Fox News and Its Powerful Promoter: President Trump
WHITE HOUSE — On the day the world watched as the United States formally moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Fox News Channel got an enthusiastic recommendation from its most powerful fan — President Donald Trump.
“U.S. Embassy opening in Jerusalem will be covered live on @FoxNews & @FoxBusiness. Lead up to 9:00 A.M. (eastern) event has already begun,” Trump tweeted on his personal Twitter account, adding “A great day for Israel!”
It’s not the first time the president of the United States has promoted the news outlet favored by many conservative viewers, including stalwart Trump supporters. But Trump’s decision to use his popular Twitter account to promote Fox’s coverage of a news event highlights how close the network and the president have become.
According to CBS White House Correspondent Mark Knoller, who has been tracking presidential media interviews since the Clinton administration, as president, Trump has bestowed 22 interviews to Fox News reporters. He has given six interviews to all other major American TV news outlets combined.
Fox News, created in 1996 as a more politically conservative news outlet, has traditionally been favored by Republican politicians and their supporters. But unlike past presidents, Trump has developed a “symbiotic” relationship with the network, said Ethan Porter, assistant professor of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University.
“They seem to be working together to advance the president’s agenda; rarely does Fox News perform the kind of adversarial journalism that we expect most mainstream press outlets to perform. It seems Trump himself views Fox News as a megaphone for his ideas,” he said.
The president often reinforces this view on Twitter by acting as a cheerleader for Fox programming, sometimes in real time.
While some are troubled by Trump’s overt embrace of one network, Don Irvine, chairman of Accuracy in Media, a conservative media watchdog group, sees no problem with having the U.S. leader as an avid fan.
“I think the relationship is fine, obviously Fox benefits a great deal by having the President of the United States contribute to the program on occasion, and I think President Trump also benefits from this because he gets an audience that is part of his base, so it’s probably a good symbiotic relationship at this point,” Irvine stated.
Most agree Trump’s favorite news program is Fox & Friends, which is also the highest-rated morning news program on American cable news, and whose audience includes many Trump supporters.
The relationship between the president and this program is what media observers have called a “feedback loop.” Basically, it means Trump gets inspired for policy ideas from watching Fox News, Porter says.
“He’s issuing pronouncements, and making comments and statements in response to media, rather than media responding to him. It’s very unusual, usually it’s the other way around,” Porter observed.
Speaking directly to supporters
Trump has championed his use of Twitter as a way of speaking directly to his supporters, without allowing the news media to come between them.
His embrace of Fox is similar, says Irvine.
“A lot of mainstream journalists don’t like the fact that they’re not the filter for the news and that the president is basically taking it right to the public,” he pointed out.
Others argue that the president favors the network because it does not challenge his views.
“I think he views Fox as a friendly news network, so he can use the platform they offer him to espouse his positions and his policy preferences without receiving the kind of challenges and pushback that he does from other media outlets,” Porter noted.
That friendly treatment from Fox has been sharply criticized by other American journalists, who advocate that the media should strive to be independent while carrying out its traditional role as a check on power.
“We also now have our own major state-run network, Fox News, that treats our president as ‘Dear Leader’ — much the same way that China’s People’s Daily does [Chinese President] Xi [Jinping],” wrote New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in February. CNN President Jeff Zucker blasted Fox News in March by saying, “It is a pure propaganda machine and I think does incredible disservice to this country,” while acknowledging “there are a handful of good journalists there.”
Lachlan Murdoch, co-chair of Fox News’ parent company, 21st Century Fox, rejected the criticism that Fox News has become “state TV” under Trump.
“I don’t think that’s true, and I don’t think that any media organization should be behind an individual,” Murdoch told the online financial news site Business Insider during a November conference on the media business. “You can be behind ideals and concepts, you can be behind whether you think your viewers want lower taxes and higher employment.”
Where truth lies
Professor Porter of George Washington University argued Fox News should do more to press against Trump when necessary.
“At the end of the day, they are journalists, and part of their role in a democracy is to check the political leaders of this country,” Porter said. “Every president has friendly media outlets, who like their policies or politics, just like them personally. The test for these outlets is whether they hold the political leaders’ feet to the fire.”
Irvine said in the era of worries over the spread of fake or misleading news, it is important to look at news from all sides and spend more time filtering through the news.
“Don’t take what you see on any of these news networks as gospel. Conservatives shouldn’t just watch Fox News, liberals shouldn’t just watch MSNBC or CNN; I think you have to watch the cross-sections to get a wider viewpoint and say, ‘Am I smart enough to discern where that truth lies?'” Irvine advised.