Eric Boehlert

Author ››› Eric Boehlert
  • The GOP’s war on the press explodes into full view

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    First came the body slam, as Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte grabbed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs by the neck and lifted him off the ground Wednesday afternoon at a Montana campaign event. Then came the punches as Jacobs lay sprawled on the floor.

    Here’s how Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna described the jaw-dropping assault. She and two of her colleagues were in the room when the Gianforte attack took place:

    At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, "I'm sick and tired of this!"

    The candidate, who’s running in a special election today, has been charged for the assault.

    It’s all very shocking, but it's not surprising. It’s shocking that a grown man who wants to represent the voters of Montana in the halls and chambers of Congress decided to physically assault a reporter who was pressing the candidate with wonky questions about the Congressional Budget Office’s projections for the proposed GOP health care plan.

    “The eye-witness accounts and the recordings have stunned us,” wrote the Billings Gazette, Montana’s largest newspaper, which withdrew its endorsement of Gianforte last night. “We must adopt zero tolerance for such behavior if freedom of expression means anything.”

    But it’s not surprising.

    It’s not surprising because the Republican Party, led by President Donald Trump, has been widening its war on the press at a breathtaking pace over the last two years.

    Unequivocally targeting journalists as the “enemy of the people,” Trump has signaled to the party and to the larger conservative movement that it’s open season on the news media.

    “I called the fake news ‘the enemy of the people’ -- and they are. They are the enemy of the people. Because they have no sources, they just make them up when there are none,” Trump announced during his media-bashing address at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February.  

    And during a visit to CIA headquarters, the new president bragged that he had “a running war with the media” and called reporters “among the most dishonest human beings on earth.” This while his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, demanded the media "keep its mouth shut."

    After that, Trump reportedly urged then-FBI Director James Comey to jail reporters.

    And of course, on the campaign trail last year, Trump regularly called reporters "disgusting" and "horrible people.” His ardent followers soon picked up his cues and began raining down insults and death threats on journalists covering the Trump campaign.

    And don’t forget that Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was charged with simple battery of a reporter last year (the local prosecutor ultimately decided not to prosecute him), and that a Time photographer was slammed to the ground during a Trump rally.

    Cumulatively, that has helped create a hothouse environment where reporters have perpetual targets on their back.

    HuffPost’s Michael Calderone recently rounded up just the very latest disturbing attacks on the First Amendment:

    Alaska Dispatch News reporter Nathaniel Herz told police earlier this month that Republican state Sen. David Wilson slapped him during an encounter over a recent story.

    West Virginia reporter Dan Heyman was arrested on May 10 while trying to ask a question of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who later praised police for their handling of the situation.

    And last week, CQ Roll Call reporter John M. Donnelly said he was pinned against a wall by security guards after trying to ask a Federal Communications Commission member a question in Washington.

    Sadly, we can now add the Jacobs assault to the mounting war on the press, sponsored and promoted by today’s Republican Party.

  • Trump’s budget revolves around a glaring broken campaign promise -- the press needs to say so

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    President Donald Trump’s administration is proposing massive, unprecedented spending cuts on social aid programs while trying to balance the budget, pay for big tax cuts for the rich, and increase Pentagon spending. 

    At the center stands a gargantuan $800 billion reduction to Medicaid, which currently helps insure more than 70 million people, pays for millions of births each year, covers approximately 40 percent of all nursing home costs in America, and provides treatment for patients addicted to opioids.

    The cuts were detailed in President Trump’s first federal budget, which was delivered to Congress on Tuesday. The proposal represents a truly radical scheme.

    It also revolves around a stunning Trump flip-flop. Because while eyeing the White House, Trump had a much different plan as he promised to protect Medicaid, not take a chainsaw to it. (Trump in 2015: "I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid.")

    Trump's promise means that some form of this headline should be appearing on news sites all across the country this week: “Trump breaks campaign promise by proposing massive cuts to Medicaid.”

    That’s just Beltway Journalism 101: If a politician promises one thing while running for office and then immediately does the complete opposite after being elected, that’s considered news. Especially if it’s the president of the United Sates. 

    But we’re not seeing many of those headlines with Trump and Medicaid. Yes, news organizations are stressing that Trump’s budget would result in unprecedented cuts to anti-poverty programs. But the second key part about Trump’s attack on America’s long-standing social safety net representing an abdication of a major campaign promise? That is getting very short shrift.

    That’s distressing because it evidences a larger problem where journalists no longer consider Trump’s rhetoric and promises to be serious enough to bother holding the president accountable.

    In other words, if the press is willing to normalize Trump’s duplicitous behavior to the point where it doesn’t even report that the cornerstone of his proposed budget represents a stunning case of political hypocrisy, then journalists are slowly becoming part of the problem.

    If we are at the point where journalists tend to shrug at the sight and sounds of a Trump lie or blatant flip-flop, that means Trump has successfully worn the press down to the point where journalists don't care about detailing the prevarications and deceits.

    For context, here’s how enormous the Medicaid cuts are that Trump is now proposing:

    And yet many in the press have glossed over the fact that the historic cuts clearly contradict Trump’s previous promises. In fact, some news outlets actually gave Trump credit this week for keeping some campaign promises with his budget.

    Here's how Axios originally reported on Trump's budget (emphasis added):

    President Trump's 2018 budget proposal on Tuesday won't reform Social Security or Medicare — in line with his campaign promise — but it will make serious cuts to other entitlement programs.

    Axios wrote Trump kept “his campaign promise” by not touching Social Security or Medicare. But Axios was silent about the fact that Trump had obviously broken his promise not to cut Medicaid, let alone not to make “serious cuts.” (Furthermore, Axios was wrong that the budget doesn't cut Social Security and later deleted the "campaign promise" language and made other changes to its article.)

    NPR did the same thing. It noted that Trump kept his pledge regarding Medicare and completely ignored his broken budget promise for Medicaid. 

    More of the same from Reuters:

    Trump upheld his promise - for the most part - that he would not cut Medicare and Social Security, two expensive safety-net programs that deficit hawks have long targeted for reforms.

    (Note that both NPR and Reuters made the same mistake as Axios on Social Security -- seemingly not understanding cuts to Social Security disability payments in the budget)

    So Trump promises that are kept constitute news, but Trump promises that are broken get ignored?

