Fox News has given Donald Trump a large megaphone since he announced he was running for president last June.
Media Matters For America found that from May 1 to December 15 of last year, Fox News gave Trump 22 hours and 46 minutes of on-air time–more than twice as much as any other candidate.
“Trump racked up more airtime on the network than Sen. Ted Cruz, former Gov. Jeb Bush, and Sen. Marco Rubio combined.”
Fox News promoting Trump
Not only that, certain personalities at Fox News have bent over backwards to give him favorable coverage.
The clearest example of this is Sean Hannity. To give just one example, Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, appeared on Hannity in a town hall setting on April 4, the day before the Wisconsin primary. The set featured a live audience filled with Trump supporters.
Hannity began with the news that a poll showed Trump with a ten-point lead over rival Ted Cruz, at which the audience cheered. Hannity did not mention, however, that (a) the sample size was smaller than any other poll taken that week, and thus less accurate, and (b) this was the only poll that gave Trump the lead.
During the hour-long show, Hannity made no effort to hide his pro-Trump bias:
- He asked Melania, “When they run a Super PAC ad attacking you, is that painful?”
- An audience member called out, “Lyin’ Ted” when Hannity mentioned Ted Cruz, at which Hannity and Trump both laughed.
- When the alleged assault on reporter Michelle Fields by Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was broached, Hannity called it a “distraction,” saying, “I watched the video at least 150 times.” He then asked the pro-Trump audience, “Did any of you see anything that looked like an assault?” They responded, “No!”
- Hannity never challenged Trump on his answers, gave no follow-up questions, and often helped Trump to answer some of the questions he gave.
Fox News had also aired a full one-hour town hall meeting with Trump the night before, hosted by Greta Van Susteren.
This was in contrast to a town hall event Megyn Kelly held on The Kelly File with Ted Cruz, prior to Hannity. In spite of her well-publicized feud with Trump, and in contrast to Hannity, Kelly was very much the journalist. She asked Cruz tough questions, and pushed back on many of his answers on difficult topics including abortion, religion, healthcare, and his electability against Hillary Clinton.
Why is Fox News pro-Trump?
The short answer regarding Hannity is probably due to ideological reasons. For years, he has complained about the Mexican border, which is Trump’s signature issue. Even still, Hannity has rarely questioned Trump’s stances on other issues like healthcare and eminent domain, which are at odds with his own.
But as for the rest of Fox News, there may be another reason. According to New York Magazine, Trump had been working behind the scenes to run for president for some time: he “diligently laid the groundwork for his 2016 run over the course of several years, cultivating relationships with powerful allies in the conservative firmament and in the media,” which presumably included Fox News.
For instance, Trump phoned in several interviews on Fox’s On The Record with host Greta Van Susteren long before he announced he would run for president.
But the New York Magazine piece, written by Gabriel Sherman, included a very revealing section about Trump and Roger Ailes, who runs Fox News for owner Rupert Murdoch, which may reveal another reason for their pro-Trump bias.
“It was also thanks to some information he had gathered that Trump was able to do something that no other Republican has done before: take on Fox News. An odd bit of coincidence had given him a card to play against Fox founder Roger Ailes. In 2014, I published a biography of Ailes, which upset the famously paranoid executive. Several months before it landed in stores, Ailes fired his longtime PR adviser Brian Lewis, accusing him of being a source. During Lewis’s severance negotiations, Lewis hired Judd Burstein, a powerhouse litigator, and claimed he had ‘bombs’ that would destroy Ailes and Fox News. That’s when Trump got involved.
“‘When Roger was having problems, he didn’t call 97 people, he called me,’ Trump said. Burstein, it turned out, had worked for Trump briefly in the ’90s, and Ailes asked Trump to mediate. Trump ran the negotiations out of his office at Trump Tower. ‘Roger had lawyers, very expensive lawyers, and they couldn’t do anything. I solved the problem.’ Fox paid Lewis millions to go away quietly, and Trump, I’m told, learned everything Lewis had planned to leak. If Ailes ever truly went to war against Trump, Trump would have the arsenal to launch a retaliatory strike.”
Red State, a conservative site that is opposed to Trump, speculated thusly, “Whether Ailes is subject to Trump’s whim on dropping said knowledge, and their friendship is more out of fear than mutual respect, or not, many may take this news as a large reason Trump is seeing so much favorability by the network.”
Fox News: not always pro-Trump
Fox News’ coverage of Trump was not always positive, however. At the first GOP debate, hosted by Fox News on August 15 last year, Bret Baier challenged Trump on the very first question, asking the candidates to raise their hands if they would not back the eventual nominee. Trump, who had stated publicly that he may not, was the only candidate to do so, thus putting him into an awkward situation.
In that same debate, Kelly famously questioned Trump about his treatment of women. Since then, Trump has refused to appear on her show.
But once 2016 came around and it became more clear that Trump was not going to fade away, the tone from Fox News gradually changed.
On March 2, Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News, tweeted that it was time for the GOP to unify around Trump.
As predicted, Trump reaching out to make peace with Republican "establishment". If he becomes inevitable party would be mad not to unify.— Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) March 2, 2016
New York Magazine then reported that Ailes had turned against Marco Rubio, the candidate considered by many at that point to be the establishment choice.
On March 3, Fox News hosted the final GOP debate. At the close, Baier, in contradistinction to the first debate, asked the other candidates if they would support Trump if he became the nominee.
Since then, more personalities at Fox News have come out for Trump, including Eric Bolling of The Five. On a March 4 episode, he stated that he found Trump’s alleged flip-flopping on torturing terrorists “refreshing.”
On March 27, while guest-hosting on Fox News’ highly rated The O’Reilly Factor, Bolling got called out by Karl Rove for his alleged pro-Trump bias.
And on March 13, guest Charles Krauthammer rebuked O’Reilly for his “weaselly” defense of Trump — specifically regarding violence taking place at his campaign rallies.
Not all of Fox News is pro-Trump
Even still, there are some personalities at Fox News that do not support Trump — including Kelly, anchors Chris Wallace and Baier, and pundits such as Krauthammer, Stephen Hayes, Dana Perino, and Greg Gutfeld — which has apparently caused tension at the news network.
Gutfeld addressed this tension on March 30, lamenting on The Five that “we, as a show, are facing strife, from a micro level to a macro level,” as well as the “tension” on The Five as it related to the GOP frontrunner. He hinted that the current situation at Fox News is similar to that of Breitbart News, the organization that critics have accused of having a pro-Trump bias, but has seen many resignations following the alleged battery of one of its reporters by Trump’s campaign manager.
It remains to be seen what will happen as a result of the many on Fox News who support Trump. Will it destroy the network? Will talents like Kelly, Gutfeld, Perino, and others leave? Or will the strife lead to a house-cleaning? What is clear is that Fox News will never be the same.
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