Normally at this point everyone rolls their eyes when he threatens a TV network for doing something he doesn’t like, partly because it’s pitiful that the most powerful man in the world is so focused on television and partly because no one believes he’s capable of acting on his threat. Case in point:
He tweets stuff like that about SNL every month or so now. If the FCC tried to do something about it, it’d generate loads of bad press for the White House, a court challenge, and possibly another rebuke from the House and Senate along the lines of this week’s border-emergency battle. So the people around him just seem to ignore it. And it benefits SNL, of course: Most Trump fans departed that show’s audience long ago, so he’s not costing them anything ratings-wise, and the periodic attacks help give it whatever little cultural currency it still enjoys among liberals.
This, however, amounts to a meaningful threat. Not a legal threat involving state power but a threat to Fox’s bottom line:
Given the intimacy of the Trump/Fox relationship, that feels less like a politician criticizing a news outlet than a memo from the programming director to his employees. What it really is, though, is a tacit warning to FNC that their fans are first and foremost his fans, and if he’s unhappy about how they’re treating his favorite cronies at the network, he can make it so that Fox viewers are unhappy about it too. Here’s what has him so annoyed:
Jeanine Pirro, whose show did not air on Saturday night, was suspended by Fox News after her widely criticized commentary doubting Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s patriotism, according a source familiar with the matter.
Fox did not announce the suspension publicly. The network declined to confirm or deny that Pirro has been suspended. There is no word on whether Pirro’s show will return next week.
At the same time, there is no indication that she has been fired from Fox. The source said she has not been fired.
Presumably they cut her mic because of what she said last week about Ilhan Omar, questioning whether Muslims who are observant enough to wear the hijab truly place their loyalty to the Constitution above their loyalty to shari’a law. Now that Trump’s gone to bat for her, Pirro must be tempted to double down on those comments once she returns to the air. Her fans would love it, Trump’s much bigger group of fans would love it, and Fox would be stuck agonizing over whether to punish Pirro’s insubordination and risk a Trump-fueled backlash among their own viewers or to look the other way and seem pathetically weak to the rest of the world. Given how lightly they’ve treated another Trump buddy, Sean Hannity, after his own periodic transgressions — cutting a quickie ad for Trump in 2016, hopping onstage to campaign with POTUS before the midterms last fall, etc — all indications are that they’d let Pirro slide.
All of which is a long of way saying that Trump effectively runs Trump TV, not the execs. He commands the loyalty of the audience. And if Trump is displeased at Pirro’s suspension, executives there are going to need to learn to be displeased about it too.
The punchline is that Pirro’s message about Omar is somewhat in conflict with Trump’s own message about it. Go back and watch what Pirro said and you’ll find her emphasizing that opposition to Israel isn’t what the Democratic Party is about; it must be Omar’s devotion to Islam, she reasoned, that would lead her to that position. Anyone who follows progressive politics, though, knows that there are lots of anti-Israel Democrats on the party’s left wing. What made the Omar dual-loyalty incident feel so menacing wasn’t just that a member of Congress would offer that opinion, it was the tons of cover she got for it from parts of the base and from halfwit colleagues like AOC and Rashida Tlaib, who was on CNN just this morning insisting that Islamophobia played a part in the rebuke of Omar. Trump’s takeaway from the Omar incident was tuned into that, and was much broader than Pirro’s: Democrats hate Jews, he reportedly told an audience at a fundraiser, framing his critique as partisan/ideological rather than religious. This problem among Democrats is much bigger than one congresswoman, he means to imply, and he’s correct. You would think, if only for reasons of electoral self-interest, he’d be annoyed at Pirro for having essentially let his political opponents off the hook.
The politically incorrect need to stick together, he probably figured, even when their points are pointing in different directions.
By the way, the prime minister of New Zealand claims that when Trump called this weekend to ask what he could do to help in the wake of the Christchurch massacre, she asked him to offer all Muslim communities “sympathy and love.” The fact that he responded to that request by tweeting this morning in defense of a Fox host who suggested that observant Muslims can’t be loyal to the Constitution is, ah, certainly on-brand, I’ll give him that.