    And more from CNN:

    Donald Trump's budget that is expected to be unveiled on Tuesday will include $800 billion in cuts to Medicaid -- a move that underscores the President's resolve to significantly downsize the federal program even as Republican lawmakers are clashing over the issue in Congress.

    Missing? Any context regarding candidate Trump and Medicaid. (Only later did CNN publish a story noting the broken promise.)

    ABC News reported that the Trump budget includes "deep cuts" to Medicaid and then noted that “Democrats are criticizing the White House proposal, accusing Trump of going back on his promise to his campaign supporters.”  

    But it’s a fact that Trump went back on his promise, not merely a Democratic accusation.

    For the record, there were major news organizations that did include references to Trump’s blatant Medicaid flip-flop in their coverage. But they did so much too timidly.

    The Wall Street JournalLos Angeles TimesCBSUSA Today, and NBC all noted Trump’s Medicaid flip-flop. The problem was that the salient fact was mentioned only in passing -- often via a single sentence -- and was often buried deep into the news accounts.

    Trump advertises his hypocrisy every day. The press shouldn’t ignore his boasts.

  • As Trump unravels, so do Fox’s ratings

    Network slips behind MSNBC, CNN in key demo during prime time

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT


    Sarah Wasko/Media Matters

    When Fox News architect Roger Ailes died last Thursday, one of the common threads through the coverage of his career was the ratings success he produced at the conservative news channel.

    “Roger Ailes, who built Fox News into a powerhouse, dies at 77,” read the CNN headline. The Associated Press agreed: “He helped start Fox News in 1996 and built it into a conservative news beacon and cable ratings powerhouse.”

    While Ailes was heavily (and deservedly) criticized over both the political legacy he left behind and the reports of serial sexual harassment that defined the end of his career, there was heated agreement within the press that Ailes was a television marketing master whose ratings success was untouched -- and that the Ailes model would outlive even his own presence as at the network. (He was forced out last July as reports of harassment snowballed.)

    All of which made Fox News’ ratings performance on the night Ailes died even more shocking: On Thursday, Fox News came in last place among the three cable news channels among viewers between the ages of 25 and 54. And it wasn’t a fluke.

    In a development that has sparked murmurs throughout the cable news business, Fox News in recent weeks has regularly finished in last place among advertising-friendly viewers between the ages of 25 and 54, or “demo” viewers, as they’re known in the industry. (In terms of total viewers, Fox News does better, thanks to its large stable of viewers over the age of 54.)

    “For first time this century, they aren’t in first place,” noted MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough last week. “In fact, for the first time this century, they are in third place.” Added CNN’s Brian Stelter, “This is an extraordinary moment in the cable news race.”

    And yes, a lot of this is President Donald Trump’s fault.

    Ever since Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on May 9, which seemed to then unleash an unending stream of breaking-news bombshells that rattled White House windows day after day, Fox News has seen its mighty ratings prowess threatened by MSNBC and CNN.

    Basically, the ongoing and ever-expanding list of scandals involving the Trump administration -- many revolving around Russia -- has depressed Fox News viewers while simultaneously spiking interest at CNN and MSNBC, driving Fox into the ratings basement. 

    Are we witnessing a sea change in cable news? Or is this simply an extended blip that’s drawing back the curtain and revealing Fox News’ programming flaws -- flaws that could be, at least in part, the result of endless personnel turmoil at the network for the last year.

    Whether it’s permanent or temporary, the current ratings malaise certainly raises larger questions for Fox News as it confronts a key transition period and figures out how to cover the Trump administration. So far, its "defend everything Trump does while complaining about liberal media bias" strategy doesn't seem to be paying off. 

    Keep in mind, last year Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly were posting blockbuster numbers at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. for Fox News. Today, they’re both gone and their replacement shows are struggling. Tucker Carlson Tonight is having trouble at 8 p.m., and The Five’s move to 9 p.m. has been, by Fox News standards, a ratings disappointment.

    Carlson’s decline at 8 p.m. must be especially troubling for Fox News executives since it’s a valuable time slot the network absolutely dominated for more than a decade with O’Reilly at the helm.  

    Nothing Carlson has tried in recent weeks amid the Trump scandal season has worked. Tucker has tried downplaying or ignoring the pile-up of bad news for Trump. And he’s also tried claiming the scandal coverage is all “hysteria”

    Keep in mind, O’Reilly had posted some staggering numbers earlier this year for Fox News at 8 p.m. -- numbers that, as of now, Carlson can only dream of equaling. (O’Reilly averaged nearly 4 million viewers during the first quarter of 2017; Carlson is routinely coming in 30-40 percent under those numbers.) 

    Carlson has also repeatedly finished behind CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 in the 25-54 demo, and twice last week landed in third place behind both Cooper and MSNBC’s All in with Chris Hayes.

    Overall, The Rachel Maddow Show at 9 p.m. has emerged as a ratings juggernaut for MSNBC this year, and especially this month.

    Meanwhile, MSNBC’s The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell has topped Hannity several times at 10 p.m. – both in the key demo and in overall ratings. That's the same Sean Hannity who, in the post-O’Reilly era, was supposed to be the network’s most powerful and influential attraction. Hannity’s “the alpha anchor right now,” Bloomberg suggested after O’Reilly’s departure. 

    But that hasn’t worked out.

    What’s so shocking about Fox News’ ratings woes is how swift the downward movement has been. “Through the first six months of 2016, FNC is enjoying the highest-rated year in its history in total day and primetime viewership,” The Wrap reported last June.

    One month later, in July 2016, Fox News’ implosion started when then-anchor Gretchen Carlson sued Ailes for sexual harassment. Since then, numerous key players have been publicly forced out at Fox, while others have walked away from the network.

    I can’t say I’m shocked by Fox News’ current ratings slump. Earlier this month, in the wake of O’Reilly’s forced departure, which was then followed by the forced departure of the channel’s co-president, I noted that Fox was poised for some tough times: “I also think the drip, drip, drip of on-air changes and off-camera firings and departures could unquestionably alter the dynamics for the long-running ratings winner."

    That internal turmoil, coupled with Trump’s scandal-plagued presidency, which shows no signs of abating, could signal a new ratings era in cable news.

