Donald Trump
Ceci Freed / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

President Trump’s Fox obsession reshaped the political universe in 2019

The Trump-Fox feedback loop powered scandals, pardons, policy, and more than 600 live tweets

  • In 2019, President Donald Trump’s obsession with Fox News had a major impact on the nation’s political environment, driving the administration’s responses to a sea of scandals and crises that have culminated with his impeachment and regularly dictating the domestic and foreign policies of the United States.

    Trump sustained his well-documented fixation on the network, continuing his practices of giving the vast majority of his national televised interviews to Fox hosts, maintaining a revolving door between his administration and the company, and relying on Fox personalities for private counsel. He kept watching hours of daily programming from Fox News and its sister network, Fox Business, basking in sycophantic coverage from shows like Fox & Friends, Lou Dobbs Tonight, and Hannity. And continuing the Trump-Fox feedback loop, he maintained his habit of firing off hyperaggressive tweets in response to what he saw on those networks, sending 613 such live tweets this year through December 17. 

    But more than ever before, Trump’s Fox fanaticism this year drove the federal policymaking process and political reality, with a tangible impact on the lives of the American public.

    2019 began with the federal government partially shut down because, as one Fox host put it, network star Sean Hannity was “running this government” and Trump had taken his advice over that of the president's congressional allies. 

    In the months that followed, the administration appeared to pardon war criminals, decide whether to order military strikes, float sweeping policy changes, award a $400 million federal contract, and initiate federal investigations based on the advice the president was getting through his television set and in behind-the-scenes discussions with Fox personalities. 

    And as 2019 comes to a close, the House of Representatives passed two articles of impeachment submitted in response to a presidential abuse of power that was driven at every turn by the network the president adores. Fox is also playing a key role in shoring up Trump’s base with a wave of misinformation -- as one network contributor told Hannity, “You are the difference between Donald J. Trump and Richard Nixon.”

    Meanwhile, the network shaped the landscape for the rest of Trump’s party, with congressional Republicans bucking for presidential favor with Fox appearances and adopting its talking points to defend him in important hearings.

    The timeline below details the most important ways the Fox-Trump feedback loop affected politics and policy this year. But it’s just a snapshot of the president’s Fox obsession. He also tweeted about the network’s coverage of his sycophants’ books, trade talks with China, the “dishonest” media, gas prices, unemployment among veterans, Volkswagen’s U.S. investments, a “big new Caravan,” the Clemson Tigers, the success of border walls, crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, “bad lawyer Michael Cohen,” purported “voter fraud,” Bible literacy, Andrew McCabe, California infrastructure funds, Spike Lee, Kim Jong Un’s travel arrangements, Ilhan Omar, Star Parker, climate change, how planes are “becoming far too complex to fly,” Jay Leno, Lisa Page, Brexit, the “Jexodus” movement, General Motors, Google, riots in Paris, ISIS, Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, the 2020 U.S. census, Harley-Davidson, Twitter, “Weirdo Tom Steyer,” NFL draft pick Nick Bosa, “TREASON!,” consumer sentiment, Nancy Pelosi, tariffs on Mexico, Joe Biden, Michael Flynn’s legal representation, Fox host Pete Hegseth’s engagement, Iran’s nuclear program, polls, Hillary Clinton’s emails, Megan Rapinoe, MS-13, Eric Swalwell, Bernie Sanders, crime in Baltimore, Somali refugees, infrastructure spending, socialism, mass shootings, Israel, interest rates, Diamond and Silk’s live show, James Comey, London’s mayor, “Debra The Mess Messing,”  AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Hurricane Dorian, Brett Kavanaugh, net neutrality, Syria, and NBA coach Steve Kerr.

    There’s no sign any of this is likely to reverse itself in 2020. Indeed, Trump is reportedly more unshackled than ever. And that means he is ever more reactive to what he sees coming through his TV every day.

  • chart of Trump's fox live tweets
  • January

  • Trump’s Fox live tweets this month: 57

    Jan. 1: The Fox News shutdown. In December 2018, Fox personalities goaded Trump into ignoring the advice of Republican congressional leaders, reversing his administration’s position, and demanding money for his coveted border wall with Mexico as a condition for his support for legislation funding the government. This triggered a partial shutdown of the federal government for a record-breaking 35 days, until January 25, when Trump signed a bill reopening it for three weeks while the White House and congressional leaders negotiated. The president spent much of the shutdown watching and tweeting reactions to Fox, where his supporters told him his strategy was succeeding and urged him to “stay strong.”

