Hannity Is a Nightly Recruitment Video for the Cult of Donald Trump
At the beginning of his eponymous Fox News program on Tuesday, Sean Hannity paused to gloat. Earlier that evening, the Washington Post had reported that, in 2016, Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee had helped fund the research that eventually produced the infamous Steele dossier, which alleged ties between Donald Trump and Russia. Hannity does not typically put much stock in the Washington Post’s news judgment, but on this night, he suspended his disdain to crow over the validation of his three great themes:
1) The mainstream media is duplicitous.
2) The Clintons and Barack Obama are disgusting crooks.
3) President Donald Trump is blameless in all things.
“Tonight is a night of vindication,” said Hannity. “Even the Washington Post is now, tonight, being forced to admit what we have been telling you for over a year.” That wasn’t quite accurate—the Post article said nothing about the veracity of the Steele dossier, and neither exculpated Trump nor condemned Obama and the Clintons—but Hannity has never let details derail his performative self-regard. “We are now closer to getting to the truth about what is the biggest national security breach and Russia scandal in American history,” he continued—a “scandal” that Hannity has worked very hard to publicize.
The Best Advertiser on Fox News Wants You to Buy Gold Coins Because Fake News Is Bad
Advertiser: Lear Capital
Product: Investment gold and silver.
Target audience: Undercapitalized retirees, lovers of shiny objects.
Why this might be the best Fox News advertiser: Lear Capital sells a very important product. That product is gold, and also silver. These precious metals have been valued by monarchs and supervillains since time immemorial. Now they are available to you, a person who watches daytime and afternoon cable television, by way of Lear Capital, a company that buys precious metals at market prices and sells them to you at a significant markup. It is a match made in the golden halls of a heaven in which you’re greeted at the pearly gates by Tucker Carlson and/or Neil Cavuto.
How Fox News Is Weaponizing the Harvey Weinstein Scandal
The New York Times reported this weekend that, in January 2017, former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly agreed to pay $32 million to settle a sexual harassment claim lodged against him by longtime Fox News guest Lis Wiehl. Concurrently, according to the Times, Rupert Murdoch and his sons Lachlan and James “made a business calculation to stand by Mr. O’Reilly despite his most recent, and potentially most explosive, harassment dispute.” In February, aware of the settlement, the Murdochs signed O’Reilly to a four-year contract extension worth $25 million per year. In April, after another Times story revealed numerous previous settlements dating as far back as 2002, Fox ousted O’Reilly.
The O’Reilly saga is worth remembering when evaluating Fox News’ extensive coverage of the allegations against disgraced Hollywood producer and accused sexual predator Harvey Weinstein. Since the New York Times and the New Yorker broke the Weinstein story earlier this month, no outlet has subsequently pursued it with more righteous zeal than Fox News. The network has devoted countless segments to covering the allegations against the producer, and criticizing his enablers in the entertainment and media industries. During his namesake program on Monday, Oct. 16, for example, Tucker Carlson said: “We have learned a remarkable amount from the Harvey Weinstein scandal so far. The most powerful man in Hollywood was a serial predator. The press assigned to cover him instead covered up for him. Self-appointed guardians of women looked the other way—in some cases, in exchange for cash. The corruption was total and complete. NBC’s role is especially shocking. The executives at NBC News knew exactly what Harvey Weinstein was doing nearly a year ago. And yet instead of reporting it they did their best to keep that information hidden from public view.”
Fox News Sure Doesn’t Know How to Spell Myeshia Johnson’s Name
Watching Fox News—or any cable-news channel, really—most eyeballs are immediately drawn to the rectangle of text and graphics that consumes the bottom quarter of the TV screen. This strip is called a chyron, and it’s basically a televised headline used to summarize in direct language the key part of the segment currently airing. There is someone sitting in the control room whose job it is to generate these chyrons. The chyron guy for Fox’s late-morning program Happening Now is having a bad day today.
