Brit, my man, what Fox News does and what Fox News is “supposed to” do are not always one and the same. Maybe not even often.
But this sentiment is welcome as a response to Trump’s tweets this morning, particularly given how quiet most other Foxies have been about the president’s claim that “Fox isn’t working for us anymore!” As I write this at 4 p.m. ET, the only other pushback I’ve seen from Fox personnel came from Howie Kurtz and our Townhall cousin Guy Benson. If I missed anyone, let me know with an email or via Twitter. I’m happy to update.
Much depends here on who “us” is.
Fox News isn’t supposed to work for you. https://t.co/kQDY4UKv8z
— Brit Hume (@brithume) August 28, 2019
Brit and Guy seem to have taken “us” to mean “my administration.” There are of course Fox contributors who have gone on to work for him in the government, like Morgan Ortagus at the State Department. Heather Nauert was nominated for ambassador to the UN before withdrawing and Laura Ingraham was considered for White House press secretary. And, oh right, the guy with the mustache who used to pop up every few days for segments on foreign policy is now the most powerful person in America’s national security hierarchy apart from Trump himself. There are also Foxies who “work for” the administration informally, as chat buddies and low-key advisors to the president. Sean Hannity has been called his “shadow chief of staff” due to his influence over Trump; Tucker Carlson may have averted a war with Iran by lobbying Trump to ignore the hawks in his administration; Lou Dobbs has reportedly been placed on speakerphone at White House meetings to offer his two cents.
So, you see, if the president is confused about who Fox works for, his confusion is understandable.
What he meant by “us,” though, I think, is MAGA Nation, not his administration. He means that Fox isn’t working as hard as it should to give the right an advantage over the left. That’s an eternal problem for partisan media outlets with a hard news arm: How should they prioritize their duty to report the news fairly, even if it’s embarrassing to their side, versus their duty to advance that side’s political interests? One of the biggest thorns in Trump’s side at Fox lately is their polling bureau, which also happens to be the most scientific operation at the network. They do their interviews with the public, they crunch the numbers, they put out the results — and they’re highly respected by polling experts for the quality of their work. But because their numbers have sucked for Trump lately, he treats them as guilty of some sort of betrayal. His view of the news, especially from right-wing outlets, is the most demagogic possible version of the “news vs. partisanship” conundrum that partisan outlets face: Not only are you “disloyal” if you publish information that undermines your side, you’re guilty of “fake news.” In Trump’s narcissistic mind, there’s no tension between reporting on him accurately and reporting on him favorably. One equals the other.
But for everyone else, starting with Brit Hume, of course there’s tension sometimes. The point of today’s presidential Twitter tantrum is to get him and the rest of Fox to prioritize partisan interests over news where the two conflict — or else:
My take: Trump understands that there's a fringe culture (one that mostly lives online) that'll support him almost unconditionally. When he says Fox isn't working for "us," he's speaking to a small group that he thinks will help him pressure Fox to elevate Pro-Trump coverage. https://t.co/rqMzzi9Tbd
— Sara Fischer (@sarafischer) August 28, 2019
He’s done this before. Fox wasn’t always solidly pro-Trump after he launched his campaign in 2015, the most (in)famous skeptic at the network being Megyn Kelly. Trump and his team made lots of noise about that on Twitter and elsewhere during the primary. By spring of 2016, Fox was firmly in the tank for him over Ted Cruz; since then it’s helped him cultivate a cult of personality on the right that’s given him sky-high approval among Republicans even as he struggles endlessly to crack 43 percent among the general public. Trump is “working the refs” here because he knows it works, having seen it work before. If you follow him on Twitter, you’ve surely realized by now that his increasing references to OANN are no accident. That’s his leverage over Fox. Given the lack of pushback on his tweets from Foxies, the pressure tactics will probably work this time too.
Here’s Fox alum and now ardent anti-Trumper “Campaign Carl” Cameron assessing the network’s plight on CNN today.