  • February

  • Trump’s Fox live tweets this month: 22

    Feb. 14: In Bill Barr, Hannity got the attorney general of his dreams. Hannity, a close Trump adviser, has spent years using his Fox show to concoct the nonsensical conspiracy theory that the Russia probe was a deep state plot. Hours after the Senate confirmed Bill Barr’s nomination as attorney general, Hannity urged him to prioritize a federal investigation into that conspiracy theory. In the months to come, Barr would do just that while repeatedly defending Trump from legal peril. 

    Feb. 15: Trump signed a funding deal after key Fox hosts signaled support. As the temporary funding to avert another shutdown ran out, a deal emerged to fund the government through September but with much less border wall money than Trump had sought. Trump allies Hannity and Lou Dobbs, who had advised Trump during the shutdown, were initially critical of the deal, but they reversed themselves after being lobbied by the White House. Trump signed the legislation on February 15.

    Feb. 15: Trump took Fox’s advice and declared a national emergency for wall funding. At the same time he signed the compromise funding legislation, Trump sided with Fox hosts over Republican congressional leaders and set off an ongoing legal fight by declaring a national emergency to divert additional funding to the border wall. During a press conference, Trump responded to a question about how “outside conservative voices” helped to shape his view on the issue by pointing to Hannity and fellow Fox prime-time hosts Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson.

    Feb. 28: Trump favored Hannity during the Hanoi summit. Trump took a softball question from Hannity during a press conference and sat for a fawning interview with him at the conclusion of an unsuccessful nuclear summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam. The White House reportedly chose to do the interview with Hannity, who had spoken at a 2018 Trump rally, instead of any of the numerous “news”-side journalists Fox sent on the trip.

  • March

  • Trump’s Fox live tweets this month: 50

    Mar. 17: Trump demanded Fox “bring back” Pirro. After Jeanine Pirro, a Trump friend and confidante, made bigoted anti-Muslim comments about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Fox quietly pulled her March 16 show from its time slot. But the next morning, Trump lashed out at the network, tweeting that “Fox must stay strong and fight back with vigor” and “bring back” Pirro rather than “working soooo hard on being politically correct.”

    Mar. 20: Through Solomon, Giuliani’s Ukraine scheme unfolded on Fox. Conservative writer John Solomon published the first of a series of columns in The Hill alleging Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election and targeting the U.S. Embassy to Ukraine as insufficiently loyal to Trump. He discussed the report that night on Hannity’s program, as did Republican attorney Joseph diGenova, who called for the firing of U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. This right-wing smear campaign successfully hounded Yovanovitch from office. Over the next six months, Solomon published 12 columns focused on Ukraine and appeared on Fox News or Fox Business at least 72 times to promote his reporting. It later emerged that Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani had been feeding information to Solomon as part of a scheme to undermine the Russia probe, and that diGenova and his wife, Victoria Toensing, were involved in the plot and are Solomon’s lawyers. 

    Mar. 29: In an apparent response to Fox, Trump threatened to close the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump tweeted on March 29 that “if Mexico doesn’t immediately stop ALL illegal immigration coming into the United States,” he would be “CLOSING… the Border, or large sections of the Border, next week.” The night before, Dobbs and his guests urged the president to do just that, as did radio host Rush Limbaugh during a Hannity appearance. Ultimately, Trump did not close the border. 

    Mar. 30: Reports detailed how GOP legislators use Fox to reach Trump. The Washington Post reported that “Republican lawmakers have grown accustomed to Trump’s predilection to obsess over TV and the coverage of him -- and have adapted” by trying to pitch their policy proposals directly to the president in Fox interviews, consulting with the network’s hosts before proposing legislation, and appearing on the network to defend him. The New York Times, in a profile of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), highlighted his “near-constant presence on the president’s favorite network” as essential in building a relationship with him and gaining influence.

