In an interview Sunday, though, things were quite different: Bartiromo let Trump delineate his nonsensical claims about purported fraud for only about 45 minutes.
Her first question did nothing more than tee up Trump’s utterly baseless allegations that somehow he won the 2020 presidential contest.
As he spoke for more than six minutes, Bartiromo’s sole interjections were with the following words, in this order: “Right,” “yes,” “yes,” “yes,” “right” and “yes.”
Later, she marveled over an article from the hard-right website Federalist in which, among other things, the author presented as suspect the idea that President-elect Joe Biden might have received a historic number of votes in an election that occurred when the United States had never had a larger population.
The entire 45 minutes had one goal: offering Trump a platform to regurgitate his allegations about the election. Bartiromo seems to believe that the nefarious things alleged by Trump occurred, a concern in and of itself. But the interview was an excellent demonstration of the extent to which Fox News, Fox Business and fringier cable-news outlets serve to legitimize even the most ridiculous claims made by Trump.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen an interesting dynamic emerge on cable television. The splintered universe of providers has provided more platforms for sharply partisan networks. One effect is to create news-like products that, save for nuances of production quality, might strike a casual observer as legitimate — the same way a partisan news website might mimic a local newspaper or the way fringe journalists might appear as legitimate on social media as any other reporter.
If you tune into One America News or Newsmax, for example, you’re presented with cable-news-like programming. Anchors sitting at desks. Reporters with microphones standing in front of buildings. The same sorts of things you would see on CNN or MSNBC in the abstract but with the important distinction that there’s no sincere effort to present things objectively or even, at times, to vet the information being received.
OAN, in particular, tends to present as fact anything that comes across its transom. Its star reporter, Chanel Rion, once “reported” that the coronavirus at the heart of this year’s pandemic had been created in North Carolina, apparently because someone on Twitter said it had been. Last week, the network’s lower-third announced that, according to an unidentified “report,” 6,000 fake ballots for Biden had been found in Arizona. It was a data error.
Vice News pointed out last week that OAN’s news-like veneer allowed Trump to make false claims that were then uncritically reiterated — and expanded upon — by the network. It’s reputation-laundering: nonsense from Trump or his supporters are offered up by a photogenic network personality while a crawl of news-seeming things moves along the bottom of the screen. Trump will often then tweet the segments out to his millions of supporters, a useful bit of advertising for the upstarts.
Trump sometimes advertises for them directly, generally as a side effect of trying to pressure Fox News to offer even more fawning coverage than it already does.
Imagine having the audacity to interview a non-Republican!
This is explicitly the point: Trump wants people watching uncritical coverage of his presidency, both by tuning to networks already doing so and by pressuring Fox to expand its sycophancy. The president often talks about how important his Twitter feed is to speaking directly to his base, but it’s clear that he also understands the usefulness of his supportive cable-news networks in doing so. Fox News, for example, is the most-watched news network in the country, and its most loyal viewers are also the most fervently supportive of Trump.
This symbiosis of boosting Trump to get his approval is not subtle. Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy was asked by the New Yorker’s Issac Chotiner last week whether his network didn’t have an obligation to evaluate Trump’s claims about fraud before presenting them to its viewers.
“I think before we even make the claim, we should say, ‘Hey, look at this anomaly. Why is this the case?’ And we start asking about it,” Ruddy said. “But you know what? At the end of the day, it’s great for news. The news cycle is red-hot, and Newsmax is getting one million people per minute, according to Nielsen, tuning into Newsmax TV. I think it’s good.”
In another interview with the New York Times, Ruddy tried to rationalize amplifying Trump’s false claims by noting that there had been years of investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and possible overlap with Trump’s campaign. Reports in outlets such as The Washington Post, however, were both vetted and eventually substantiated by investigation conducted by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Trump’s claims are not vetted before being offered to Ruddy’s audience.
That includes claims Trump made in a brief news conference he held over the weekend, which Newsmax aired in its entirety — with Trump’s promotion. It includes statements from one of his attorneys about his beyond-long-shot legal challenge in Nevada, also amplified by the president. One America News does the same thing, lifting up claims from Trump’s camp, spit-shining them with some newsy aesthetics and enjoying Trump’s subsequent boost.
Again, it’s not just these channels that are giving him a pass. Trump’s claims are also not vetted when they come directly from the president himself in an interview on Fox. There, too, they are just offered up as another element of the news conversation, presented as little segments of analysis that the progenitor can later tweet out, as though by appearing on Fox they have somehow been validated.
Which Trump did Sunday, sharing four different snippets of his interview with Bartiromo, in which she mostly nods along as he says obviously false things. The only indicator that perhaps Trump wasn’t being entirely forthright with the listener is Twitter’s wan “This claim about election fraud is disputed.”
When the interview aired on Fox News, there were no disclaimers at all, just as Trump likes it.