If President Donald Trump tuned in to Fox News after ordering Thursday night’s successful U.S. operation to kill Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, he heard nearly unalloyed praise of his decision along with claims that any U.S critics are siding with the Iranian regime.
Soleimani, who oversaw proxy wars in the Middle East which included numerous attacks on U.S. forces in the region, has been described as Iran’s “most important military commander” and an “indispensable” figure in its government. The Pentagon has claimed (without providing substantiating evidence) it killed Soleimani as he was “actively developing plans” to attack American diplomats and service members and that the strike “was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans.”
Soleimani’s killing is a seismic event in the region that signals the U.S. may have entered an undeclared hot war with Iran. The complex international situation will require prudent management because of the substantial risk of retaliatory attacks spiralling into deadly escalation. And as Trump responds to the crisis in the days and weeks to come, his steady consumption of Fox programming and the consultations he has with the network’s hosts will shape his worldview and thus help determine U.S. policy.
That means Fox’s shows provide a window into the advice that the president is receiving from some of his most trusted advisers. And in the wake of Soleimani’s killing, Fox’s hosts and guests are telling the president that he did the right thing, that the risks of the assassination backfiring are low, and that anyone who says otherwise is effectively a traitor.
Sean Hannity, a Fox host and close ally of the president, called in to his own show from vacation Thursday to say of the killing, “This is a huge victory for American intelligence, a huge victory for our military, a huge victory for the State Department, and a huge victory and total leadership by the president.” He and guest host Jason Chaffetz stressed that killing Soleimani after recent Iranian-backed protests at the U.S. Baghdad embassy showed that Trump’s response was superior to President Barack Obama’s after the attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi during his administration.
Hannity went on to say that according to his sources, “our military, our State Department, our president, everybody is on high alert. Every option is quote, I was told, ‘on the table,’ and that ‘American interests in Iraq and the region will be protected.’”
Chaffetz also hosted Ari Fleischer, the Bush administration press secretary infamous for his lies and misrepresentations in the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, who argued that Soleimani’s death could be a panacea for the region. “I think it is entirely possible that this is going to be a catalyst inside Iran where the people celebrate this killing of Soleimani and puts pressure on the Iranian government to stop its terrorism, to stop supporting all the various terrorist movements it has around the world,” he said.
The Ingraham Angle, another Fox show the president frequently watches, similarly featured a series of guests who supported Trump’s decision that night (Laura Ingraham herself was also off for the holidays but did not call in to her program).
“What the country has done tonight after the orders of the president and the commanders was to save American lives and interests and allies in the region from what was prepared by” pro-Iran militias in Iraq and Lebanon,” argued Fox News analyst Walid Phares.
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) similarly said that Trump had taken “incredibly decisive action” and “sent a strong message to Iran and any other terrorist around the world” that “if you come after America, we're going to come after you with lethal strength and overwhelming strength.” He added that the strike is “a major victory for the people of Iraq who want freedom, frankly for Iranians who want freedom.”
And Kayleigh McEnany, the Trump campaign’s national press secretary, described Soleimani’s killing as the “greatest foreign policy accomplishment, I would say of the decade, if not our lifetime” which sent “the unmistakable message that if you mess with Americans you will pay a price as a terrorist.”
Friday morning brought more of the same simplistic jingoism on Fox & Friends, the president’s favorite show.
The show’s hosts offered virtually unvarnished praise for the strike:
While Democrats who responded to the attack with skepticism were tarred as taking Iran’s side in the conflict:
Fox’s commentariat is not entirely united on the wisdom of Trump’s decision. Contributor Geraldo Rivera and host Brian Kilmeade feuded on Fox & Friends over what could come next:
And in the immediate wake of the strike, Tucker Carlson, who apparently got Trump to call off airstrikes in Syria and force out hawkish former national security adviser John Bolton last year, said that “America appears to be lumbering toward a new Middle East war” and that this represents a victory for Bolton.
Carlson went on to make a more-or-less explicitly racist pitch against escalation, one that echoed the bigoted anti-immigrant rhetoric that motivated the alleged El Paso shooter. “The people demanding action against Iran tonight, the ones telling you the Persian menace is the greatest threat we face, are the very same ones demanding that you ignore the invasion of America now in progress from the south, the millions, the tens of millions of foreign nationals living among us illegally,” he said. “They are liars and they don’t care about you, they don’t care about your kids, they are reckless and incompetent.”
Carlson later added that Trump himself is “wary” of war, but may have been “outmaneuvered” by his advisers into one in spite of his own convictions. It’s not difficult to read a personal message to the president in the host’s commentary: Listen to me, not your official advisers. But Carlson is only a single voice in the Fox cabinet, and the vast majority are urging Trump on.