    UPDATE:

    According to HuffPo, MSNBC "scored its best week in its 21-year-history" the week of May 15 "by beating out both CNN and Fox News in total prime-time viewers and among the demographic prized by advertisers."

  • Fox News' cynical and vulgar conspiracies about the slain DNC staffer fit a pattern

    Just ask Vince Foster's And Chris Stevens' families

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    CNN’s headline on Tuesday pretty much captured the latest example of how the fact-free conservative media often hype hollow conspiracies: “Story On DNC Staffer's Murder Dominated Conservative Media -- Hours Later It Fell Apart.”

    To recap: No, Seth Rich, the 27-year-old Democratic National Committee staffer who was killed last summer in Washington, D.C., the victim of an apparent botched robbery, did not provide WikiLeaks with more than 44,000 DNC emails. (Those emails were hacked by Russians, according to U.S. intelligence agencies.) No, the Clintons did not have Rich murdered. And no, there hasn’t been a sprawling political cover-up.

    None of the salacious allegations that Fox News, with the help of a local affiliate, peddled this week were based in reality, as the GOP outlets tried to jump-start a dormant conspiracy theory about the murder victim. (For good debunkings of the sorry charade that unfolded this week, see here, here, and here.)

    That conservative media would wildly overhype a bogus story for partisan reasons is hardly a revelation. (It’s kind of why they exist.) But the Rich story was especially galling because it fits a vile pattern.

    "The family is officially asking for a retraction and an apology from Fox News and from the Fox 5 DC affiliate for inaccurate reporting and damaging the legacy of their son," a Rich family spokesperson told CNN. 

    It’s one thing to pile on politicians and other very public partisan figures, lobbing made-up allegations and trying to connect conspiratorial dots. But to try to destroy the memory of a staffer who met a violent death is really just gross.

    What was particularly offensive about the Rich story this week was that it seemed like Fox was hyping the hollow tale as a way to avoid dealing with the unfolding meltdown at the White House this week. Desperate for a distraction and desperate not to acknowledge the news bombshells exploding around President Donald Trump, Fox opted to peddle bullshit concocted stories, based on shrouded, anonymous sources.

     “Not only that, but this investigator says there could be a cover-up. Wow,” host Brian Kilmeade exclaimed Tuesday morning of the private investigator who claimed to a Fox affiliate that Rich had communicated with WikiLeaks (a point he later retracted). Meanwhile, on the Fox News website the headline blared "DC MURDER MYSTERY."

    From there, the awfulness shifted into overdrive throughout the Trump-loyal media:

    Breitbart.com ran an article on its home page claiming that Fox’s article may prove that the hack of DNC emails was “an inside job.” The Drudge Report ran a screaming banner on its site claiming Rich “had contact” with WikiLeaks and linked to the Fox 5 DC article. 

    And more awfulness:

    Hannity remains undeterred by the family's pleas -- as of Thursday, he was still devoting time on both his radio show and Fox News program to peddling conspiracies about Rich's death, using it to undermine the idea that Russia was behind the DNC email hack. "Apparently I care more about why this kid was murdered than you do," Hannity told his critics.

    Basically, it was the “alt-right” idiocy of Pizzagate all over again. “This is what happens when a murder victim becomes a pro-Trump meme,” noted the Washington City Paper.

    True. But here’s a key point to remember: Conservatives, and specifically right-wing media, have been sponsoring these occasional campaigns for decades.

    For instance, the push to politicize the death of the former U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, was especially cruel. And the relentless, years-long smear campaign against Vince Foster and his legacy after the longtime friend of the Clintons committed suicide in 1993, helped define the Clinton Derangement Syndrome years of the 1990s.

    In all three cases, the Rich, Stevens and Foster families begged conservatives to stop using their dead sons and brothers in a morbid and fact-free way to push their own partisan agendas. Basically, they beseeched conservatives to show a little decency – and they were ignored.

    Almost from the moment Stevens was killed in 2012, two things happened simultaneously: His family asked that his death not be politicized, and Fox News immediately began politicizing his death, using it as cudgel to try to bludgeon both President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. 

    Last year, Stevens’ mother again called for for an "immediate and permanent stop" to the use of her son's name by GOP leaders and Trump, calling the efforts "opportunistic and cynical."

    That came in response to Trump’s stunningly tasteless campaign rhetoric during a written speech attacking Hillary Clinton. Echoing years’ worth of Fox News Benghazi hysteria, Trump said, “Her decisions spread death, destruction and terrorism everywhere she touched," Trump said. "Among the victims [was] our late ambassador, Chris Stevens. ... He was left helpless to die as Hillary Clinton soundly slept in her bed.”

    Incredibly, Trump also discussed Vince Foster last year when the cable pundit-turned-candidate told The Washington Post that the circumstances of Foster’s death were “very fishy” and that Foster “knew everything that was going on, and then all of a sudden he committed suicide.”

    Foster’s sister immediately criticized Trump: “For Trump to raise these theories again for political advantage is wrong. I cannot let such craven behavior pass without a response.”

    In 1993, Foster was the then-deputy White House counsel who committed suicide in Northern Virginia's Fort Marcy Park, just outside of Washington, D.C. His death, which sparked controversy when conservatives accused the president and his wife of being part of a plot to murder their friend, quickly came to symbolize the outlandish and despicable claims that were at the center of the anti-Clinton campaigns during the 1990s. (Independent counsel Robert Fiske’s 140-page report on Foster’s death concluded definitively that Foster had killed himself and that he had depression.)

    Without Fox News to broadcast and amplify every wild allegation (the network launched in 1996), the tasteless Foster conspiracies were spread via emerging online bulletin boardsfaxed newsletters, self-published exposés, and VHS tapes, like The Clinton Chronicles, which portrayed the president as a one-man crime syndicate.

    At the top of the Foster-feeding media pyramid stood Rush Limbaugh ("A report ... will be published that claims Vince Foster was murdered in an apartment owned by Hillary Clinton. ... The Vince Foster suicide was not a suicide"), The New York Times’ William Safire  (“What terrible secret drove Vincent foster, the Clintons’ personal lawyer, to a put a bullet in his head?”), and Robert Bartley's team of editorial writers at The Wall Street Journal, who spent eight years lost in a clueless Clinton pursuit.

