Closing pitch from Fox and Trump: It’s the media’s fault

The president and his propagandists are setting up the press as an election scapegoat

Trump Fox fingerpointing

Citation Molly Butler / Media Matters | Photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons  

Toward the end of their broadcasts Monday, two of President Donald Trump’s favorite shows converged on one of his favorite topics: his purported mistreatment by the very nasty and unfair press which supposedly prefers Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. 

Trump booster Maria Bartiromo responded to clips of commentators at other networks highlighting Trump’s failed response to the novel coronavirus pandemic by complaining about the “constant, nonstop criticism of this president by the media.” She went on to praise Trump’s handling of the virus, in an interview simulcast on Fox News’ Fox & Friends and Fox Business’s Mornings with Maria. Trump instantly chimed in, tweeting that he was the victim of a “Fake News media conspiracy” in which journalists were exaggerating the danger posed by the virus to damage him politically. 

Trump has used the press as a foil throughout his presidency, and attacks on other news outlets are a staple of Fox’s programming. But eight days out from an election, with the president trailing Biden in national and battleground state polls, their media denunciations are taking on a new tone of desperation. 

Trump and his propagandists appear to be setting up journalists to be the scapegoat if he is defeated at the polls next week. They are poised to blame the press, rather than acknowledging that Trump’s actions have made him a historically unpopular president -- which would be an implicit critique of the Fox machine that has both praised and counseled his administration through every turn. 

Guest after guest on Monday’s Fox & Friends and Mornings with Maria decried the purported bias of the press, particularly with regard to its handling of the dubious Hunter Biden email story. Fox contributor Dan Bongino lashed out at the media for having “no interest whatsoever in entertaining this story, only because it makes Biden not look bad, but look horrendous.” “Why aren’t Hunter Biden’s dealings being covered far and wide by every mainstream newspaper or media organization? Because they are in the bag for anything that is left-wing and liberal, and that is frightening,” Fox Business’ Dagen McDowell likewise grumbled

For Ken Starr, who defended Trump during his Senate impeachment trial for abuse of power, this amounted to “a moral collapse of the mainstream media in the United States.” Starr, who was drummed out of his post as president of Baylor University in 2016 following a scathing investigation which concluded that the university “had done little to respond to accusations of sexual assault involving football players,” added, “I think it’s moral corruption and moral failure that they’re not saying, we want to know the facts [about Hunter Biden’s business dealings].“ 

The network’s right-wing guests also put forward a plethora of other gripes with the media’s coverage. Right-wing podcaster Ben Shapiro complained that the “praetorian guard of the media” hasn’t grilled vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris over being a “wild leftist.” White House adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner lamented that the press “tries to degrade” the president’s supporters. New York  Post columnist Michael Goodwin bemoaned the media’s priorities in the face of his purported successes. Washington Free Beacon reporter Chrissy Clark offered the conspiracy theory that the press is deliberately cherry-picking poll numbers favorable to Biden in red states as part of a “Democratic ploy to push the get-out-the-vote effort.” And Wall Street Journal editorial board member James Freeman quibbled with CBS News reporter Lesley Stahl’s lack of fluency with the Obamagate conspiracy theory. 

At the same time, Trump offered his own attacks on journalists, calling them “Losers,” claiming they were “working overtime” to help Biden, and even suggesting their critical coverage of his handling of the pandemic amounted to an “election law violation."

Trump repeatedly hammered the media during a rally later that day in Pennsylvania, calling out Stahl (“a zippo”) and NBC's Savannah Guthrie (“terrible,” “crazed”) by name and describing CNN as “corrupt” and “the enemy of the people.”

Pinning the blame on the press sets Trump up nicely if he is defeated and decides to start his own media company, as has been rumored. It also positions Fox to continue to tell its audience that its pro-Trump hosts are the only ones who will provide viewers with the truth, and thus keep the network’s cash machine running. Meanwhile, the Republican Party will stay stuck in a Fox News feedback loop.