On March 25, just hours after Attorney General William Barr sent a letter to Congress giving his summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report detailing his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, President Donald Trump began his day by tweeting out an unsurprisingly rosy take on the news from Fox News’ Fox & Friends.
The conservative propagandists at Fox had spent years concocting a perverse counternarrative about the probe, and over the subsequent weeks, as Barr’s letter was exposed as a deceptive gloss on the far more damning contents of the Mueller report, they rallied to the president’s defense. Trump, in turn, has repeatedly sought to shape the debate by promoting Fox commentary and urging his followers to tune in to its programs.
Trump referenced Fox News or Fox Business in some way in 43 of the 100 tweets he sent about the Mueller probe between the release of Barr’s summary on March 24 and April 29, according to a Media Matters review. And this number likely undercounts the network’s influence on the president’s thinking, as I have not included cases in which Trump’s tweets about Mueller probably came in response to the network’s programming but he did not specifically indicate that’s what he was doing.
In 17 of the tweets, Trump referenced a quote from a Fox show or otherwise indicated that he was responding to the network. In 20, he (or someone he employs) shared video clips from Fox programming about the investigation.
He has also promoted Fox shows at least eight times in recent weeks, and he tweeted thanks to particular Fox personalities five times. In addition to posting his own tweets, the president retweeted Fox-related content about Mueller 16 times.
The comments Trump elevated typically further the alternate-reality narratives that he and the network have been pushing for years: The investigation was a “hoax,” there was “no collusion” between the president’s associates and Russia or presidential obstruction of the investigation, the media were deliberately lying to the public in order to hurt Trump, and the real scandal was the probe itself.
Trump has an unprecedented relationship with Fox, and there has long been a feedback loop between the president and the conservative cable network he loves to watch. But the sheer number of such instances over this period stands out, as Trump has sought to drive the national conversation into the alternate reality his Fox supporters have created.
In 17 of the tweets over this period, Trump tweeted a quote from a Fox show or otherwise indicated that he was responding to the network. This typically indicates that the president was watching the program, either in real time or on tape delay, and decided to highlight a particular comment for his followers.
Sometimes the president included his own comments in response to the Fox personalities he quoted.
Other times, he promoted their quotes without additional context.
On other occasions, Trump (or someone he employs to help run his Twitter account) shared video clips from Fox programming about the investigation, doing this 20 times over the period I studied. The president apparently trusts his followers to watch the clips, as these posts generally provide little or no context for videos that can run as long as 22 minutes.
He has also served as a network promoter, urging his followers to watch Fox or praising its programs at least eight times in recent weeks.
On several occasions, Trump has tweeted thanks to the personalities featured in the videos, doing this for Fox Business host Trish Regan, Fox News host Jesse Watters and contributor Dan Bongino, Fox News host Steve Hilton, Fox News host Mark Levin, and radio host Rush Limbaugh, who had made a guest appearance on Fox News’ The Story.
Trump’s promotion of Fox’s programming has added the imprimatur of the president to particularly disturbing, conspiracy-minded content.
After telling his followers to tune in to the April 20 edition of Levin’s broadcast, Trump tweeted video of the Fox host alleging during that broadcast that “our republic is at stake” because Trump is facing a “coup” by “the people who have set [the Mueller probe] up who despise their country and despise our election system.” The clip ends with Levin shouting, “This is a disgrace what's being done to this country by the Democrat Party and by the media -- one and the same. It is a disgrace!” Trump tweeted the clip with the note, “Thank you @MarkLevinShow! #MAGA.”
Trump has amplified a wide array of Fox programs in his tweets about Mueller. Some shows received this treatment regularly -- the president tweeted about the Mueller coverage of favorite programs like Lou Dobbs Tonight seven times, Fox & Friends six times, and Tucker Carlson Tonight five times. But he also lifted up segments from America’s Newsroom; Cavuto Live; Fox News Sunday; Hannity; The Journal Editorial Report; Justice with Jeanine Pirro; Life, Liberty, and Levin; Special Report; Mornings with Maria; The Five; The Next Revolution; The Story; Trish Regan Primetime; Varney & Co.; and Watters World.
The Fox narratives Trump is pushing diverge substantially from the facts Mueller laid out in his report. But according to a recent HuffPost-YouGov poll, the network’s viewers believe the story Fox has been telling them. The poll shows, for example, that Fox viewers were “more likely than Republicans overall to say that no one associated with Trump’s campaign committed any crimes -- a statement that seems to be at odds with several of the indictments obtained by Mueller’s team,” as The Washington Post’s Philip Bump noted.
It's in Trump’s interest to ensure that as many of his supporters as possible get caught in that Fox news bubble.