Does Fox News need President Trump? Or does President Trump need Fox News? If former Fox News strongman and Trump supporter, the late Roger Ailes, were still running the network, those questions might never come up.
But as Trump himself tweeted in June after Fox reported that Trump was trailing five presidential candidates in the polls, “Something weird is going on at Fox News.”
True enough – and Trump seems unable to stop it. And it’s not just that his longtime ally Rupert Murdoch turned the leadership of Fox over to his son Lachlan last year. “I can’t tell you how unpopular Trump is here,” a longtime Fox News producer told DCReport, “and people are getting bolder about saying so.”
Anchors Shepard Smith and Neil Cavuto have broken rank spectacularly with Trump while stalwarts Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, Jeanine Pirro and Lou Dobbs, have defiantly backed him.
The soap opera within a soap opera at Fox News isn’t hurting ratings. Far from it. Even though Trump began criticizing Fox back in January, which in turn kicked up bitter in-fighting between Fox’s on-air talent and producers, FNC was the most-watched basic cable network in America for the 34th week in a row the week of Aug. 26, TVNewser reported.
Compared to the same week one year ago, Fox was up 6% but MSNBC and CNN were down 24% and 21%, respectively.
“Trump’s base has been with Fox News longer than they’ve been with Trump,” veteran TV critic Bruce Fretts (TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly), told DCReport.
'Loyal to Fox, Not Trump'
“They’re still probably going to vote for Trump but their real loyalty is to Fox. Trump still needs Fox, to speak to his base. So he’s got to either bite the bullet and say these are my guys—or totally shoot himself in the foot.”
But for now, Trump’s strategy is to increase the potshots at his once-favorite network.
“Sharpiegate,” the inane media storm over an actual hurricane that Trump furiously insisted all week could have hit Alabama, is the latest presidential debacle to further divide not just the country–but the once-faithful at Fox.
In recent months, longtime FNC anchors Shepard Smith and Neil Cavuto have broken rank spectacularly with what Smith calls “Trumplandia” while Fox’s pro-Trump (and prime-time) stalwarts, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, the network’s biggest moneymakers, along with Jeanine Pirro and Lou Dobbs, have defiantly backed him.
At the end of August, even Fox’s longtime political analyst and frequent Trump supporter Brit Hume fired back at Trump after Trump ripped the network for hiring left-wing panelists like former DNC chair Donna Brazile and Juan Williams.
“The New Fox News is letting millions of GREAT people down!” Trump tweeted. “We have to start looking for a new News Outlet. Fox isn’t working for us anymore!”
Tweeted Hume in response, “Fox News isn’t supposed to work for you.”
Last week, Fox’s White House correspondent John Roberts got dragged into the middle when he was summoned to the Oval Office after his afternoon live shot. According to an internal Fox email from Roberts that was obtained by CNN, Trump wanted Roberts to acknowledge that the original forecasts for Hurricane Dorian “had Alabama in the warning cone.” CNN also quoted a White House aide privy to the meeting saying that Trump called Roberts in to “hit back at Shepard Smith.”
Doctored Hurrican Map
Earlier that same day, a visibly disgusted Smith lit into Trump over both his refusal to admit he was wrong about Alabama being in the path of Dorian–and for whipping out a clearly doctored hurricane map during a White House briefing Tuesday.
“Why would the president of the United States do this?” Smith said. “He decries fake news that isn’t and disseminates fake news that is. Think China pays the tariffs. The wall is going up. Historic inauguration crowds. The Russia probe was a witch hunt. You need an ID to buy cereal. Noise from windmills causes cancer. It’s endless!”
Smith may not be Fox News’ highest-rated personality but he is among the most respected at the network and his relentless fact-checking of Trump carries considerable weight.
“There’s a real downside to being in the tank for Trump,” said Fretts. “Fox News went all-in on him at first. They thought hey, this guy we propped up got elected—and we can exploit this power. Then Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and Bill Shine were brought down but it was too late. They had created a monster. And now those with some integrity at the network, like Shep and Cavuto, are distancing themselves bigtime and calling Trump out.”
Last spring, Trump began threatening to look for “another network” and repeatedly cited One America News Network, a relatively tiny right-wing news network based out of San Diego possibly best-known for hiring a young Tomi Lahren to host a talk show right out of college.
OANN, launched in 2013, has been relentless in their favorable coverage of Trump. The Washington Post reported in 2017 that “On One America newscasts, the Trump administration is a juggernaut of progress, a shining success with a daily drumbeat of achievements.”
Oddly, Charles Herring, president of OANN, was less than effusive when discussing Trump in both a telephone conversation and email with DCReport.
“Since 2015, before Mr. Trump announced that he was running for President, the network has been aware that Mr. Trump is an avid viewer,” Herring said.
“Our mission has not changed since the inception of the network and has not been influenced by our Presidents since launch. One America News Network appreciates the support from all of our viewers.”
Editor’s Note: Dana Kennedy is a former Fox News anchor, as well as a former reporter for MSNBC, CNN and ABC News.