  • April

  • Trump’s Fox live tweets this month: 30

    April 1: Launch of Solomon/Giuliani/Fox campaign targeting Biden. Solomon reported in an April 1 column in The Hill that former Vice President Joe Biden had pushed for the firing of former Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin because Shokin was “leading a wide-ranging corruption probe” into a company that employed Biden’s son. This baseless conspiracy theory, which had roots in Giuliani’s effort to dig up dirt on Biden and convince Ukraine to open an investigation into him, received widespread coverage on Fox that month. 

    Fox powered Trump’s response to the Mueller probe. Trump sought to shape the debate over the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election by promoting Fox commentary. Between the release of Barr’s deceptive March 24 letter summarizing Mueller’s report and April 29, Trump referenced Fox News or Fox Business in some way in 43 of the 100 tweets he sent about the probe.

  • May

  • Trump’s Fox live tweets this month: 37

    May 6: Trump pardoned a convicted war criminal who had received favorable Fox coverage. Michael Behenna, a former Army lieutenant who served five years in prison after murdering an Iraqi his unit detained and interrogated, received a presidential pardon after positive Fox coverage of his bid for clemency. 

    May 17: Trump responded to a Fox segment by accusing the FBI of “TREASON!” Trump falsely claimed in a tweet responding to a Fox & Friends segment that his presidential campaign had been “conclusively spied on” by the FBI, adding, “TREASON means long jail sentences, and this was TREASON!”

    May 19: Goaded by Fox, Trump threatened Iran. Responding to a Fox segment on escalating tensions with Iran, Trump tweeted that any conflict would lead to “the official end of Iran.”

    May 23: Wash. Post reported that Trump was trying to steer a contract to a company whose CEO plugged the bid on Fox. The Post reported that Trump had “alarmed” military commanders and Department of Homeland Security officials by aggressively lobbying them to grant a border wall contract to a construction company whose CEO, Tommy Fisher, has regularly appeared on Fox to promote his company’s bid. Fisher had been interviewed at least 10 times on Fox and Fox Business since January 2018 and received favorable coverage from the network’s “news”-side.

  • June

  • Trump’s Fox live tweets this month: 40

    June 7: Trump baffled the nation with a Fox-driven moon tweet. Trump triggered widespread confusion when he announced on Twitter that “NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon” but should instead be “focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part).” Trump was apparently offering feedback on NASA Chief Financial Officer Jeff DeWit’s performance during a Fox Business interview he had been watching

    June 14: During a Fox interview, Trump claimed he had hired a Fox contributor. He hadn’t. Trump visibly shocked the hosts of Fox & Friends when he told them during an interview that he had hired their colleague, Fox contributor Tom Homan, a former administration official, for a White House “border czar” position. Homan subsequently said that he had considered taking such a position but ultimately declined.

    June 20: Taking advice from Fox's Carlson, Trump called off a missile strike on Iran. Trump claimed to have called off missile strikes on three Iranian sites with minutes to spare. According to The New York Times, Trump was responding at least in part to Carlson’s argument, made both on his show and to the president personally, that using force against Iran could spiral into a war that would endanger his reelection. Carlson’s advice prevailed over that of Trump’s national security team as well as other Fox hosts, including Hannity and Ingraham.

    June 30: Carlson accompanied Trump across the border into North Korea. Carlson, who was traveling with the White House press corps, accompanied Trump when he met North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un at the Demilitarized Zone and became the first U.S. president to cross the border into North Korea.

  • July

  • Trump’s Fox live tweets this month: 74 

    July 14: Trump targeted Democratic congresswomen with a racist rant after a Fox segment. Roughly 20 minutes after Fox & Friends Weekend aired a segment highlighting Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Trump responded on Twitter with a racist and factually inaccurate screed about the congresswomen. Trump wrote that they “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world,” adding that they should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done.” Trump’s comments triggered a dayslong firestorm that culminated with the crowd at a July 17 Trump rally responding to his criticism of Omar, who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Somalia, by chanting, “Send her back!”

    July 15: A local city council reversed its vote after the Fox-Trump feedback loop triggered a huge backlash. After Fox & Friends ran a July 9 segment criticizing the decision by the city council of St. Louis Park, Minnesota -- population 49,000 -- to no longer say the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of meetings, Trump weighed in on the “outrage,” driving more coverage both from Fox and from other national outlets. The city council reversed its decision on July 15, with one member citing a deluge of harassment and abuse from outside the community.