    And the '90s witch hunt continued well into the new century. In 2007, for instance, Fox News host Sean Hannity hosted a segment about the "mysterious death" of Foster, hinting that the Clintons might have pulled off "a massive cover-up."

    More recently, when the health official who had verified President Obama's birth certificate was killed in a plane crash in 2013, conspiracy outlets were quick to suggest foul play. The future president, of course, was not far behind. "How amazing, the State Health Director who verified copies of Obama’s 'birth certificate' died in plane crash today. All others lived," Trump tweeted.

    This week, surveying the moral wreckage in the wake of the Seth Rich cover-up hoax, the family spokesperson condemned the media players behind the cruel offensive: "I think there is a special place in hell for people like that."

    Sadly, those people already have a place at Fox News.

  • After Feasting On “The Appearance Of Impropriety” For Years, Fox News Suddenly Loses Its Appetite

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Given the breakneck pace of the news cycle the past couple weeks, President Donald Trump and his administration seem to be on course to set a new record for blockbuster news stories documenting malfeasance by an administration.  

    On Monday, The Washington Post reported that Trump gave highly classified intelligence to Russian officials during their recent Oval Office visit -- while his administration is under investigation for colluding with Russians during the election last year, and on the day when only Russian media were allowed inside the Oval Office. (The New York Times reported that the intel had been provided to the U.S. by Israel. According to ABC News, the life of an Israeli intelligence agent embedded within ISIS is now endangered by Trump's actions.)

    Setting aside the serious substantive concerns about Trump’s reported behavior -- do optics get any worse than that? (And remember, Trump spent 2016 accusing his political opponent of being unfit for office over her supposed recklessness in handling classified information.)

    The Post story broke only a week after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey at least in part because -- as Trump shockingly admitted during a televised interview -- the president didn’t like that Comey was investigating the possible Trump/Russia connection. This was after the FBI chief reportedly requested more resources for his probe, and after Trump had reportedly asked that Comey pledge his personal loyalty to the new president.

    Yesterday, the Times broke the news -- which was subsequently confirmed by other outlets – that Comey had penned a memo after a February meeting with Trump, during which the president allegedly asked Comey to back off the agency’s investigation of Michael Flynn, who had served as the president's national security adviser -- an astounding move that some legal scholars are labeling obstruction of justice. Flynn was fired after he was found to have lied about previous contacts with Russian officials.

    So it’s been quite a Trump run.

    While the various actions taken by Trump detailed in recent news reports are causing some experts and journalists to sound the alarm, Fox News has been desperately trying to run defense for the administration and downplay allegations of potential lawbreaking and inappropriate behavior, reassuring its viewers that there’s no there there.

    For years under the Obama administration, when Fox couldn’t establish or back up its flimsy claims of wrongdoing by the Democratic administration, it relied on a lower bar by which to judge government behavior: optics and the “appearance of impropriety.”  

    Predictably, Fox News seems to have abandoned that standard under Trump.

    Last week, Brian Kilmeade and the rest of Fox News were just exhausted by the “media hysteria” over Trump’s disturbing decision to fire Comey. Pounding the network's key narratives that the stunning dismissal was actually long overdue, that the White House explanation made perfect sense, and that the Beltway media were blowing everything out of proportion, Kilmeade not only waved off allegations of wrongdoing, but he also questioned whether critics were paying too much attention to the appearances surrounding the termination.

    “Should optics matter?” Kilmeade asked as the Comey story continued to churn through the Beltway. Surveying the pile-up, Kilmeade suddenly didn’t care how things looked politically. “Is there anything wrong with not caring about the optics?” the co-host asked his guests.

    Indeed, the “appearance” bell at Fox News has suddenly gone completely quiet: The phrase “appearance of impropriety” has been uttered only once since Trump was inaugurated -- and that was in reference to Hillary Clinton! -- according to a Nexis search of Fox News transcripts for the channel’s evening programs. 

    Fox’s new hallmark lack of concern for optics and appearances only hardened when another bombshell story erupted seven days later with The Post's report Trump gave Russian officials highly classified intelligence. That stunner not only failed to produce condemnations from Fox News, which immediately shifted into furious spin and deflect mode, but talkers didn’t appear worried about out how news about spilled secrets to the Russians looked. There was no concern for optics.

    So yes, Fox News’ “Appearance of Impropriety” era is officially over. But oh, what a hearty run it had.

    For years, Fox News served as a sort of unofficial Republican Oversight Committee as the network held daily televised hearings on the criminality that was supposedly running rampant in the Obama administration.

    And when Fox News couldn’t summon up clear evidence of wrongdoing to support its often wild, elaborate charges (Hint: it virtually never could), Fox talkers regularly hopped on their favorite hobby horse: appearances. For Fox News, if it looked bad, it was bad. And for years that meant Democrats needed to be the target of congressional inquiries, and sometimes even criminal investigation.

    Fox News’ “appearance” obsession was transferred over to Clinton last year:

    The “appearance” chatter was truly relentless, especially surrounding the Clinton Foundation:

    • “There’s no getting away from the appearance of impropriety here.” (Juan Williams)
    • “Did it have the appearance of impropriety, and was it potentially illegal? Those are all fair game questions in an election for the presidency.” (Megyn Kelly)
    • “I think the idea of foreign governments giving massive contributions to a foundation run by a couple with a -- with one former president and another likely presidential candidate, and current, at that point, secretary of state -- that in and of itself has the appearance of such impropriety.” (Laura Ingraham)

    But giving secrets away to the Russians after firing the FBI director doesn’t appear to be improper? Even after Trump specifically admitted he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation, or that “made up story,” as Trump has called the inquiry.

    That would’ve been like if Obama had fired Comey last summer and said Comey got canned because he was investigating Clinton’s emails, which in Obama’s opinion was a totally bogus pursuit.

    For now, though, as Trump rewrites the record books for awful optics, Fox News remains mum on the “appearance of impropriety” front.

  • It’s Not Just Trump: Republicans Constantly Lying About Health Care Means Reporters Face A Growing Challenge

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    As the Beltway press scrambles to keep pace with the White House’s shifting explanations as to why President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey -- explanations that seem built on a laundry list of daily deceptions -- journalists are now fighting a multiple-front war versus the Republican crusade to embrace fabrications as a rule.

