It’s been a terrible few days for President Donald Trump.
After receiving an ill-earned round of media praise for his speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, he was brought back to Earth the next evening by the news that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had twice met with the Russian ambassador last year, apparently contradicting statements he made during his confirmation hearing. On Thursday, Sessions announced he would recuse himself from all investigations involving the 2016 presidential campaign, apparently enraging Trump, who had just announced his full support for the attorney general.
Saturday morning saw Trump take to Twitter to claim that President Barack Obama had illegally tapped his phone lines prior to the election, apparently referencing a conspiratorial segment by radio host Mark Levin that had been written up by Breitbart.com. The next day, as baffled Republicans ran for cover, an increasingly besieged Trump was reportedly infuriated because “few Republicans were defending him on the Sunday political talk shows.” Last night brought the news that FBI director James Comey had asked the Justice Department to deny Trump’s statement because it “is false.”
Trump has received widespread criticism for -- seemingly cavalierly -- accusing the former president of lawbreaking. But if he spent the morning as he apparently usually does -- by watching the Fox News morning show Fox & Friends -- he received balm for his psychological wounds. Co-hosts Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, and Brian Kilmeade rallied around the president, decrying what Doocy called “a coordinated effort by a former president and his team on a scale we have never seen before.”
Trump has access to a massive information-gathering apparatus. But rather than relying on federal agencies for information, Trump is a cable news junkie, reportedly watching several hours a day.
It’s unclear how he manages to find so much free time when he’s supposed to be running the most powerful nation on the planet, but his schedule apparently allows for it.
While in better days he typically channel-surfed between Fox & Friends, CNN’s New Day, and MSNBC’s Morning Joe, as his administration has floundered he has reportedly largely abandoned the latter networks in favor of the one that provides his administration with hagiographic propaganda. While Trump engages in what he calls a “running war with the media,” he has frequently praised the “honorable people” at Fox & Friends, who he says run “the most honest morning show.”
This morning the show’s hosts showed why Trump says they have “treated me very fairly.” Like their competitors, they devoted substantial time to Trump’s claim that Obama had ordered him to be wiretapped. But unlike the rest of the press, the Fox hosts abandoned all skepticism. They assumed that the president is clearly correct, praised his source Levin, and suggested that any who say otherwise -- Comey, former intelligence director James Clapper, the press -- are conspiring against Trump.
They downplayed or ignored the underlying question of whether federal agencies might have been investigating Trump and his associates because they may have broken the law. There was little interest in whether it was a good idea for Trump to drop wild, baseless accusations into his Twitter feed.
Certainly no one considered whether a theory that posits the FBI was acting on President Obama’s orders to stop Trump’s election really makes any sense at all. A reminder: This is what the front page of the paper of record looked like less than two weeks before Election Day:
Instead, the hosts spent the program stroking the grievances of their most powerful viewer.
“Why would Donald Trump feel this way?” asked Doocy during the show’s opening segment. “Keep in mind from day one it has appeared that his foes have been out to try get him. They have leaked damaging information to the press -- in some cases, broken the law.”
“I hope it’s a wake-up call,” Kilmeade added of reports that Trump has yelled at his staff. “He needs better people around him to do -- have either get together and work with him more efficiently because he is new at this.”
This narrative was briefly shattered when the hosts interviewed retired Gen. Michael Hayden, former head of the NSA and CIA under President George W. Bush, later that hour. “My instinct is no,” Hayden said when asked if the president was right to accuse Obama of wiretapping him. “And it looks as if the president -- just for a moment -- forgot that he was president. And why didn't he simply use the powers of the presidency to ask the acting director of national intelligence, the head of the FBI to confirm or deny the story he apparently read from Breitbart, the evening before?”
Hayden added that Obama would never have given such an order, and if he had, the intelligence services wouldn’t have complied.
But if Trump woke up late or took a bathroom break and missed that segment, Fox did its best to pretend it never happened. While the hosts typically replay and discuss their newsmaker interviews throughout the show, this one was promptly memory-holed.
Instead, in segment after segment, the hosts and their guests pushed Trump’s conspiracy and criticized his perceived enemies.
“The question is not if, if, if. The question is how much did the Obama administration work to sabotage the incoming administration to listen in on them,” The Daily Caller’s Christopher Bedford told the hosts later that hour.
According to Bedford, the “deep state leaks” coming out of the intelligence community are “shadows of a police state happening,” but the press doesn’t care because they have “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” “It's like Oliver Stone's worst nightmare is coming true, but instead of being outraged the people are excited and they’re celebrating it because it's Donald Trump as the target,” he added.
In a lengthy interview, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway also pointed her finger at the media, claiming that “we have this double standard for anonymous sources. The media love to use anonymous sources for anything and everything that could possibly be derogatory or negative for this president and his administration. Yet, they refuse to give any credibility to such sources when it may be something positive or exculpatory.”
The hosts had no problem with Conway explaining that Trump knows his phone was tapped because, as she said, “He has information and intelligence that the rest of us do not,” instead pivoting to discuss whether Trump’s staff is letting him down.
“It looks like a coordinated effort by a former president and his team on a scale we have never seen before,” Doocy eventually concluded.
If Trump was watching, he knows he has support in Congress. House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) took a seat on the curvy couch to riff with the hosts about the purported criminality of the Obama administration.
“I’m going to go into it eyes wide open. We’ve had experience, the Obama administration’s been notorious on this type of stuff, and we’re going to look hard at it,” he said.
The president of the United States may be a paranoid conspiracy theorist. But when he turns on Fox News between 6 and 9 a.m., he knows he can always count on support from his fans.