Once Again, Fox News’ Love of Leathery Military Men Leads It Astray
Anyone who has ever watched Fox News for an extended period knows the network has a weakness for Leathery Military Men. If you’ve served in the armed forces and your skin looks like a worn-out satchel, Fox News will put you on the air. Sometimes, the network’s lust for patriotic punditry is so powerful that its producers will put Leathery Military Men on the air without bothering to check and see whether they are actually Military Men.
The Washington Post reports that Fox News recently issued a correction 11 days after airing a segment with a professed former Navy SEAL and Vietnam veteran who turned out to be neither of those things. On Oct. 8, the network featured John Garofalo, a very leathery man who was billed as a “decorated war hero” who “hopes to honor Trump with [a] glass presidential seal.” Real Navy SEALs generally do not like it when fake Navy SEALs use bogus credentials to peddle glass presidential seals, and some of those real SEALs soon uncovered Garofalo’s deception. Fox News nevertheless took its time correcting the record, eventually noting that “all of Garofalo’s claims turned out to be untrue.” But the man is genuinely leathery!
Fox’s Coverage of Eric Trump Is a Nonstop Delight
Contrary to what you might believe, Fox News is not all dyspepsia and catheter commercials. Its hosts can be softies, too, most often when discussing or interviewing President Trump’s children. My favorite Trump child is Eric Trump, who looks like a lethargic Biff Tannen and sounds like a sentient bag of money. I cherish every interview he gives. Well, lucky me: Eric and his wife, Lara, have a new baby, and they’ve been making the rounds on Fox to discuss the child—and other things.
The Trumps popped up on this past Saturday’s edition of Justice With Judge Jeanine. “Eric and Lara Trump are next up on Justice for the first time as Mom and Dad,” host Jeanine Pirro teased. “And later: Last week, we introduced you to some of Washington’s worst deep-state insiders holding up the president’s agenda. Well, guess what? We’ve got more, you can’t miss ‘em.”
The interview was really something. “So you see the world through [your new son’s] eyes?” Pirro asked Eric. Yes, he said: After a hard day’s work tuning out fake news, there’s nothing like coming home to a “seven-pound ball of love, and all he wants to do is sleep and eat and smile.”
“And mama is responsible for the eating part,” said Pirro, “in the sense that you’re doing it naturally.”
“Yes, I am,” said Lara Trump.
After ascertaining that Eric Trump does, indeed, enjoy being a father, Pirro became overcome with emotion, since she’s apparently known Eric since he was but a wee plutocrat. “I love this. I knew you when you were a little boy!” exclaimed Pirro. “I just, I feel like your mother sometimes! No offense, Ivana, but I’m so proud of you, as a father right now. This is so exciting.” Truly, the deep state has never had a more dangerous enemy than Judge Jeanine Pirro.
After a week’s respite—after all, they’ve got hotels to build and babies to feed—Eric and Lara returned to the air Friday morning on Fox & Friends. “Well, we were invited for an exclusive visit to Eric and Lara Trump’s house,” said Ainsley Earhardt.
“The nursery?” asked an excited Steve Doocy.
“That’s right,” said Earhardt, “to meet their new little baby boy. First time ever seen on camera. His name is Luke. But before we met Luke, we talked a little politics with them.”
What does Eric Trump think about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s recent announcement that he would not force the league’s players to stand for the national anthem? “I think our reaction is: You stand for the flag,” said Eric Trump. What does Eric Trump think about corporations and the economy? “We have to let corporations grow,” said Eric Trump. Does Eric Trump think the Uranium One deal is the real Russian scandal? “It is the real Russian scandal. It’s a disgrace,” said Eric Trump.
What about the criticisms directed at President Trump for his allegedly insensitive comments to the widow of a dead soldier? “I think it’s disgusting,” said Eric Trump.
“You read the transcripts [of President Trump's phone call to the soldier's widow]. What were your thoughts?” said Earhardt. Wait, transcripts? There are transcripts of the call? As far as I know, this is the first time we’re hearing about the existence of transcripts. Why have we not yet heard about these transcripts?