    The erratic new president has unleashed a torrent of lies in the place of public policy discussion, but the serial mendacity on the right is hardly limited to Trump. That means journalists face a growing challenge in trying to ferret out the facts.

    After voting to pass a sweeping health care bill with no formal cost assessment, which hadn’t been marked up in policy committees, and which hadn’t even been read by all members of Congress, Republicans have been on an extraordinary public relations campaign to support the controversial legislation.

    The push is extraordinary because Republican officials, led by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, are aggressively fabricating claims about the bill that’s now pending before the Senate. In a Trump era of endless firsts, this is likely the first time we’ve seen a major American political party try to pass a landmark social policy initiative by categorically misstating almost every key claim about the bill.   

    No, the House bill does not protect people with pre-existing conditions. It does not protect older Americans from increased insurance costs. It does not mean everyone will be charged the same for insurance. The bill wasn’tbipartisan.” And it does not allow “for every single person to get the access to the kind of coverage that they want,” as Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price claims.

    If it did those things, the bill wouldn’t be controversial, would it? So instead, Republicans are committed to selling a fantasy version of the House bill -- and hoping the press doesn’t call them out on it.

    “What really stands out, however, is the Orwell-level dishonesty of the whole effort,” wrote New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. “Everything about Trumpcare is specifically designed to do exactly the opposite of what Trump, Paul Ryan and other Republicans said it would.”

    This represents a dangerous new age in American politics. If Republicans succeed by lying about their health care plan, there’s no telling what the next target of GOP fabrications will be.

    Right now, the future does not look promising because while some journalists and opinion writers, including those quoted above, are rightfully pointing out the GOP lies, others are routinely treating Republican health care lies as merely assertions in a larger he said/he said partisan debate.

    As Brian Beutler noted at The New Republic:

    To that end, these Republicans are counting on the reporters who interview them, and the news outlets that report on AHCA, to either not grasp finer points of health policy or to feel inhibited from disputing lies, so that the lies get transmitted to the public uncorrected.

    Indeed, if Republicans don’t get called out for trafficking in fabrications, what’s the incentive for them to stop? If the press treats the GOP’s systematic lying as nothing more than partisan spin, there’s little downside to the strategy.

    On Twitter, some observers have highlighted news organizations guilty of privileging GOP health care lies:

    And:

    Note that it wasn’t just Axios’ Twitter feed that failed. In its write-up of Ryan’s TV appearance, Axios simply regurgitated the Republican’s false claims about health care and provided readers with no context about how many central untruths he was peddling.

    Meanwhile, look at this feel-good New York Times headline that followed Ryan’s TV appearance and ask yourself, why would Republicans start telling the truth if lying produces headlines like this?

    House Health Care Bill Is ‘Us Keeping Our Promises,’ Paul Ryan Says

    And note how The Associated Press struggled while covering Secretary Price’s recent illogical claim that a proposed $880 billion cut in Medicaid funding to states over 10 years would actually help states provide better health care (emphasis added):

    CBO's analysis highlighted an $880 billion cut to Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor and disabled, which Price sought to cast as a way to give states more leeway to experiment with the program. The Obama-era law expanded Medicaid with extra payments to 31 states to cover more people. The House bill halts the expansion, in addition to cutting federal spending on the program.

    But Price insisted Sunday, "There are no cuts to the Medicaid program," adding that resources were being apportioned "in a way that allows states greater flexibility."

    Basically, Price was claiming up is down, and AP did its best to let him get away with it.

    According to the Congressional Budget Office, which analyzed a previous version of the bill passed by the House, the $880 billion in Medicaid cuts would translate into 14 million people losing Medicaid coverage.

    After pressing Price during a recent interview on his central contradiction about Medicaid (i.e. big cuts make it better!), NBC’s Andrea Mitchell seemed a bit exasperated: “I think a lot of people wonder how taking more than $800 billion out of something is going to put more resources in it.”

    It was good that Mitchell compelled Price to answer, but how did NBC News then treat Price’s nonsensical Meet the Press appearance? It rewarded him by repeating his health care lies in a headline:  “HHS Sec. Tom Price: 'Nobody Will Be Worse Off Financially' Under GOP Health Plan.”

    And the lede of that article:

    No one will be adversely affected by the Republicans' new health care bill once it's enacted and more people would be covered, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

    Politico did something similar for comments from Ryan: “Ryan: GOP Health Care Bill Not Only Good Policy, But Good Politics.”

    For the GOP, that’s mission accomplished. And somewhere, Trump is smiling.

    The good news is there’s still plenty of time for reporters to accurately describe how Republicans are trying to sell health care via baldfaced lies.

    In Friday’s Washington Post, Dave Weigel did just that. He wrote a straightforward report about how Republicans, pressed at town hall meetings to defend the GOP’s bill, have unfurled “a series of flat misstatements and contradictions about what’s actually in the bill.”

    Today, Republicans are unapologetic about spreading health care fabrications. More journalists should simply document that fact.  

  • Journalists May Have Finally Met Their Trump Tipping Point -- Is It Too Late?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey is shocking, but it’s not unexpected.

    The idea that Trump would abruptly sack the top law enforcement chief who was overseeing an investigation into the president’s own possible campaign collusion with the Kremlin, and that Trump would do it one day after former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified about the White House’s ongoing Russian entanglement, is truly outrageous.

    But this is what people who have been sounding the alarms about a Trump presidency have feared all along: a constitutional crisis that threatens our democracy. So it’s not unexpected.

    We’ve always seen the dark side of Trump and wondered why so many in the press refused to acknowledge it.

    That’s why when we read media accounts in January suggesting Trump might soon morph into acting in a more serious, bipartisan mode after his inauguration, the reports seemed like complete fairy tales, since Trump had just spent the previous 18 months showing us exactly who he was.

    And that’s why for months we have beseeched the press to hold this erratic president accountable, to take collective action against a White House determined to attack the free press and diminish its role in our democracy. That’s why we urged journalists to call out Trump’s obvious ignorance on key policy issues and his conveyor belt of lies. It’s why we begged journalists to stop normalizing Trump, stop writing valentines to his voters, stop calling him “presidential,” and to not believe anything this White House says – ever.

