Perhaps Kelly's most sweeping criticism of Trump, though, came when he took aim at another target.
“The media, in my view, and I feel very strongly about this, is not the enemy of the people,” Kelly said. “We need a free media."
(This, like his comments about immigrants, is somewhat at odds with his demonstrated behavior in the White House, but we can move past that for now.)
“That said, you have to be careful about what you are watching and reading, because the media has taken sides,” he continued. “So if you only watch Fox News because it's reinforcing what you believe, you are not an informed citizen."
Trump, of course, watches Fox News almost exclusively and for precisely the reason Kelly suggests: It reinforces what he believes. There are some exceptions; Trump has been irritated when Fox occasionally interviews Democratic lawmakers or candidates. But generally speaking, Trump consumes and promotes Fox News programming.
At the same time, reporting has repeatedly indicated Trump disdains the traditional briefing materials provided to presidents. He doesn’t read intelligence briefs and has himself admitted he doesn’t “need, you know, 200-page reports on something that can be handled on a page."
“I like bullets, or I like as little as possible,” he told Axios shortly before taking office.
One thing that normal consumers may not appreciate is that there is a wide gulf in the information density offered by print media and on television news. In the first 15 minutes of a Trump rally in New Hampshire earlier this week, he said about 1,700 words. The average American reads about 238 words per minute, meaning that you could read Trump’s remarks in about half the time it took him to say them. And he was speaking without commercial interruption or any back-and-forth with a network anchor. This article would have taken you twice as long to read out loud to this point as it has been for you to read it silently.
Television news is often, to some extent, the bullet-point version of what happened. It's also the primary way in which Trump gets his news.
Less information being conveyed necessarily means being less informed. But Fox News, to Kelly’s point, deserves special recognition. We’ve tracked its coverage consistently during the Trump administration finding it’s less likely to cover Trump scandals in depth (such as his hush-money payoff to adult-film star Stormy Daniels) and more likely to cover major news stories in a way that’s favorable to Trump (such as playing down the details of his impeachment while amplifying attacks on Democrats).
From a marketing perspective, what Fox News is doing works. More broadly objective media outlets incur frustration from Trump supporters. By dialing down critical coverage of the president, Fox News can increase loyalty from that same — large — group. Much of that group, then, watches because it reinforces what they believe, as Kelly put it.
As a result, those who put the most trust in Fox News coverage are most likely to share Trump’s positions and to accept his falsehoods as accurate. To some extent, this is a function of Fox News’s audience being heavily Republican and therefore pro-Trump — but even among Republicans, Fox News viewers are more likely to express unusually fervent support for the president.
Again, you don’t have to take our word for it. John Kelly, a former Trump staffer and career military official, sees those who seek out Fox because it reinforces their views as, at best, underinformed. Whether he meant this as a direct criticism of his former boss or not, it serves as one.