    July 16: Trump called for an investigation of Google’s “treason” after watching Fox. Trump tweeted that his administration would review whether Google has committed “treason” after seeing a Fox & Friends news brief which detailed his Silicon Valley supporter Peter Thiel’s baseless claim that the company had done so.

    July 24: House Republicans parroted Fox’s disinformation in the Mueller hearing. House Republicans used their question time during Mueller’s appearance at congressional hearings to echo Fox News disinformation about the investigation. Fox personalities had urged the members to ask Mueller about their conspiracy theories before the hearings.

    July 25: In a call with the Ukrainian president, Trump sought investigations into conspiracy theories he’d detailed on Fox. In his now-infamous phone conversation, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to “do us a favor” and investigate baseless allegations that the Democratic National Committee’s hacked server was in Ukraine and that Biden had corruptly sought Shokin’s removal. Trump had previously discussed the conspiracy theories during separate Fox interviews. Administration officials who were listening to the call were alarmed by it, and the call was cited in a whistleblower complaint that exposed Trump’s Ukraine abuse of power and led to the House impeachment inquiry. 

    July 27: A Fox segment provoked Trump’s racist attack on Rep. Cummings, Baltimore. Responding to a Fox & Friends Weekend segment criticizing Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings and his Baltimore, Maryland, district, Trump declared Cummings’ district a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess,” called for an investigation of federal funds spent there, and added, “no human being would want to live there.” Trump’s racist diatribe set off days of controversy

  • August

  • Trump’s Fox live tweets this month: 38

    Aug. 6: Trump threatened a probe of “illegal” Google behavior after watching Fox. Responding to claims of anti-conservative bias that a former Google employee made during an interview with Dobbs, Trump suggested that the company is planning “to illegally subvert the 2020 Election.” After highlighting claims made about Google during the episode, the president commented, “All very illegal. We are watching Google very closely!”

    Aug. 27: Trump campaign credited Hannity with a federal investigation. During an interview on his radio show, Hannity told Trump campaign press secretary Kayleigh McEnany that Trump is opposed by “pretty much everybody except for like me” and several other key Fox hosts and guests. She replied by saying that his show was responsible for a federal probe into the initiation of the Russia investigation, saying, “Yeah, the work that you do every night, Sean, is going to go a long way. It already has. We now have the Justice Department looking into the misdeeds of the Obama administration.”

  • September

  • Trump’s Fox live tweets this month: 70

    Sept. 10: The White House is reportedly planning a dehumanizing homelessness “crackdown” after Fox demonization campaign. The Washington Post reported that Trump “has ordered White House officials to conduct a sweeping crackdown on homelessness in California,” possibly including “razing existing tent camps for the homeless” and institutionalizing people experiencing homelessness. Trump’s sudden interest in homelessness followed a monthslong Fox campaign to demonize homeless people, with a particular focus on California. 

    Sept. 10: Fox’s Carlson pushed out national security adviser John Bolton. Trump hired Bolton as national security adviser in March 2018, reportedly because he was enamored with the longtime Fox contributor’s on-air defenses of his policies. But Bolton’s influence quickly waned, and he finally left the administration (Trump says he was fired, Bolton that he quit) after roughly 18 months. Carlson, who had outmaneuvered the national security adviser to gain Trump’s ear on important issues, reportedly played a key role in Bolton’s downfall by personally “lobbying” the president “to fire” him.

    Sept. 24: Pelosi announced a formal Trump impeachment inquiry into Ukraine abuse of power that revolved around Fox. Pelosi charged that Trump had “seriously violated the Constitution” by seeking help from Ukraine to damage his political rival and benefit his reelection campaign. As the story of Trump’s abuse of power unfurled, it became clear that Fox was central to nearly every aspect of the scandal.