“To me this is a clear case of the media not doing their job. You read exactly what he said he said,” said Lara Trump. Wait, Lara Trump has read the transcripts of the call? This is news! Fox & Friends actually broke some news. Let’s talk about this news. Let’s talk about these transcripts!
“So let’s talk about the ba-by,” said Ainsley Earhardt, after the politics discussion had passed. She then went on to hold the baby, and praise the baby, and praise the décor of the baby’s room. “Your nursery’s beautiful. Did you decorate it?” Earhardt asked Lara Trump. Thank you, we did. And, you know, we have a lot of amazing books. We have one I think you’ll like, right over here.”
“Oh, you have my book!” said Earhardt. “You’re so sweet!”
We then returned to the Fox & Friends studio, where Steve Doocy neatly summarized Earhardt’s interview: “So we met the baby, and we heard a bunch of opinions about stuff in the news. Excellent job.” Your nonfake media, hard at work!
It is surreal to watch Fox News cover the Trump family in near-regal fashion—with all of the shallowness and servility the term implies—but I guess I understand it. The Trumps are the Kennedys of the one-world-conspiracy set. Donald Trump presides over a cult of personality, and its adherents demand that his children be treated with as much fealty and deference as their father. Lucky for them that Fox is happy to oblige.
Fox News Found a Russia Story It Likes: Obama and Clinton Were the Real Colluders!
At 7:17 a.m. on Thursday morning, President Donald Trump fired off a characteristic tweet:
Uranium deal to Russia, with Clinton help and Obama Administration knowledge, is the biggest story that Fake Media doesn't want to follow!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 19, 2017
You will be excused for having no idea what the president was talking about, nor should you be surprised to learn Trump was taking his cues from Fox News. Over the past 24 hours the network has devoted significant coverage to a story from the Hill alleging improprieties in the lead-up to the 2010 sale of a Canadian mining company named Uranium One to the Russian state-owned company Rosatom. Since Uranium One held rights to 20 percent of the United States’ uranium production capacity, the deal required the approval of nine different U.S. agencies, including the Hillary Clinton–helmed State Department, before it could go through.
The Hill reports that, before the deal was approved, “the FBI had gathered substantial evidence that Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering designed to grow Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business inside the United States.” Fox News has gone big with this story, which involves donations to the Clinton Foundation from Uranium One executives, the aforementioned FBI investigation, and an anonymous FBI informant who claims to have firsthand knowledge of Clintonian malfeasance but cannot go public with his tale because of a nondisclosure agreement. It might, just might, be a perfect Fox News story—especially when the last thing Fox wants to cover are the various Russia-related intrigues currently dogging the Trump administration. If only the story weren’t also so confusing.
I’m certainly confused by it—and I’ve spent the past day trying to understand the details of this story, without much success. If you, like me, have been watching Fox News since Wednesday night, you know simultaneously far too much and far too little about this particular uranium deal—but the one thing you do know is that, according to Fox, Uraniumgate is far, far more scandalous and serious than any possible cooperation by the Trump campaign with Russian interlopers during the 2016 presidential election. Let’s look at how the coverage—and, in particular, any reasonably news-literate viewer’s understanding of the story—evolved over time.
On Wednesday evening, The Story With Martha MacCallum began its broadcast with what sounded like some very big news. “Good evening, Martha,” said Fox News correspondent Ed Henry. “It turns out an FBI investigation may have found there was collusion between Russia and an American administration. It just might be the Obama administration instead of the Trump administration.”
A Russia scandal involving the Obama administration would be a hell of a story, indeed—especially framed like this: “The uranium pact was a sweetheart deal for Putin from then-president Barack Obama,” Henry told MacCallum. “And his aides in 2010 insisted there was no national security reason for the U.S. to oppose the deal, and no evidence any Russians or Clinton Foundation donors had engaged in wrongdoing. Those claims now being called into question at this [Senate Judiciary Committee] hearing today.”