    We implored not for partisan reasons but because we saw the looming danger. We saw Trump's authoritarian tendencies, the Republican Party’s swing to the radical right. We also saw an administration that embraced pathological lying, and we understood the long-term damage deception does to public trust in longstanding democratic institutions.

    We recognized all of this, but many in the press corps refused to change their ways. Faced with a radical president, too many journalists continued to cling to the rules and models they used for covering previous administrations. But that doesn’t work. We hope it’s not too late for the Beltway press to make game-changing alterations in their White House coverage. The need for a strong, aggressive and unblinking Fourth Estate is paramount today as Trump lurches toward lawbreaking. 

    For now, it’s decision time. As Will Bunch writes at Philly.com:

    [T]he way we respond to Trump's Tuesday Night massacre will decide whether "the system works" again, or whether this country slowly slides into the realm of the world's all-too-many unstable banana republics.

    And let’s be clear, it’s all going to get worse, and it's all going to require even more aggressive reporting. Bunch’s reference to Trump’s “Tuesday Night massacre” hearkens back to the Watergate scandal, when a besieged President Richard Nixon, under pressure to hand over White House audio tapes that would lead to his downfall, ordered the firing of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox.

    Nixon’s Saturday Night massacre was generally seen as the pinnacle of his arrogant, lawbreaking ways. But Trump has just gotten started. Nixon’s massacre came approximately 1,700 days into his presidency. Trump’s came after 110 days.

    And by the way, Nixon historian Jeffrey Frank says Trump’s firing of Comey actually represents a more dangerous abuse of power than Nixon’s firing of Cox did.

    Consider also that Comey's firing came shortly after a "significant escalation" in the FBI's Russia inquiry (emphasis added):

    Federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn seeking business records, as part of the ongoing probe of Russian meddling in last year's election, according to people familiar with the matter. CNN learned of the subpoenas hours before President Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey.

    The subpoenas represent the first sign of a significant escalation of activity in the FBI's broader investigation begun last July into possible ties between Trump campaign associates and Russia. 

    Stunning. But not unexpected.

    Looking back to Nixon, we all know how the Watergate saga ended, and we know the American press corps came out of that crisis with its head held high. As of today, we have no idea how Trump’s scandal-filled presidency will play out. Nor do we have any assurances that journalists will ultimately hold him accountable.

    As the White House careens from one crisis to another, it’s time for the press to radically alter its outlook. It’s time to permanently drop any attempt to normalize Trump, to stop believing any unconfirmed spin from the White House, and to start treating Trump as the extremist that he is. 

  • Trumpcare: What Happened To The Press’s Obsession With Bipartisan Votes?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Remember when President Barack Obama was sworn into office in 2009 and the Beltway press quickly established guidelines for judging his legislative successes and failures? I called it the Bipartisan Trap, and the rigid rule looked like this: If Republicans refused to support Democratic bills, it was all Obama’s fault. Period.

    It was an extraordinary approach for the press to take, putting the onus for outreach on the new Democratic president. Why couldn’t he reason with Republicans, journalists wondered? Why didn’t he schmooze them more? Why didn’t Obama, having just won a mandate via a landslide victory in 2008, immediately placate Republicans?

    No matter whether it was Republicans refusing to allow a vote on a background check gun bill that boasted 90 percent approval rating with voters or radical Republicans threatening to shut down the federal government, the press was often in heated agreement that it was Obama’s fault. (And if he complained, pundits said it sounded “like whining.”)

    At one point early in Obama’s presidency, NBC’s Chuck Todd actually asked the White House spokesperson if Obama would veto the Democrats' stimulus bill, which was desperately needed to help save the spiraling U.S. economy, because the bill didn’t enjoy Republican support.

    The double standard is blinding: When the Republican push to dismantle Obamacare passed the House last week without a single Democratic yes vote, the press didn’t seem to care that Trump had failed to bridge the two sides. And as the same GOP health care bill faces seamless, unanimous opposition from Democrats as it heads to the Senate, the D.C. media seem to be largely unbothered by Trump’s lack of bipartisan support. (Even though Trump promised he’d work with the other side.)

    Where are the mountains of columns complaining that Trump can't get bipartisan support? That type of media whining defined the Obama era.

    Instead, I’ve seen lots of pundits saluting a major Trump “victory” in getting the bill passed in the House, even without a single Democratic supporter. In other words, the media’s Bipartisan Trap has been quickly disassembled for the new Republican president.

    Note that the trap was used all the way up to Obama’s final week in office this year. That’s when Chris Cillizza was still lamenting that Obama couldn’t secure Republican support -- despite pledging to try to do so when he announced his run for president -- and saying that was his defining presidential shortfall.

    Now at CNN, how did Cillizza treat the GOP’s hyperpartisan health care vote last week in the House? Did he grieve over Trump's failure to bridge the two sides? Of course not. Instead, Cillizza saluted GOP leaders for getting enough votes from their “ideologically diverse caucus.”

    Did you see the sleight of hand there? As recently as January, Cillizza hit Obama for not being able to secure Republican votes. In May he credits Trump for being able to secure only Republican votes from the party’s “diverse caucus.” (Talk about a low bar.)

    From Obama’s first major piece of legislation as president, the stimulus bill, the press made it clear that the new Democratic president would be graded based on how many votes he got from the other party. 

    "The [stimulus] bill will be judged a political success not simply if it becomes law, but if it's deemed 'bipartisan' -- with joint ownership that takes a first step toward the new brand of politics Obama has promised," wrote ABC News' Rick Klein. He added that if the bill didn't pass with bipartisan support, "the luster of Obama's leadership" would "fade."

    For some reason, the press insisted Obama had all but promised during his 2008 campaign to end partisan bickering in D.C., and therefore he alone was to blame when it persisted. But Obama made no such "promise." What Obama campaigned on was the idea that he would do his best to cure gridlock in Washington -- that he would reach out to Republicans and conservatives in meaningful ways and lead by example. And he did, from day one. But Republicans had already adopted their radical strategy of obstruction.

    The media's Bipartisan Trap became even more pronounced when Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010. A historic initiative designed to provide health care coverage to millions of Americans, the bill, dubbed Obamacare, passed without a single yes vote from the GOP in the House, despite Obama’s yearlong sales pitch.