  • October

  • Trump’s Fox live tweets this month: 87

    Fox powered Trump’s response to the impeachment inquiry. Trump sent at least 223 tweets and retweets about his abuse of power scandal that were influenced in some way by the right-wing network from the time the story broke until October 15. Nearly half of all of Trump’s tweets or retweets about the story were related to Fox’s programming. Some of the president’s most inflammatory rhetoric came in response to Fox commentary, including floating a possible civil war if he were removed from office and suggesting that a congressional critic should be arrested “for treason.” 

    Oct. 5: Fox hired Trump favorite Solomon. Solomon, a central figure in the Ukraine scandal, is a favorite in Trump’s circle, and the president has said that his reporting deserves a Pulitzer Prize. 

    Oct. 10: Giuliani associates were arrested while on their way to set up an interview for Hannity. Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who worked closely with Giuliani, Solomon, Toensing, and diGenova on their Ukraine scheme, were arrested at Dulles National Airport on conspiracy- and campaign finance-related charges. They were reportedly on their way to Vienna to facilitate an interview between Hannity and Shokin. 

    Oct. 11: Fox’s Shep Smith, who Trump had criticized, resigned. Smith, the network’s chief anchor and one of its earliest hires, blindsided his colleagues by stepping down on-air. He had drawn criticism from Fox’s audience, its prime-time hosts, and the president himself for debunking disinformation prevalent elsewhere on the network. 

    Oct. 24: A federal criminal investigation is reportedly pursuing Fox’s “deep state” conspiracy theories. The New York Times reported that what was initially an administrative review into the Russia probe, led by John H. Durham but closely overseen by Barr, had become a criminal investigation, though it was unclear who it is targeting or what potential crime is being investigated.

  • November

  • Trump’s Fox live tweets this month: 59

    Impeachment hearings debunked Fox-fueled conspiracy theories as the GOP rallied behind them. Even as a series of witnesses before the impeachment inquiry debunked false claims and conspiracy theories that were extensively promoted by the Solomon-Fox nexus, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee channeled talking points that closely resembled those of Fox hosts. 

    Nov. 15: Trump pardoned alleged and convicted war criminals in response to Fox lobbying. The president pardoned Army Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn and former Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance and restored the rank of Navy Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher following an extensive clemency campaign that played out on Fox. Fox host Pete Hegseth aggressively lobbied for the pardons both on-air and in private conversations with Trump.

    Nov. 24: Navy Secretary Spencer was forced out after losing power struggle with Hegseth. Defense Secretary Mark Esper asked for and received U.S. Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer’s resignation following a clash over whether Gallagher would be stripped of membership in the Navy SEALs, a move publicly opposed by Hegseth, who had Trump’s ear. Spencer’s removal came after a Fox & Friends Weekend interview with Gallagher in which he made his case directly to the president -- a broadcast Trump apparently watched.

  • December

  • Trump’s Fox live tweets this month through Dec. 17: 49

    Dec. 2: A company that pursued a Fox-centric lobbying strategy won a $400 million contract. The Army Corps of Engineers awarded Tommy Fisher’s construction company a $400 million federal contract to build a portion of wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, validating the CEO’s strategy of capturing Trump’s attention through laudatory appearances on his favorite channel. The Pentagon’s inspector general subsequently announced an investigation into the decision to award the contract. 

    Dec. 3: The House GOP impeachment report recited Fox talking points. House Republicans issued a report responding to the impeachment inquiry into Trump’s abuse of power that largely echoed talking points attempting to undermine the scandal from Fox. 

    Dec. 9: The Justice Department inspector general detonated Fox’s Russia probe conspiracy theories. The long-awaited report from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz on the federal investigation into ties between Trump associates and Russia debunked a series of conspiracy theories at the heart of Fox’s alternate narrative. 

    Dec. 11: Steve Bannon reportedly claimed Carlson is Trump’s most important national security adviser. The Daily Beast reported that former Trump campaign manager and White House aide Stephen Bannon, speaking at a lecture series in New York, said, “If you don’t think Tucker Carlson has more influence on national security policy than many of the guys on the National Security Council, you’re wrong,” adding that rather than reading lengthy reports, the president “does get a lot of information from television.”

    Dec. 18: House passed two articles of impeachment against Trump. The articles of impeachment detail presidential abuses of power stemming from the Ukraine scandal that Fox played a key role in enabling, and obstruction of Congress in response to the inquiry into that scandal.