MacCallum next turned to two guests to help parse this news. “There’s a lot to investigate here,” said Washington Times columnist Charles Hurt. “Far more to investigate here than there is evidence to suggest that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia”—and, right here, astute viewers got their first inkling of why Fox News had decided to hit this story so hard. “The most shocking, stunning, amazing thing of all of this,” Hurt concluded, “is that the previous White House agreed to give 20 percent of our uranium over to our greatest nuclear rival on the planet, and that is terrifying.”
Democratic strategist Zac Petkanas tried to offer some perspective. “What people are forgetting is that the Russians can’t actually take the uranium outside of the United States—they don’t have export permits. The uranium has to stay here in the United States,” he said, going on to note that the U.S. only produces 2 percent of the world’s total uranium. Though both of these points seem potentially relevant, MacCallum ignored the first one and scoffed at the second.
“Clearly,” she said, “if it was just such a tiny amount of uranium and it really wasn’t consequential, Zac, you need to explain why there would have been this enormous bribery effort, these kickbacks that were given to people, and why there was so much money flowing to Bill Clinton from the Russians at the same time. And then, mysteriously, the committee that Hillary sits on to sign off on this deal says it’s OK, even though there’s an FBI investigation going on.”
“So, first off, there are a couple misconceptions there,” replied Petkanas. “The bribery that you’re talking about involves a separate FBI case that involves a uranium trucking company.”
“The American trucking company, absolutely,” said MacCallum.
“It has nothing to do with the Uranium One sale,” said Petkanas.
“Well, no, it’s not nothing to do. It was connected,” MacCallum said. “A North American uranium operation that had to do with trucking and transport and then also mines in Canada. Connected.” And that was basically that. At this point I had very little idea about what either of them was saying. All I knew is that I was very confused, and the confusion did not abate at 8 p.m., as MacCallum passed her hosting baton to Tucker Carlson.
“We have spent nearly a year looking for a Russian scandal. For months, it’s been basically the only thing anyone in Washington talked about. Many people were certain it would end in impeachment and prison terms,” said Carlson at the beginning of his namesake program. “Well, it’s finally happened. We have a Russian scandal. But instead of proving collusion between the Trump campaign and the government of Vladimir Putin, this one reveals deep wrongdoing in the Obama administration. And it’s real.”
Carlson added some new assertions to the story: “At least one American businessman says he directly witnessed Russian efforts to convince the Clintons to approve that deal. The businessman says he was blocked from publicly telling Congress what he knew because he was ordered to remain silent by Eric Holder’s Justice Department. It’s a remarkable story, and potentially a very significant one.”
Carlson then spoke to conservative Clinton Cash author Peter Schweizer, who told viewers that, before the sale to Rosatom was approved, nine shareholders in Uranium One “all of the sudden decided they were going to donate large amounts of money to the Clinton Foundation, more than $145 million.” The New York Times also reported on elements of this story in 2015. Why is the story back in the news now, more than two years later? Nancy Soderberg, ambassador to the United Nations under Bill Clinton, summoned President Trump’s favorite catchphrase to try to explain why and address some of the issues raised by the Hill. “The bigger issue here is this whole issue is fake news in terms of an investigation,” she said. “It’s been shut. In fact, all President Trump has to do is ask his current deputy attorney general and deputy head of the FBI, who looked at this and closed it in 2015.”
Carlson was skeptical. “You don’t think it’s prima facie insane to give a country that seeks our destruction control of our uranium supply?” he asked a bit later, conflating the sale of the rights of 20 percent of America’s uranium-production capacity with giving Russia our entire uranium supply.
“All of us take very seriously the control of our uranium supply,” said Soderberg.
“You don’t seem to,” Carlson replied.
At the end of the interview, Soderberg informed Carlson that she was on to Fox’s game. “You’re trying to dig back in history to deflect what’s going on in today’s history,” she said.