    And the press was very, very concerned.

    Note this headline from The Washington Post in 2010 right after Obamacare passed: “House Passes Health-Care Reform Bill Without Republican Votes.” The lack of Republican support was so important, the Post mentioned right in the headline, and then in the second paragraph of the news story.

    How did the Post report on last week’s health care vote? “House Republicans Claim A Major Victory With Passage Of Health-Care Overhaul.” The bill’s complete lack of Democratic support wasn’t mentioned in the headline, nor until the 15th paragraph of the news story.

    The New York Times did the same thing. In 2010, following the Obamacare vote, the paper announced (emphasis added):

    But there is no doubt that in the course of this debate, Mr. Obama has lost something — and lost it for good. Gone is the promise on which he rode to victory less than a year and a half ago — the promise of a “postpartisan” Washington in which rationality and calm discourse replaced partisan bickering.

    There was no similar hand-wringing from the Times last week regarding the health care vote, which secured zero Democratic supporters in the House. Quite the contrary. The Times announced that the GOP’s House vote represented “a remarkable act of political resuscitation.”

    In other words, for Trump, who lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, it’s not a sign of weakness that he can’t find common ground with the other side.

    For the Beltway press, that standard applied only to Obama.

  • Trump Doesn’t Understand Health Care -- Shouldn’t The Press Say So?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Interviewing President Donald Trump for Face The Nation, host John Dickerson recently tried to pin the president down on the details of the Republican health care bill that Trump was championing in his effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

    The exercise did not go well because Trump clearly did not understand any of the policy details in the bill, dubbed the American Health Care Act (AHCA). For instance, Trump kept boasting that Americans with pre-existing conditions don’t have anything to worry about with the new Republican legislation. But that’s obviously not true. “In fact, it’s exactly the opposite,” Vox noted. “An amendment to the AHCA introduced this week would give states authority to let insurers charge sick people higher premiums.”

    After a while, the Face The Nation back-and-forth started to resemble a Laurel and Hardy routine, as Dickerson and Trump talked past each other. The CBS host asked sensible questions and the president offered up garbled, borderline-unintelligible responses, often while making claims about the bill that were false.

    Here’s an example from CBS' transcript, as Dickerson pressed Trump about pre-existing conditions:

    JOHN DICKERSON: But has that been fixed?

    DONALD TRUMP: Totally fixed.

    DICKERSON: How?

    TRUMP: How? We've made many changes to the bill. You know, this bill is--

    DICKERSON: What kind though?

    TRUMP: --very much different than it was three weeks ago.

    DICKERSON: Help us explain because there are people--

    TRUMP: The bill--

    DICKERSON: --out there wondering what kind of changes.

    TRUMP: Let me explain. Let me explain it to you.

    DICKERSON: Okay.

    For Dickerson, the interview was like wrestling Jell-O. And for any viewer with a basic understanding of Obamacare and how health care works in the United States, Trump’s responses were categorically nonsensical. So the curtain was successfully pulled back, right? Not quite.

    Here’s how Trump’s interview was then reported in an article on CBSNews.com: “Trump Guarantees Coverage For People With Pre-Existing Conditions In Health Care Bill.”

    That was a wildly misleading, Trump-friendly headline, because in fact, the AHCA “seems to weaken existing protections for people with pre-existing conditions, not strengthen them,” as PolitiFact explained.

    During the interview, Dickerson made it abundantly clear that Trump didn’t know much about health care and that he knew even less about the bill he wanted Congress to pass. But the network glossed over all that unpleasantness and produced a report that focused on Trump’s promises, even though the GOP bill can’t possibly meet those promises.

    That kind of whitewashing has become the media norm, as journalists quietly turn away from the stunning fact that while Trump is trying to reconfigure the U.S. health care economy, he doesn’t understand how it works or what the GOP bill will do.

    In the wake of Thursday’s House vote to pass the AHCA, and prior to the pending debate that will unfold in the Senate, the way the press depicts Trump with regard to the health care push remains vital. To date, there’s lots of normalizing going on.

    For example, here was a recent health care update from Reuters, just prior to the House vote: “President Donald Trump's effort to roll back Obamacare gained momentum on Wednesday as Republican leaders scheduled a vote in the House of Representatives on Thursday on newly revised legislation.”

    Focusing heavily on process (the bill was gaining “traction”), Reuters emphasized that Trump was marshaling Republican forces to finally repeal and replace Obamacare. Left out by Reuters? Trump doesn’t know what’s in the Republican bill to replace Obamacare, and Trump is making wildly unfounded claims about the legislation. (See more examples of that look-away coverage here, here and here.)  

    Following Thursday’s vote, the coverage then quickly focused even more heavily on process and optics, as journalists touted Trump’s big “win,” even though the cost of the bill hasn’t yet been assessed by the Congressional Budget Office. (That's a task usually done before any votes are cast.) Nor has the bill yet been taken up by the more closely divided Senate. (Republican leadership has even indicted there will be no vote on the House version of the bill and that instead, Republicans in the Senate will draft their own version.) Omitted from the process coverage? Trump’s complete lack of understanding of the legislation.

    Unfortunately, this week’s health care coverage represents the latest example of the Beltway press refusing to adjust its approach in order to accurately reflect the radical ways of Trump.

    Obviously, presidents ought to be able to discuss policy, and it’s normal for reporters to quote presidents about policy. But if at some point there’s a collective realization among journalists who are familiar with the intricacies of different policy proposals -- whether it’s taxation or immigration or federal spending -- that the president has almost no grasp of the issue at hand, or of the legislation he’s trying to pass, isn’t it the responsibility of the press to speak up and say so -- and to do so repeatedly?

    From the libertarian Reason magazine (emphasis added):

    It is a problem that Trump doesn't understand the bill his administration wants so desperately to pass. It means that Trump can't describe the bill with clarity or accuracy, and that as a result it's impossible to believe what he does say. It also means that Trump doesn't really know what makes the bill good or bad, and how to negotiate towards something better.

    That’s a very accurate description of the current state of play. So how has that not been a major narrative for the media’s health care coverage this week?

