Since entering politics, Donald Trump has had a long and positive relationship with Fox News. But when he gets annoyed at any demonstration of independence by network talking heads who don’t completely toe his line, he urges his millions of loyal supporters to switch to other even more right-wing slanted news stations.
When Fox was the first network to call Arizona for Joe Biden, Trump promoted a little-known cable news outlet called One America News Network and another conservative outlet, Newsmax. In recent days, OAN has broadcast videos that include false claims about the integrity of the election, and dishonest assertions that Trump won. These OAN reports have collectively been viewed more than one million times on YouTube.
Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Matt Gertz, senior fellow with Media Matters for America, who studies Trump’s relationship with Fox News. Here he explains that Trump’s promotion of other conservative networks is mostly smoke and mirrors.
MATT GERTZ: There has been this sort of push and pull between Trump and Fox through his presidency and dating back to the campaign. You might remember that in the first presidential debate of the 2016 primary cycle, the first time Trump was appearing on stage with all the other Republican candidates, Megyn Kelly asked him a very tough question about his treatment of women. And in the days after that he got into a big feud with Fox, saying “she had blood coming out of her eyes, coming out of her wherever.” And there was a back and forth between him and the network at that time. He has an expectation that every hour, every minute of Fox News be propaganda for his administration. He’s made that very clear. He believes that the purpose of Fox News should be to help him and other Republicans win. And he’s largely right. Most of Fox’s programming I think does have that. But he needs it all of the time.
MELINDA TUHUS: Matt Gertz, how does the One America Network fit into Trump’s world? Are you saying that was just a little tantrum he was having and he’s back to Fox, or what?
MATT GERTZ: Well, he’s been saying from time to time, whenever he has one of these flare-ups, he will tweet that people should go watch OAN, or go watch News Max, which is another one of these even Trumpier conservative cable news networks, but he doesn’t stay with them, because they are terrible. Fox News, I don’t appreciate the programming, but it is well packaged; it looks professional and like a major cable news network. They spend a lot of money to make it look really, really good. NewsMax and OAN don’t have that. Their talent level is quite low. It’s not good television; it’s frankly nearly unwatchably bad. And the president knows this, which is why he doesn’t actually watch it. He’ll tell his audience to go watch OAN, go watch NewsMax, but he won’t actually do that. And I have the numbers to back this up.
One of the things I do at Media Matters is track his tweets against the television shows I know he’s watching. This is a combination of matching quotes directly from his Twitter feed to particular programs; matching topics. I’ve been doing this since 2017. Over the last two years, from September 2018 through August 2020, he sent 1,206 of these live tweets – tweets he was sending while he was watching television. Of those, 1,146 were of Fox News or Fox Business and 12 were of OAN. This has continued through the current period. He was tweeting from Fox News shows this very morning. He does not stop. He does not break up with Fox News. He may publicly squabble with them but at the end of the day he’s going to be watching their programs, because that’s what he likes to do.
MELINDA TUHUS: What do you think about our news media, if we can call it that, becoming more and more bifurcated and more and more extreme?
MATT GERTZ: It’s scary and it’s dangerous. I live in Washington, D.C. I have been to Comet Pingpong, the pizza restaurant that was the center of the so-called Pizzagate conspiracy, that Democrats were hiding a child trafficking ring in the basement there, and then somebody got addicted to these conspiracy theories and showed up with a gun and fired off some rounds in the pizza parlor. That’s a scary thing to see, to see those conspiracy theories and really crazy ideas coming out into the real world like that. I think it’s hard to know what the way out is of this downward spiral that we’re having. I think one of the less discussed problems has been the evaporation of local news over the last several years — the elimination of local newspapers. I think that removed a key way for people to stay tethered to what was actually happening in their own communities. Instead, they’ve gone out and started going down various social media rabbit holes. And I think that ends someplace pretty scary.