Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump retreated to Fox News’ Fox & Friends for a friendly interview following widespread criticism of his September 26 presidential debate performance which was deemed a loss for Trump, while his campaign surrogates took real interviews on other cable and broadcast news networks.
Journalists across the political spectrum lambasted Trump’s September 26 presidential debate performance, criticizing the false statements he made -- and that debate moderator Lester Holt repeatedly challenged -- on numerous issues including the Iraq War, birtherism, and his tax returns. Reporters noted that Trump spent much of the debate on the defensive regarding those issues and that he repeatedly interrupted both Holt and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Other media figures slammed Trump for bragging that he got President Obama to release his long-form birth certificate and for his false claim that Clinton’s 2008 campaign started the racist birther conspiracy theories about Obama’s birthplace. Voters and commentators proclaimed that Trump had lost the debate to Clinton, with some calling the performance “an unmitigated disaster” and a “terrible night” for Trump.
The following day, Trump retreated to Fox News to discuss the debate with the hosts of Fox & Friends. The show has a history of buddying up with Trump, giving him a platform to push false claims including that President Obama was not born in the United States, and Trump has lauded the show’s hosts in return. The show’s September 27 interview with Trump continued its softball history with the candidate. Rather than challenging Trump on any of his false statements, the hosts asked questions such as, “So how do you think it went last night?” and, “Do you feel that Lester Holt asked Hillary Clinton an equal number of hostile questions?” The hosts joined Trump in criticizing Holt, with co-host Steve Doocy claiming he “leaned a little over into the left lane” in contrast to Matt Lauer’s “fair and balanced” performance at NBC’s Commander-in-Chief Forum (for which Lauer has been widely criticized). Co-host Ainsley Earhardt even praised Trump for his response to Clinton’s accurate claim that the federal government had sued him for housing discrimination, saying, “I did like how you responded to that, though, because when they throw those things at you, and you’re -- being in the audience, I didn't know about that. And then when you explain it, then you’re like, ‘Oh, OK, well that makes sense.’” The hosts also gave Trump space to attack, without any pushback, a former Miss Universe winner and to insult her weight.
In contrast with Trump’s cocoon on Fox’s morning show, Trump surrogates took harder interviews at other networks. Hosts on NBC’s Today and CBS This Morning challenged Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), about why Trump took credit for spurring President Obama to release his birth certificate, about whether Trump “lie[d]” when he falsely claimed he never said climate change was a hoax, and why Trump bragged about possibly not paying taxes. On CNN’s New Day and MSNBC’s Morning Joe, the hosts pressed Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway over whether Trump’s birther answer was appropriate and whether he would apologize for his birther campaign. They also asked about Trump’s climate change stance and the quality of Trump’s debate performance overall.
Trump’s retreat to Fox News continues a recent trend. Fox media reporter Howard Kurtz reported in June that Trump was scaling back on interviews with networks other than Fox. A Media Matters analysis found that between September 7, when Trump appeared on NBC’s Commander-in-Chief Forum, and September 22, Trump gave seven interviews to Fox News, totaling more than 1 hour and 40 minutes of airtime. During the same time frame, he had not appeared on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, or MSNBC. Given Trump’s withdrawal to a network that repeatedly delivers softball interviews, it perhaps is not surprising that he struggled when he was actually fact-checked by a journalist at the debate. Responding to CNN host Carol Costello’s observation that Trump’s Fox & Friends interview did not include “difficult questions,” CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter noted that Trump had “mostly sheltered himself within conservative media” and said that he had “doubts about whether it's a winning strategy now.” And as The New York Times’ Alex Burns noted of the Fox & Friends interview, “[T]his is how you end up unprepared for real questions and real heat in a debate.”