    Note that some are trying. Like CBS, Bloomberg also interviewed Trump and asked him about health care. And like with CBS, Trump also gave garbled answers and claimed the GOP bill would do things that it clearly will not.

    And at least Bloomberg pointed that out (emphasis added):

    President Donald Trump said Monday the Republican health-care bill being negotiated in Congress ultimately will protect Americans with pre-existing conditions as well as Obamacare does.

    “I want it to be good for sick people. It’s not in its final form right now," he said during an Oval Office interview Monday with Bloomberg News. "It will be every bit as good on pre-existing conditions as Obamacare."

    The latest version of the House GOP bill, which Republican leaders are trying to figure out whether they have the votes to pass this week, wouldn’t live up to that promise and would weaken those protections.

    It’s true that we’ve seen some journalists, like Peter Suderman at Reason, pointedly highlighting Trump’s complete ignorance regarding health care. But that’s been opinion-based commentary. Because apparently if you’re going to relay the fact that the president of the United States doesn’t know what he’s talking about, that has to be your opinion. If you’re a reporter and a chronicler of fact, you’re not supposed to state that obvious finding and conclusion.

    When presidents don’t understand hallmark bills that they support, that’s news.

  • What The Forced Exodus At Fox News Means For Rupert Murdoch

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    “You would have to nuke that place to get rid of the horrible vibes in there.” -- a former Fox News producer

    Prior to being sacked last month, Bill O’Reilly served as the programming tent pole for Fox News, as he had done for the past two decades. Sitting at his 8 p.m. perch, O’Reilly regularly attracted the biggest audience in cable news and set the table for the network, as the shows that followed his each weeknight did their best to hang onto his gargantuan lead-in.

    The unassailable blueprint worked to perfection and represented one key reason why Fox has been able to print money for Rupert Murdoch’s parent company, 21st Century Fox.

    This year, thanks in part to an across-the-board surge in cable news viewing that coincided with Donald Trump’s presidency, O’Reilly had been posting some of the biggest numbers of his career, averaging 4 million viewers each night during the first three months of 2017 and logging 3.6 million on his last show.

    Then on April 18 came O’Reilly's end at Fox after multiple reports of sexual harassment spurred an advertiser boycott. His wasn’t the first big departure -- CEO Roger Ailes was fired last summer after former host Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against him, prompting numerous other current and former employees to come forward and report that he had harassed them (Ailes denied the allegations). But unlike Ailes’ departure, O’Reilly’s impacts the nightly lineup.

    And on Monday night (the most recent for which data are available), Tucker Carlson, who inherited O’Reilly’s suddenly vacant 8 p.m. seat, drew 2.6 million viewers in that hour, a noticeable decline from O’Reilly's usual figures.

    So, yes: The on-camera and off-camera exodus that continues at Fox News does matter.

    Because, of course, it’s not just O’Reilly. Fox, which boasted impressive stability over the years and whose prime-time lineup had remained nearly unchanged for more than a decade, has been stunned by a series of high-profile departures, the likes of which the company has never seen.

    Monday brought the news that Bill Shine, recently promoted to co-president, was out, in part because of reporting that he had helped cover up harassment at the network.

    And the claims and the lawsuits filed by Fox employees continue, with reporter Diana Falzone reporting gender discrimination in a suit filed Monday. On some days, the company looks more like a criminal enterprise than a news organization.

    The wheels started turning on O’Reilly’s ouster last month, when a New York Times investigation revealed that Fox and O’Reilly had spent approximately $13 million to pay off female colleagues who had reported harassment by O’Reilly. After an advertising boycott targeted O’Reilly’s show, the host was dismissed and reportedly given a $25 million payout.

    So, in less than 12 months, numerous key players have been publicly forced out at Fox, while others have walked away from the network. Longtime anchors Megyn Kelly and Greta Van Susteren also both decamped amid the rolling turmoil. Seen as a whole, that represents an unprecedented migration away from Fox News. 

    It’s important to note that post-exodus, there appears to be no attempt to change the content on Fox News itself. Murdoch and his sons, who oversee the channel, seem to be fine with that. They claim they’re trying to clean up the workplace culture, but even that assertion seems dubious.

    And remember, the Murdochs bear responsibility for their problems; last year, they promoted Shine to co-president despite knowing that he had been accused of helping covering up harassment at Fox.

    One Fox veteran suggested that the company’s entrenched dysfunctional culture is beyond fixing, no matter how many executives are let go. “You would have to nuke that place to get rid of the horrible vibes in there,” one former Fox News producer who worked under Shine and Ailes told me this week. “And I'm not even talking about the ill effects of creating the asinine programming day in and day out.”

    Meanwhile, I remain skeptical that Fox’s often-rancid on-screen content can remain the same while the off-camera culture supposedly improves.   

    As Josh Marshall noted at TPM: “That toxic culture is inextricably tied to the product itself: a worldview of resentment and provocation, contempt for changing cultural mores about sex, gender, race and a slew of other things.”

    As for how all the forced personnel changes will affect the channel’s performance, keep in mind, dynasties don’t just happen. (Even unwanted ones like Fox News’.) They don’t just happen in sports, business, or the television news business. Just ask the Today show.

    Or, more specifically, dynasties don’t last forever. And it’s possible that Fox News is facing that reality in a way that it hasn’t since before the Iraq War more than a decade ago. That was the last time Fox wasn’t on top of the cable news ratings mountain.

    I can hear skeptics dismissing the idea that Fox’s future isn’t bright. But I can also still hear skeptics who scoffed at the idea that a fledgling advertising boycott targeting O’Reilly would ever threaten his Fox time slot. 

    I’m certainly not suggesting any type of imminent demise is looming. As a longtime Fox observer, I understand that the channel has developed a fanatically loyal core audience that has shown it’s willing to tune into whatever programming configuration Fox News comes up with. But I also think the drip, drip, drip of on-air changes and off-camera firings and departures could unquestionably alter the dynamics for the long-running ratings winner.

    Note that during the first quarter of this year, MSNBC was the fastest growing cable news network, posting a 61 percent increase in prime-time viewers. That represented a huge audience spike as compared to 2016, which was already a news-drenched election year. And MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has been posting rating victories over Fox News at 9 p.m.

    So skeptics, take note: The timing of Fox News’ extended implosion is not a good one for Murdoch.