“So you’re worried about Facebook ads, and I’m worried about the dissemination of yellowcake,” said Carlson. “I’ll let our viewers decide which is more important.” As a viewer, I wasn’t sure, but I could certainly tell which story Carlson deemed more important. From MacCallum to Carlson, the story had progressed from a suspicious-sounding deal to an alleged tale of yellowcake uranium gone missing as a result of Clintonian corruption. Where would it go next? Somewhere bombastic, no doubt, given that Hannity was the next show on the Fox schedule.
Sure enough, Sean Hannity picked up and added to the story, alleging during his opening monologue that the Hill had “uncovered another massive Democratic scandal.” The upshot, according to Hannity, was Russia routed money to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was serving as secretary of state “while she signed off on the Uranium One deal that gave 20 percent of our uranium to Vladimir.” You see how the story changed? Hannity makes it seem like Clinton was the sole decider of the deal and that the deal literally put American uranium into Putin’s actual pockets.
Hannity went on to cast aspersions on former Attorney General Eric Holder (“Now, for me, there’s no way he didn’t know about this Russian nuclear plot”), current Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and current Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe (“They were the only ones who oversaw the FBI’s investigation into this Russian bribery, so there’s no way that they weren’t aware of what was happening”) and former FBI Director Robert Mueller (“You know, given what we now know, Mueller should not be in charge of any investigation as it relates to Russia or Russian collusion or election interference, because he has yet another massive conflict of interest”). As you are no doubt aware, several of these men are currently tied to the special counsel’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia—a story that Hannity, as a de facto Trump surrogate, has good reason to want to discredit. “We will get to the truth,” Hannity promised before heading to commercial break. “The media is ignoring it. This is too important. This is going to be uncovered as one of the biggest scandals. Watch.”
By the time Fox & Friends got its hands on the story on Thursday morning, it had morphed from an alleged bribery scandal, as reported by the Hill, into something of world-historically sinister proportions. “All right, the Fox News alert is this,” said Ainsley Earhardt at the top of the 7 o’clock hour. “The Obama administration accused of helping the Russians build nukes while the Clinton Foundation lined their pockets with cash. A lot of it.” Seventeen minutes later, President Trump issued his tweet—and, frankly, you can see why the uranium story would seem like a big one to someone who appears to get his news exclusively from Fox.
The real story of the uranium-rights sale is likely a bit more complicated. To be clear, I still have no idea what the actual story here is, and at this point I am unwilling to say that the Hill’s coverage and Fox’s extrapolations are entirely baseless. If there’s malfeasance here, I want someone to find it, and if Fox finds it first, then good for Fox. But a close look at the story’s evolution and trajectory from 7 p.m. on Wednesday to 7 a.m. on Thursday indicated that investigative journalism is not the network’s only aim and that some of its personalities are far more interested in deflecting attention from President Trump’s troubles than in getting to the bottom of whatever this story actually is. Somehow, I don’t think the next few days of coverage will make it any clearer.
Fox News Had a Good Segment
Since starting this pop-up blog, I have received and read many comments from people who are convinced that it exists solely as an excuse to gratuitously bash Fox News. This is not true! I only bash Fox News when the network deserves it, and it is not my fault that the network deserves it so often. But there are things to like about Fox News, too. One of those things was an excellent discussion segment on Wednesday afternoon’s edition of Outnumbered Overtime with Harris Faulkner.
Faulkner is a regular host on Fox News’s weird mid-day show, Outnumbered, which features four recurring female panelists and one rotating male panelist deemed “#OneLuckyGuy.” The show really ought to be called Interrupted, since every time I watch it the network seems to end up cutting away to some live hearing or press conference. (This fate seems a bit on-the-nose for the network’s designated “lady” program.) She also hosts the network’s 1:00 p.m. show, Outnumbered Overtime, which often suffers the same fate as its predecessor. She is smart and competent and deserves better than relegation to the day’s two most pre-emptible hours, but what can you do?
