President Donald Trump tweeted in response to television programs he was watching nearly 300 times in the first six months of 2020, according to a Media Matters review. More than nine in 10 of those tweets came in response to Fox News or its sister network, Fox Business, as the right-wing channels maintained their unprecedented influence over the federal government.
Trump’s obsession with Fox is well-documented. The president has stocked his administration with former Fox employees, invites its hosts to advise him on policy and politics, regularly praises his network supporters during public events and interviews, and lashes out whenever he finds its coverage less than adoring.
Since 2017, I’ve been studying what I call the Trump-Fox feedback loop, tracing the president’s often erratic and hyper-aggressive tweets back to the television programming that spurred them. Last year, as the president’s relationship with the right-wing networks drove federal policy and national politics, Trump sent at least 657 such live tweets in response to Fox News or Fox Business.
Fox continues to shape Trump’s responses to crucial issues this year, with key foreign and domestic policy decisions and federal pardons and contracts dictated by the network’s coverage. And the president selected additional familiar faces from his television to fill the highest ranks of his administration. But the center of influence appears to have shifted away from Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity in 2020, as Laura Ingraham and especially Tucker Carlson have become preeminent within the Fox Cabinet.
Trump’s live-tweeting habit is still going strong. He sent 293 live tweets in response to his television in the first six months of this year. Of those, 226 were of Fox News programs, 42 were of Fox Business, three were of the would-be Trump propaganda channel OAN, and 22 were of all other networks combined (14 MSNBC, six CNN, one CNBC, and one ABC).
Trump continues to live-tweet most frequently during his morning “executive time” sessions, with more than three in five of his live tweets coming in response to programs which air before noon ET. Fox & Friends, Fox News’ insipid morning show, generated the most live tweets of any single program, with 61.
Nine of 10 programs generating the most Trump live tweets aired on Fox News or Fox Business. The outlier was MSNBC’s Morning Joe; Trump sent 13 live tweets in response to that program as he pushed a deranged conspiracy theory about its host, Joe Scarborough.
More than half of Trump’s live tweets during the first six months of the year responded to coverage of his impeachment trial, the novel coronavirus pandemic, or the protests and civil unrest following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Trump’s 69 live tweets in January -- all of Fox News or Fox Business shows -- marked his highest total of any month so far this year. He was transfixed by the networks’ coverage of the Senate impeachment trial into his abuses of power and obstruction of Congress, sending 37 tweets promoting their defenses of his corrupt plot to condition military aid to Ukraine and a White House meeting with its president on that country helping his reelection campaign. Notably, he sent at least 12 tweets in response to Fox programming on January 23, more than he has sent on any single day in Media Matters’ database.
The president is responding to the impeachment trial by watching Fox and catapulting its propaganda to the masses.
Left, Fox & Friends Weekend, 6:03 a.m.
Right, Trump, 8:55 a.m. pic.twitter.com/Z2RNaSn9z3
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) January 26, 2020
Trump didn’t just channel the network’s commentary as part of his impeachment communications strategy. He also filled the ranks of the team that defended him in the Senate with lawyers and House members whom he regularly saw playing that role on his television. The group combined for an astounding 1,368 weekday Fox News appearances between August 1, 2017, and January 17, 2020.
The president’s live-tweeting total declined in each of the next four months.
In March and April, Trump’s live tweets largely came in response to the coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the nation. He sent a total of 53 coronavirus-related live tweets, more than 70 percent of his total live tweets during those months.
Oh God. It looks like Trump's coronavirus drug cocktail tweets from this morning were livetweeting last night's Ingraham show. Note the "International Journal of Microbiological Agents" note at bottom of chart.
Left, Fox's The Ingraham Angle, 10:03 p.m.
Right, Trump, 10:13 a.m. pic.twitter.com/0E0QxOHIbh
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) March 21, 2020
Minutes after a Fox News segment on a protest against social distancing measures outside the Minnesota governor's office, by conservative "Liberate Minnesota" group, Trump tweets "LIBERATE MINNESOTA!"
Left, Fox's America's Newsroom, 11:19 a.m.
Right, Trump, 11:21 a.m. pic.twitter.com/RvFV68oOCb
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) April 17, 2020
Trump’s fixation with Fox played a key role in nearly every aspect of his handling of the virus. His early efforts to downplay the pandemic, his subsequent, albeit brief, shift toward taking it more seriously, his championing of untested malaria drugs as potential miracle cures, his demands for a swift reopening of the economy, his distaste for masks, and his decision to terminate U.S. funding for the World Health Organization each were influenced by the network’s propagandists, particularly Carlson and Ingraham.
But June brought a sharp uptick in live tweets, to 67, after the police killings of Floyd and Taylor triggered nationwide protests against police brutality and racism. Thirty-four of his live tweets during that period referenced coverage of the protests and the civil unrest and looting which at times accompanied them.
American cities burned last night. The president's first statement to the country this morning is to livetweet Fox News.
Left, Fox & Friends, 7:48 a.m.
Right, Trump, 8:20 a.m. pic.twitter.com/QwkLhJx5aJ
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) June 1, 2020
Trump’s response to those protests featured attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement, dire warnings of urban violence and demands for “LAW AND ORDER,” denunciations of statue vandalism, and conspiracy theories about the purported depravity of antifa, all of which aligned with what he was seeing on his television, especially from Carlson.
The influence of the president’s television extended far beyond those three major stories. He decided against a military escalation with Iran in part due to Carlson’s opposition to it, tweeted that he had “instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea” in response to a Fox & Friends news brief, and repeatedly threatened Scarborough with a criminal probe after watching the MSNBC host criticize his presidency.
And the power of the Trump-Fox feedback loop is likely to increase in the days to come. The “rhetorical roots” of the president’s July 4 speech at Mount Rushmore are in Carlson’s recent monologues, according to Axios’ Jonathan Swan. “Trump's Independence Day speech lays a marker for how he's going to campaign through to November, according to campaign advisers,” he reported. “Perhaps no TV host has ever had such an influential role — whether Trump's team admits it or not — in defining a president's re-election message."