The dictionary defines ingratitude as “a lack of a proper appreciation or thanks for a kind or helpful act.” What better way to describe Donald Trump’s current fulminations about Fox News?
Yes, Fox News. The network that did everything possible to grease the skids for his meteoric rise. The network that amplified his anti-Obama birtherism by putting him on air as a regular contributor in 2011 and boosting him with servile cheerleaders like Steve Doocy and Sean Hannity. The network that hyped his autumn ’18 agitprop about a terrorist-infested caravan “invasion.” But now it turns out that not even Trump’s longtime propaganda arm is immune from his rage.
Yesterday, amidst a string of anti-Fox tweets, this was the highlight (I’ve preserved the ransom-note punctuation): “I don’t want to Win for myself, I only want to Win for the people. The new Fox News is letting millions of GREAT people down! We have to start looking for a new News Outlet. Fox isn’t working for us anymore!”
It was nice to see him admit that Fox has long been working for him, thus confirming the obvious fact that Fox — especially during the reign of the late Roger Ailes — has mostly been a Trump organ masking as journalism. But what could possibly explain his impulse to denounce Fox for disloyalty to the crown? We get that everyone and everything is grist for his ire (the mainstream “enemy” media, the “Open Border Socialist” Democrats, his own Federal Reserve chairman), but why Fox?
He says that “Fox has changed” and he’s “not happy with it.” Granted, he was furious three years ago when Megyn Kelly (with “blood coming out of her wherever”) asked him tough questions during a GOP debate. But lately his grievances have steadily mounted: Trump skeptics, like Juan Williams and “low ratings Shep Smith,” get too much airtime. A few Democrats, including the party’s communication director and ex-party chairwoman Donna Brazile, get too much airtime. Pete Buttigieg, a Democratic presidential candidate, was aired in a town hall. And the latest Fox News poll reports that if the ’20 election was held today, Trump would lose to Joe Biden by 12 points, lose to Bernie Sanders by 9, lose to Elizabeth Warren by seven, and lose to Kamala Harris by 6.
Trump views that mid-August poll as a particularly egregious symptom of disloyalty, seemingly unaware that the Fox survey shop is conducted on a bipartisan basis by two polling firms — one Democratic, one Republican. It would behoove him to take that latest poll seriously (especially the finding that only 16 percent of Americans support his incessant tweeting), but his capacity for introspection is a tad limited. Hence his complaint that the Democratic party’s communications director was allowed to appear on Fox “spewing whatever she wanted with zero pushback,” a privilege he apparently reserved for himself.
Fox hasn’t really changed — the prime-time opinion pundits (Sean Hannity, the Fox & Friends crowd, Jeanine Pirro) have long been Trump sycophants; the news division anchors (especially Chris Wallace and Smith) have long comported themselves, much of the time, as skeptical journalists; the Fox polling shop has long been professional; a few Democrats have long appeared on the air — so the only feasible explanation for Trump’s anger is his fear of defeat in 2020. He needs total loyalty as a bulwark against his ever-burgeoning insecurity.
Indeed, it’s a sign of weakness that he’s assailing his fans’ favorite media outlet. They must be feeling whiplashed right now. The new USA Today-Suffolk University poll, released yesterday, says that among those Americans who “strongly approve” of Trump, 60 percent trust Fox News more than any other network. If Trump is even angry at Fox (“we have to start looking for a new News Outlet”), what are they supposed to think and where are they supposed to go? None of Fox’s rivals, like the pro-Trump America News Network, can compete with Fox’s reach and ratings.
Perhaps Trump’s fury will abate and his symbiotic relations with Fox will be repaired. He should hope so, because, with the expectation that the ’20 election could be tight, he needs Fox and its viewers arguably more than Fox needs him. Frankly, Fox benefits from Trump’s attacks. There’s no better way for Fox to refute its image as a Trump organ (with a revolving door of personnel traveling between Fox and the White House) than to have Trump denounce it for disloyalty. And there’s no better way for Fox’s hirelings to tout themselves as independent journalists; witness Brit Hume’s tweeted response to Trump yesterday: “Fox News isn’t supposed to work for you.”
Gee, I can’t imagine where Trump got that idea.