Fox News continued its adulatory coverage Tuesday morning of President Donald Trump’s actions last night, when police tear-gassed peaceful demonstrators outside the White House protesting the police killing of George Floyd, so that Trump could walk over to pose with a Bible outside St. John’s Church.
The Washington Post reports that Trump “began mulling a visit” to the church earlier Monday, in response to previous negative media coverage: “The president was upset about news coverage of him briefly retreating to the White House bunker Friday evening amid protests, and he repeatedly wondered why anyone would have disclosed those details to the news media, two officials said.”
While the church had been damaged by fire over the weekend, the TV news cameras showed what was clearly a peaceful crowd on Monday being driven out, while Trump spoke from the White House, in preparation for his visit to the church. In addition, multiple members of the clergy were also driven off of the church premises, and at least one was tear-gassed, for Trump’s photo opportunity.
Fox’s morning coverage, however, cast Trump’s actions as a bold display of national leadership.
On Fox & Friends, as footage of Trump walking over to the church played, correspondent Griff Jenkins said, “Talk about iconic moments.” Jenkins also dismissed criticism of Trump’s actions. “But when you’re talking about the leader of the free world and the president of the United States,” he said, “you don't want to be in the way and disobey their efforts to clear this area.”
In another block, about two hours later, Jenkins again characterized Trump’s walk as an “iconic moment,” and Doocy framed the criticism of the tear-gassing as coming only from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
On the Fox Business show Mornings with Maria Bartiromo, the eponymous host and former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders praised Trump’s actions. They also contended that Trump was defending the historic church, with Sanders saying, “That’s a sign of courageous leadership.”
Later during Fox’s purported “news”-side coverage, America’s Newsroom co-anchor Sandra Smith mentioned Trump’s visit by casting all protests in the capital as violent, failing to mention that the demonstrators outside the church were peaceful but were still tear-gassed for a photo op: “Growing unrest in our nation's capital overnight. Police cracking down on violence throughout the streets of Washington, as President Trump visits a church that was damaged by a fire during the weekend protests.”
News correspondent Kristin Fisher gave a rare acknowledgement. “Yes, the protests near the White House on previous nights had turned violent,” Fisher explained. “Last night, though, as best we can tell, the protests were still peaceful as law enforcement pushed them back with tear gas.”
But then it was back to the narrative of Trump’s seeming heroism: “Then, President Trump did something that stunned everyone: He just walked right out the front door of the White House, crossed Lafayette Square, and stood holding a Bible in front of the historic St. John’s Church, which had been set on fire just a few hours ago.”
Fisher also conveyed the White House’s pushback against any negative reporting: “Now, there is some reporting that some White House officials thought that President Trump went too far last night. But I just spoke with a senior administration official, who told me that that is completely off-base. She says that the reaction within the West Wing has been overwhelmingly positive, and that what we just saw President Trump do — walking out of the White House and going to St. John’s Church — that senior administration official told me that that is exactly what America wanted to see.”
Clarification (6/3/20): This piece originally identified two clergy members who were “driven off by tear gas” at St. John's Episcopal Church. The language has been updated to reflect that at least one clergy member was reportedly tear-gassed, while the other witnessed the tear gas being used after fleeing the church ahead of National Guard troops.