What does that look like? Consider the photo taken by The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey in that tweet above. The television on Air Force One is showing Fox News, but Fox News isn’t showing the impeachment trial, still underway as host Tucker Carlson’s show was airing. Well, that’s not entirely true; the trial is visible in a small box in the corner without audio. It’s the media equivalent of telling your teacher you read the assigned book after rapidly flipping through the pages.
Sean Hannity was up after Carlson. As is his norm, Hannity spent the first chunk of his show (15 minutes in this case, without commercial interruption) riffing on the news of the day.
He began with a Fox News alert — about a finding from the Justice Department that its continued surveillance of former Trump 2016 campaign adviser Carter Page was unwarranted.
Then Hannity transitioned into the impeachment trial. He focused particularly on lead impeachment manager Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.). Schiff’s strategy, according to the show’s on-screen text? “Talk forever and keep lying.”
Hannity did air some brief excerpts of Schiff over the course of his show, all of which were meant to denigrate the congressman’s presentation. Viewers primed to believe Schiff spent the whole day lying were offered little to contradict that understanding.
To make his point that Schiff was merely rambling, Hannity decided to compare Schiff’s presentation to a 2006 radio interview in which actor Alec Baldwin was scrambling to fill airtime.
These were “mindless ramblings,” Fox News informed its viewers. It was a function of the Democrats’ opposition to the Constitution.
Down in the lower right corner, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) was silently outlining evidence that Trump had abused the power of his office. By one estimate, Fox’s prime-time coverage Thursday night included less than 30 seconds of live coverage of the trial.
Hannity then transitioned to a favorite subject: Democrats’ obsession with Russia. That Schiff quoted a witness who argued that Ukraine served as a bulwark against Russian aggression served to bolster Hannity’s claim that Schiff was obsessed with Russia. Hannity recycled the incident in 2017 when Schiff was duped by Russian radio hosts.
Despite the excitement of the Democrats’ Russia obsession, Hannity then told his viewers that, really, the entire trial was boring. A “snoozefest” for which even Democrats couldn’t stay awake. No need to watch then, right?
He criticized anchors on MSNBC for chastising senators for being bored and then quickly transitioned to attack the network’s Rachel Maddow as being obsessed with the Ukraine allegations. (Maddow, who’s show usually runs opposite Hannity’s, was not airing then; MSNBC was showing the trial.)
Then, a moment of unalloyed truth: Hannity declared “we know how this ends”: with Trump’s acquittal. There’s certainly some irony in that statement, though, given Hannity was, at that moment, dismissing the trial he was preempting as dull and useless on the network that’s most trusted by the Republican voters who might pressure Republican senators on how to vote.
Hannity offered a message to those Republican leaders about the trial. This, too, was more significant than it seems. From the outset of Trump’s emergence in American politics, it was his leveraging of the conservative media gestalt that made him powerful. Here, Hannity was priming his viewers with how they should consider the trial, a view that has consistently trickled upward to Capitol Hill.
And then there was this.
After Hannity promoted what he described as Trump’s accomplishments as president and reminded viewers of how close the election was, he turned to his first guests.
One was Alan Dershowitz, a member of Trump’s legal team.
That’s Hannity being Hannity, of course, and the odds are good that you weren’t terribly surprised by his framing. But it’s consistently one of the most-watched shows on TV, thanks in part to his willingness to speak directly to what Trump supporters like to hear.
He is not the only one to rise to Trump’s defense. On Thursday morning, the network’s weekday morning show “Fox and Friends” covered the trial in a way that was broadly sympathetic to Trump, too. But they also sat down for an interview with one of the key figures in the impeachment trial, Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani.
Giuliani’s efforts since late 2018 to try to impugn former vice president Joe Biden are central to Trump’s impeachment. This month alone, we’ve learned a great deal about that effort, thanks to documents from and interviews with Giuliani’s former associate Lev Parnas. Giuliani sitting down for an interview should be a great opportunity to press him on those revelations and on his ongoing campaign to disparage perhaps his boss’s most likely opponent in this year’s election.
That’s not what happened. Over the course of six minutes or so, Giuliani spoke for about 5 minutes 45 seconds. The hosts tried, at first, to push him on the furious stream of allegations he offered about Biden, about the administration of President Barack Obama and about other figures in the government, but the former New York mayor simply spoke over them. Even when the interview wrapped up, it took multiple efforts to curtail his stream of consciousness.
One he got rolling, the interjections were mostly just ignored. “Wait, let me ask you — ” one host said, quickly being cut off. “But, Mr. Mayor, do — ” came another interjection, to no avail. The only substantive interjection during the heart of Giuliani’s rant came when Giuliani was disparaging Biden’s son Hunter in abstract terms and host Steve Doocy interjected to put a fine point on whom, exactly, they were talking about.
Trump has been watching. According to Matt Gertz, who compares Trump’s tweets to what’s airing on Fox News, Trump had never before live-tweeted Fox as often as he did on Thursday. On Friday morning, Trump was up early, again tweeting about things that aired on the network.
That advertising for Fox’s coverage isn’t solely relegated to his personal Twitter account, either. In recent months, Trump and his team have been aggressive about leveraging the official White House Twitter account — which has a follower base that is certainly distinct from Trump’s own — to amplify his message. So on Friday morning, for example, the White House account retweeted these tweets from the president to its 20 million followers.
Trump and his team are doing their best to make sure the message gets out. Fox News may have lost paying advertisers in recent months, but it’s getting the kind of advertising that money can’t buy.