Anyway! The segment I’m referring to came about two-thirds of the way through Wednesday’s program, in response to a clip of President Trump addressing the Heritage Foundation. “NO APOLOGIES. Trump talks up ‘God, Christmas’ in speech,” read the Fox News chyron. Faulkner turned to two guests—Republican strategist Evan Siegfried and Outnumbered panelist and former State Department spokesperson Marie Harf—for a conversation about “political red meat,” prompting them to address Trump’s Christmas comments and his views on NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.
I was not expecting much from this discussion. Harf is Outnumbered’s designated liberal, and is rarely able to complete a sentence on that program without being talked over or patronized by one or more of her colleagues. Moreover, liberal Fox guests rarely fare well when they are asked to weigh in on the culture wars, because they are inevitably forced into defensive postures against their counterparts’ emotional volleys. But the Outnumbered Overtime segment turned out to be that rarest of things, not just for Fox News but for cable news in general: a calm, productive, mutually respectful political discussion between ideological opposites, moderated by a host who seemed interested in bringing out the best, rather than the worst, in her guests. The segment was refreshingly free from obviously tendentious claims, belligerent interruptions, and disingenuousness. This was Fox News at its best. Let’s break it down.
How Fox News Turned an Innocuous Comment by Jimmy Kimmel Into an Entire Day of Coverage
For all that President Trump likes to blast the mainstream media for propagating “fake news,” his favorite network is itself fantastic at manufacturing specious garbage. One of the hallmarks of Fox News is how on slow news days—and busy news days, and standard news days, and honestly every kind of day—the network will generate stories to cover by recycling irrelevant items across multiple shows until, through sheer repetition, those stories start to sound important. It’s a very effective tactic.
All 24-hour news networks do this to an extent, of course. But this is a Fox News blog, and when Fox does it, it is as a means of igniting or stoking existing resentments against the people the network wants its viewers to hate. Fox will seize on an interview that one of its frequent targets gave to another outlet, edit the interview down to sound-bite form, and distribute the clip to its hosts for endless debate and discussion. The point of this game, for Fox, is threefold: 1) to generate material that its hosts can discuss from emotional rather than cerebral standpoints; 2) to camouflage right-wing hypocrisies by spotlighting liberal ones; and 3) to shore up its viewers’ faith in and reliance on Fox News by attacking the credibility of opposing pundits. By these tactics a viewer can begin his day having no opinion whatsoever on late-night host Jimmy Kimmel and end it convinced that Jimmy Kimmel is a disingenuous liberal monster.
As my colleague Willa Paskin writes in her cover story on the comedian this week, Kimmel is no one’s idea of a politically correct liberal. But lately he has used his platform to criticize conservative efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and stonewall gun control. Speaking to CBS Sunday Morning last weekend, Kimmel revealed that while his favorability ratings among conservative viewers have plummeted since he began speaking out, he nevertheless does not regret his decision to do so—much to Fox’s delight.
Fox & Friends Is the Authoritarian Today Show
It was 6:07 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 10, and the three hosts of Fox & Friends were talking football—specifically, how much better the NFL was before Colin Kaepernick went and mucked things up. Just like its most prominent viewer, Fox News’ morning show is obsessed these days with the national anthem protests that Kaepernick ignited. “Someone who knows more about football than the average bear would be former Bear coach Mike Ditka, and he has this to say about what is going on in football right now,” said a grinning Steve Doocy, before playing a clip of Ditka’s insane claim that America has been oppression-free for 100 years and that dissenters should go play football in some other country.
“And Hillary Clinton supports the players taking a knee,” noted Brian Kilmeade, raising his hands for emphasis. “By the way, what a nightmare for coaches. They need to focus on the game. Their jobs are on the line, and everyone’s divided.”
“It’s interesting, though. The people who are fighting because of the division in our country are dividing the country,” Ainsley Earhardt chimed in after some cross-talk. “Football will never be the same. I just want to turn on the TV and watch a game, you know? And eat popcorn and pizza.”
