Fox’s rabid praise for Trump’s unhinged letter shows how we got here


Citation Ceci Freed / Media Matters | Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons

On the eve of his likely impeachment by the House of Representatives, President Donald Trump wrote in a six-page letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday, “One hundred years from now, when people look back at this affair, I want them to understand it, and learn from it, so that it can never happen to another President again.” Indeed, those reading the missive in the early 22nd century will have a fair grasp of the central concern of the era: that the single most powerful person on the planet, with personal control of an arsenal that could eliminate all life many times over, was an unhinged conspiracy theorist and pathological liar with authoritarian tendencies who obsessively wallowed in his personal grievances, was steeped in the absurd talking points he absorbed from his television, and was unable to distinguish his private interests from his public office. 

But for a broader view of the problem at hand, future historians would do well to review the reaction to Trump’s rant from the propagandists and sycophants who have often encouraged him to follow through on his worst impulses. In the hours after the letter’s release, Fox’s pro-Trump programming presented it as a master stroke, an accurate depiction of the events of the last few months that provides a brilliant example for the rest of the Republican Party about how they should be conducting themselves. That’s the version of events that a broad swath of Trump’s base -- as well as the president himself -- received.

For Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs, who both privately counsels the president and hosts what can best be described as the U.S. analogue to North Korea-style propaganda, Trump’s letter to Pelosi was “beautiful,” “terrific, “elegant,” and “comprehensive,” laying down a “historic marker” and successfully placing Democrats “in the focus of history for decades to come.” His guests lined up to agree with him: For Fox contributor Jason Chaffetz, the letter is a must-read in which Trump “was absolutely right”; right-wing radio host Mark Simone described it as a “masterpiece” and compared it to the Gettysburg Address; and commentator Amy Tarkanian responded, “I loved every word of his letter and I’m glad that he wrote it.”

Sean Hannity, another Fox host who dual-hats as a close Trump adviser, celebrated the letter as Trump “fighting back” with a “powerful, scathing beat down” in which the president “utterly destroy[ed]” Pelosi, the Democrats, and their “idiotic articles of impeachment.”

And Laura Ingraham argued on her Fox show that Trump is “teaching Republicans how to fight” with the letter, mockingly contrasting him with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and his “rules of order.” She mocked other journalists for having “pounced” in response to the letter, which she described as “hard-hitting” and “on point.” Her guests, a panel of House Republicans, expressed their support for Trump’s response.

The president himself was almost certainly watching these responses over the course of the night. As Ingraham’s show was winding down, he highlighted on Twitter the “good marks and reviews” he claimed the letter had garnered.

This is the pattern we’ve seen over and over again throughout this presidency: Trump issues an absolutely batshit statement, often based on the absurd amount of Fox programming he consumes; his propagandists tell their audiences that his behavior is not only normal but righteous; and the president, as part of that audience, receives positive feedback for his abhorrent behavior from the network personalities he views as his most loyal supporters.

And then he does it again.

Fox’s hosts are his most vital enablers, and that is how historians should remember them.