Report: Trump telling aides, "Keep an eye on Fox News"

Why does he need aides to keep an eye on it? Judging from his Twitter feed, he watches it like 14 hours a day.

Plus, doesn’t the 9 p.m. guy basically work for him? If he wants to know what’s going on behind the scenes at FNC, he should ask his shadow chief of staff during their nightly phone call.

If he was suspicious of disloyalty at Fox before, though, imagine his reaction when he finds out what Chris Wallace said this morning.

“Keep an eye on it,” Trump started telling aides [last month], according to two people with direct knowledge of his directive, in conversations about what was going on behind-the-scenes at Fox, and if there was any cause for concern for even the slightest positive coverage of any Democrat…

[P]rivately, President Trump had been raising these questions of institutional loyalty, on-and-off, since at least the middle of last year. Several people who’ve heard him do this view it as more of a gutcheck than a loss of faith, and as yet another indication that Trump can interpret even the smallest deviations as a slight or a betrayal.

He’s taken to asking fans to keep an eye on it too, triggered by Bernie Sanders’s ratings success on FNC a few night ago:

He keeps nudging his supporters to complain about Fox but hasn’t directly threatened the network — yet. Sometimes he’ll grouse on Twitter about Shep or one of the other daytime anchors, sometimes he’ll go to bat for one of his cronies there whom he thinks the network has punished unfairly for having crossed a line. But he hasn’t deployed his nuclear weapon, encouraging fans to boycott the network until it turns even Trumpier in its sensibilities than it is now. Lord knows he could hurt FNC if he wanted to:

“President Trump’s criticism of Fox News is a clear and present danger for the network,” said Andy Hemming, former rapid response director for the Trump White House. “The president knows Fox News viewers are far more loyal to him than the network, meaning he can push those supporters to more overtly friendly outlets like One America News Network or Newsmax with just a couple of tweets and some extra access. It also goes without saying that the financial implications for these networks are massive.”

Totally true, although there’s some risk for Trump too in taking on Fox. It may be that Fox viewers are so set in their viewing habits that they actually wouldn’t turn the channel, even for a right-wing alternative like OANN, at Trump’s urging. He might end up boosting the audience’s sense of dissatisfaction with Fox but not actually cost them much in ratings, which would make him look weak by suggesting he has less influence over his own base than everyone suspects. The other risk is that Trump declaring war on Fox would encourage Fox to declare war on him, or at least the news side of the network. His base is waaaaaaaay bigger than Fox’s is — he got 63 million votes three years ago whereas Fox averages around 2.4 million viewers a day, and of course Fox hosts like Megyn Kelly were hard on Trump in the 2016 primaries with basically no damage done to the candidate at all. But not having FNC as a dependable ally on TV every day would leave him without any allies in the top tier of cable news networks.

OANN is licking its chops over a potential Trump/Fox split, viewing it as a priceless opportunity to finally seize some market share from FNC. They happily touted Trump’s “What’s with Fox News?” tweet on their website a few days ago. And they’ve spent the past three years trying to out-Fox Fox by being even more slavishly loyal to Trump than FNC has, sporadically showing annoyance with POTUS when he fails to notice:

President Trump recently gave a speech, thanking his supporters in the media. Not a single mention of One America News — one of his GREATEST supporters…@OANN calls bullshit…

— One America News (@OANN) March 29, 2019

OANN later deleted that tweet but it seems to have had the desired effect: This morning Trump encouraged his Twitter followers to watch Bill Barr’s press conference on Fox News — or on OANN. I bet that didn’t go unnoticed at FNC either. Just the president reminding management that he’s willing and able to promote the competition if they continue to displease him.

But for the time being, he’s happy to keep promoting Fox:

And so now we wait to see what Fox will do about the town halls it seems to be planning with Democratic candidates. They did so well with Bernie’s hour on Monday night that they’re hungry for more. Amy Klobuchar has already been booked and Pete Buttigieg signing on seems inevitable. If Trump tweets something like, “Sad to see non-fake news network Fox promoting open-borders pro-crime Democrats! OANN never does this!”, what will Fox do? Scale back its ambitions for other town halls with Dems or forge ahead and call his bluff, believing that not even Trump’s love can make OANN into a serious cable competitor?

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