Donald Trump has been whining about Fox News lately. The former president is upset because the network has been using what he deems to be unflattering photographs of him and has apparently refused to show the numerous polls in which he is beating Joe Biden “by a lot.” These “numerous polls” are, of course, basically nonexistent: Of the 30 most recent polls listed at RealClearPolitics, Biden is ahead in 18, and five are tied. The seven in which Trump leads are mostly either from Rasmussen—which is almost an arm of the Republican National Committee—or from Mark Penn, the ex–Democratic pollster who’s been sucking up to Trump for years now.
Meanwhile, Fox News has been carping about Trump as well, because he’s not participating in the network’s Republican presidential primary debate this Wednesday. The suits—you know; the courageous muckrakers whose corrupt chicanery recently cost them $787 million and might make them cough up even more in the lawsuit likely coming to trial next year—have been wining and dining Trump, begging him to liven up an event that promises to conjure about as much star power as a Mr. Belvedere reunion. It’s even been reported that Rupert Murdoch has been urging Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin to get into the race, now that Ron DeSantis—the man the New York Post once touted as “DeSavior”—is turning out to be DeBummer.
We’ve seen Trump and Fox feud like this periodically over the years. A long time ago—back in 2015, say, when Trump said rude things about Megyn Kelly after she had the audacity to ask him a real question about his long record of over-the-top sexist comments about women—the animosity seemed real. At the time, Fox was still figuring out where it stood on Trump.
There’s no mystery now. Sure, it may well be the case that Murdoch, given the chance to wave a magic wand, would cast his spell in favor of a different candidate to emerge as the Republican nominee. But even Murdoch doesn’t have that power. Barring some kind of political earthquake, Trump will be the Republican candidate for president. Once that’s clear to everyone, America’s Pravda will be right there in his corner every step of the way.
Some people try to compare MSNBC and Fox, likening the former network to the Democratic Party’s version of Fox. This is insane. MSNBC is certainly liberal, no one denies that. But it’s not a propaganda network. If Joe Biden were facing four criminal convictions, would MSNBC still be in his corner? Not on your life. Its hosts would be outraged, and they would be leading the charge to find someone new.
Ditto the Democratic Party. I remember in 2016 people used to say, “Who is the Trump of the left?” There was and is no Trump of the left. Liberal voters would never elevate a corrupt, self-centered, lying, Putin-loving fascist to a county sheriff’s position, let alone the presidency. And high-ranking Democratic politicians would have jumped ship on such a figure long ago. The Democratic Party, for sure, has its faults. But it is not an authoritarian cult. The Republican Party is.
And Fox is the main information (or, if you prefer, disinformation) conduit between the cult’s leader and its Kool-Aid drinkers. It’s far from the only source of such sycophancy these days, which is an important thing for liberals to remember. As we learned from the materials released in the Dominion lawsuit, Fox execs like CEO Suzanne Scott and Murdoch himself are constantly worried that they’re going to lose audience share to One America and Newsmax, both of which are even more Volkischer Beobachter than Fox is. Then there are all the Substackers and podcasters and self-promoters who draw huge audiences promoting the same lies. Then there’s right-wing talk radio and Christian radio. And don’t forget much of local news, owned now by right-wing parent companies that force “fair and balanced” scripts on gullible—or culpable—local anchors.
It’s a massive galaxy of lies, bigotry, and hate. And while I’ve said this before, it’s worth repeating: The right-wing media in the United States is now more powerful, and more able to set the national agenda, than the mainstream media. Twenty years ago, the mainstream media was the behemoth, and the right-wing media was this smallish cankerous growth off to the side. Today? I’d say they’re about equal in size; if the mainstream media is still a bit larger, the right-wing media has the advantage of being driven by a specific political agenda in a way the mainstream press is not. That monomaniacal agenda comes through louder and clearer than the straight story: promote Republicans, destroy Democrats, and above all else, hail Trump.
They think of everything, I’ll give them that. I remember back in 1992 when the New York Post suddenly started running a few positive articles about Al Sharpton. The paper had dissed Sharpton for years. But lo and behold, it began seeing a new side to the Rev. Why would this have been?
Because he was running for Senate in the Democratic primary against Bobby Abrams, who was seen at the time as having an excellent shot at defeating GOP incumbent Alfonse D’Amato, who was Rupert’s all-time favorite. The more votes Sharpton could steal away from Abrams in the primary, the more he might weaken him for the general election. So, the Post promoted his candidacy for a while. I remember how the great journalists Wayne Barrett and Tom Robbins used to chuckle with me about it. I’m sure Al had a chuckle too. But you had to be a real connoisseur of Murdochian Kremlinology to notice this. (D’Amato edged out Abrams, by the way, because Abrams made the error of calling Alfonse a “fascist,” which he cleverly converted into an ethnic slur.)
Think the M.O. has changed? Check out Fox’s coverage of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. It’s fawning. On July 24, Media Matters noted that since his announcement of candidacy on April 19, RFK Jr. had appeared at least 10 times on Fox’s weekday broadcasts, which was more than Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, and Chris Christie. Sean Hannity gave him a town-hall event, something he hasn’t done for most of the GOP candidates.
So, enjoy this little feud if you want to. But remember: Fox only cares about two things. Ratings come first, always. Then comes crushing liberalism. The two have gone hand in hand since they turned on the lights back in 1996. Trump has been good for ratings. His liberal-crushing record is mixed at best. But as long as the base stays with him—the base that Fox has done more to create and inflame than any other entity in the country has, by the way—Fox will too.