Trump’s reelection bid.
“Fox is moving more and more to the losing (wrong) side in covering the Dems,” Trump wrote on Twitter Sunday evening. “They got dumped from the Democrats['] boring debates, and they just want in. They forgot the people who got them there.”
This is a remarkable comment generally, much less from the president of the United States. It’s an explicit expression of his expectation that Fox News will at least play down coverage of Democratic issues and candidates, if not shut them out entirely.
Trump recognizes the symbiosis that the network offers to his political career. A third of the words he’d said in sit-down interviews as of earlier this month went to people from Fox News or the Fox Business Network. Fans of the network have been consistently more likely to support Trump’s view of what’s happening in Washington, including about the report released by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Fox viewers were much more likely than viewers of CNN or MSNBC to say that they had a very good understanding of the report — and also were much more likely to say that Trump didn’t try to obstruct Mueller’s investigation.
It’s obvious why Trump would be wary of Fox News creating any daylight for Democratic candidates or ideas. But he should be somewhat reassured by how quickly the network’s stars rallied to isolate the remarks made by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) after his appearance at a Fox News town hall event. After that aired, the network quickly transitioned into an interview with Trump’s daughter-in-law about Trump’s tax returns. Host Sean Hannity later described the event as an opportunity to “hear every Communist idea we possibly can.”
Buttigieg mentioned Fox News’s prime-time lineup in his event on Sunday
"Even though some of those hosts are not there in good faith, I think a lot of people tune into this network who do it in good faith,” he said.
Contrast that assessment of Fox News viewers with Trump’s: Republicans are “the people who got them there."
That’s not incorrect, really; it’s certainly the case that Fox News became a juggernaut because it appeals directly to Republican and conservative viewers. As we noted in March, the viewership is perhaps less densely Republican than you might think and, according to a Post Fact Checker poll conducted last year, those identifying Fox News as one of their two most trusted news sources are less densely Republican than those identifying CNN are Democratic.
But that, in part, is because Fox News hoovers up so many Republican viewers. There aren't many left to tune into other networks.
The Trump-Fox symbiosis is so robust that his administration has been home to any number of Fox News alums, and the network and its affiliated entities have welcomed numerous administration alumni. Groman’s transition is simply a less direct reflection of that relationship between the network and the broader political world.
What’s important, though, is that the president expects that symbiosis to continue through 2020. He expects Fox News to box out anti-Trump voices in the name of staying true to a group he views as their shared base. It’s not even masked, any more than his criticism of mainstream outlets that offer critical coverage of him is masked when he rails against them as “fake news,” as he did Monday morning.
“The Mainstream Media has never been as corrupt and deranged as it is today. FAKE NEWS is actually the biggest story of all and is the true ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!” he wrote in an apparent response to a New York Times article about his relationship with Deutsche Bank. “That’s why they refuse to cover the REAL Russia Hoax” — unlike Fox News, where viewers came away with the impression that the president had been cleared of wrongdoing.
Less than an hour later, Trump found some media coverage that was more appealing.
As you might have guessed given the inclusion of “@foxandfriends,” Trump was tuning in to Groman’s old show.