And then came the inevitable contribution from the fourth voice in Fox & Friends’ early-morning chorus: “Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!” tweeted President Trump. It was 6:13 a.m.
These are remarkably stupid times. For a glimpse of why, consider the daily patter of Fox & Friends—or, rather, consider that I am even asking you to consider Fox & Friends. The show is by now known for being terrible television, something that is neither entertaining nor informative, that is best watched as the coffee brews and then forgotten as soon as the cup is empty. Or at least that once was the case. Since its 1998 premiere, Fox & Friends has largely existed, in ostensibly amiable morning-show form, to flatter the network’s core fan base of elderly cranks who resent the existence of other channels. But one of those cranks is now president, and, consequently, Fox & Friends is having a moment.
As of Sept. 26, the show—already top rated among cable news morning shows—was “on pace to have its highest-rated year in history,” according to TV Newser. The president watches Fox & Friends avidly. Since taking office he has more than once praised the show’s “reporting,” which, to be clear, it does not do very much of. He regularly tweets in response to its flimsy segments, and because he is the president, those tweets tend to set each day’s news cycle. A show that can barely take itself seriously is making the world a more chaotic place.
Just like you don’t have to contract diphtheria to know diphtheria sucks, you don’t actually have to watch much Fox & Friends to know it won’t be up for a Peabody Award anytime soon. It’s a morning show on Fox News beloved by the world’s foremost oaf; this is reason enough to decide you might as well sleep in. But for the next couple of weeks I’ll be blogging for Slate about Fox News, and I wanted to begin the assignment with an informed read on what is now the network’s most relevant program. So I decided to immerse myself in Fox & Friends to discern exactly why it is so bad, while allowing myself the space to be surprised if it actually turned out to be good.
Friends, it did not turn out that way. As far as I can tell, the chief goal of Fox & Friends is to help its viewers start their days secure in the knowledge that someone in the world is dumber than they are. (Asserting one’s own status by belittling others: Is there a more Trumpian raison d’être?) For liberal viewers, the dummies in question are the Fox & Friends hosts themselves: Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, and Brian Kilmeade. For conservative viewers, these days the dummies in question are Democrats or certain NFL players or Hollywood celebrities, or any of the other groups that Fox & Friends regularly holds up for scorn and ridicule. The ridicule is generally lazy and inept—on Thursday, a guest repeatedly referred to rapper Marshall “Eminem” Mathers as “Martin Mathers”—but it is nevertheless effective. The show is the televised equivalent of those spam emails that deliberately misspell words and use poor grammar in order to filter out worldly people, leaving only the easy marks.
Doocy is a credulous boob who not only looks like the guy who used to host Supermarket Sweep but seems like he probably auditioned for the job. He has been hosting daytime programs for a very long time and is an expert at keeping things simultaneously light and nasty. “Colin Kaepernick has been out of the NFL all season after his anthem protests, and he knows why: collusion,” said Doocy on Monday morning, using a funny, mocky voice on the last word, as if those three syllables were as suspicious as the man who leveled the charge.
Earhardt is unabashedly basic. She fills the hosting slot previously occupied by E.D. Hill, Gretchen Carlson, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and is the show’s resident softball interviewer. Here she is interviewing Ivana Trump, the president’s first wife: “When you met him, did you know he could one day be president of the United States, he could one day be one of the wealthiest men in the country?” (She did not.) Here she is interviewing a man who has written several alarmist books about the Clintons: “Is it true that [Bill] threw [Hillary’s] book in the trash can?” (“Yes.”)
Kilmeade, the show’s jock, offers all of the wit and insight of the pledge master of a frat that will soon be banned from campus. He loves mispronouncing certain words in order to mock those who use them in earnest. “Rosie O’Donnell tweeted out in support of Jemele [Hill], ‘Yes we are, hashtag Systema- … syste- … systematic racism,” he said on Tuesday, misquoting O’Donnell’s tweet in reference to ESPN anchor Hill’s recent suspension. Later that week, in response to a statement by Democratic congressman Luis Gutiérrez, he ineptly ridiculed the rise of the term white supremacist. “White supremist,” said Kilmeade. “The new buzz is white supremist. Everyone says it. They had some conference call or fax agreement.”
