And if you were tuning in to Fox News in prime time, you didn’t see any of it.
Well, that’s not entirely true. You saw snippets of the testimony, often contained in the network’s regularly scheduled shows, during which they were framed in terms broadly sympathetic to the president. We took stills from every half-hour of coverage over the past five days of testimony. It’s clear where Fox News’s prime-time lineup kicks in.
And yet! That level of insulation from what was happening, that tacit presentation of the Senate impeachment trial as unimportant was not good enough for Trump.
On Tuesday morning, Fox News interviewed Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) about reports on former national security adviser John Bolton’s assertions in an upcoming book that Trump specifically linked aid to Ukraine with investigations that would help the president politically. Van Hollen argued that Bolton should appear as a witness in the trial.
Trump wasn’t happy.
“Really pathetic how [Fox News] is trying to be so politically correct by loading the airwaves with Democrats like Chris Van Hollen, the no name Senator from Maryland,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “He has been on forever playing up the Impeachment Hoax. Dems wouldn’t even give Fox their low ratings debates.”
“So, what the hell has happened to [Fox News]. Only I know!” he continued. “Chris Wallace and others should be on Fake News CNN or MSDNC. How’s Shep Smith doing?” — a reference to the former Fox News anchor whose skepticism of Trump was a frequent source of tension on the network and with the president.
“Watch, this will be the beginning of the end for Fox,” Trump wrote, “just like the other two which are dying in the ratings. Social Media is great!”
Trump is saying, explicitly, that even occasional efforts by Fox News to be objective are unacceptable. He uses the term “politically correct” to describe interviewing a Democrat, a favorite term of his meant to imply that someone or something is being unduly obsequious to recognizing alternative views. In this case, he argues, an effort to present news objectively fits that descriptor. An honest presentation, a non-PC presentation of the impeachment fight by Fox News, he suggests, would never question him or his motivations.
That coda — “Social Media is great!” — is the threat. Even Fox News, which has been so robustly supportive of Trump that its viewers are Trump’s most loyal supporters, cannot deviate from Trumpian orthodoxy or else it should be driven into the ground in favor of Trump’s own version of events.
Trump’s attack on Fox News came on an interesting day. On Tuesday morning, the Pew Research Center published research on Americans’ views of the media. Trump’s symbiotic relationship with Fox since even before he announced his candidacy — many forget that he was a regular guest on “Fox & Friends” before June 2015 — has contributed to Fox News’s being one of the few media outlets that conservative Republicans view with trust. (The others? Breitbart, Sean Hannity’s radio show and Rush Limbaugh.)
Republicans overall rely heavily on Fox News for political news, far more than any other source.
In fact, the only news sources that at least a third of Republicans view with trust are Fox News and ABC News — the latter of which only barely hits that 33 percent mark.
This is the network with which Trump is engaged in battle: A news outlet that is broadly loyal to Trump’s positions and that is the sole trusted organ of a majority of Trump’s own party.
Pew’s analysis includes this remarkable graph, showing the outlets that Democrats and Republicans are most likely to rely upon for political news. A fifth of Democrats relied entirely on sites like CNN, The Washington Post, MSNBC and the New York Times in the week before being surveyed — all of which are on the left side of the spectrum below. A fifth of Republicans said they’d gone nowhere else but the Washington Examiner, Fox News, Breitbart and the Hannity and Limbaugh radio shows.
But consider what that chart actually says. Those outlets like The Post and PBS are on the left side of the spectrum because they have more liberal-leaning audiences. Why do they have more liberal-leaning audiences? In part because Fox News gobbles up so much of the conservative-leaning media audience.
That’s why Fox News often leads in the ratings. It’s not because their coverage is better or more popular, necessarily, but because locking up most of the Republican and Republican-leaning independent viewership while your competitors get even splits of what’s left puts you at an advantage. Democrats see NBC and CBS and CNN and PBS as broadly trustworthy, so some tune in to one network and others to another. Most Republicans trust Fox, and most Republicans watch Fox.
It’s still not enough for Trump. Perhaps because the network has a near monopoly on Trump’s base, he expects it to be even more obsequious in what it presents. A Democratic senator, on a cable news network? Are those Fox News snowflakes just handing out participation trophies or what?
For the last few weeks of the 2016 campaign, there was speculation that if Trump lost, he might form a pro-Trump news network that would air his positions day and night. He ended with both an approximation of that network and the White House — yet even what he has in Fox News can never be pro-Trump enough in a moment of political peril such as the one presented by impeachment.
No wonder he’s tweeting more than ever.