The hosts are a supergroup of sorts, and their signature tune is reactionary resentment. Fox & Friends is always hearkening back to the good old days. “Remember when the name of the Redskins was the biggest controversy in the NFL? Those were the good old days,” said Kilmeade on Thursday. “Remember when ESPN used to have sports on it? Those were the good old days,” said Doocy on Tuesday. “Twenty years ago, or maybe it was 30 years ago, when Johnny Carson was there at the Tonight Show, you couldn’t really tell his politics, because he just was an equal-opportunity joker about all that stuff,” said Doocy on Monday morning, in response to Jimmy Kimmel’s recent political opining on his own late-night show. “Things have changed,” agreed Earhardt.
Fox & Friends is bad in all of the ways that most morning television is bad—excessively perky and smarmy and dumb—while adding its own special authoritarian twist. There are workout segments and cooking segments and music segments, interspersed randomly with deranged political commentary and militaristic iconography. It is the sort of show that will not only spend a segment celebrating the 242nd birthday of the U.S. Navy, but does so by herding a bunch of Naval officers out on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan to enjoy a commemorative U.S. Navy sheet cake. (“I have no greater privilege than to serve as your Commander-in-Chief. HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the incredible men and women @USNavy! #242NavyBday,” tweeted Trump less than two hours later.) It is also the sort of show that, 10 minutes after serving the Navy its birthday cake, will welcome via satellite a Trump surrogate who insists that sanctuary cities are havens of lawlessness and that Democrats like this because it helps them win elections. (“Hard to believe that the Democrats, who have gone so far LEFT that they are no longer recognizable, are fighting so hard for Sanctuary crime,” tweeted Trump.)
I am trying not to be unfair. It’s morning television, not Masterpiece Theatre. Cheerful banality is the lifeblood of a.m. TV, and ostentatious patriotism is an apparent condition of employment at Fox News. But Fox & Friends pairs its banalities with a pettiness of spirit that is truly depressing. The show displays few genuine enthusiasms, i.e., things that are enjoyed for their own sake irrespective of politics or advantage. Good Morning America, for example, isn’t trying to score any political points when Michael Strahan occasionally talks football on the air. But all of Fox & Friends’ passions—the military, the anthem, patriotic old farmers and football players—are meant to goad or delegitimize those who feel differently. “She loves singing the national anthem, and her husband is a star receiver in the NFL,” was one guest’s introduction on Thursday. Take that, Colin Kaepernick! At the end of Monday morning’s program, the Friends interviewed Dolly Parton, who had come to promote her new children’s album, and of course they steered the conversation to the moment at this year’s Emmy Awards when Parton’s 9 to 5 co-stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin—typical Hollywood liberals!—criticized Trump from the presenters’ podium as Parton, sandwiched between them, looked on uncomfortably. (Parton refused to take the bait.) Last week, the show featured a farmer who had plowed into his field the message “WE STAND FOR THE NATIONAL ANTHEM.” This morning, they reported that the guy’s field now featured a new message: “FOX AND FRIENDS STEVE AINSLEY BRIAN AND HEATHER [Childers, one of the anchors of Fox & Friends First].”
That was fitting. Like the president whom they rush to flatter, Fox & Friends ultimately believes in nothing except itself and co-opts traditional symbols in order to bolster its own status and that of its patron. The show is toxic in the way that it sets its viewers up, right at first light, to see bad faith in everyone they meet thereafter; to assume that their ideological opponents are stupid or insincere or malicious or all of those things at once. Fox & Friends is the most cynical show on television. In lockstep with Trump’s reactionary agenda, it yearns for the past while destabilizing the present and future. It is a witch’s mirror, showing you only those things that you hate most in other people, preventing any meaningful self-reflection. It is one of the few shows that actually matters right now, and we are all screwed for it.