Angelo Carusone: Fox may not fully be with Trump, but Trump still has the Fox audience captured

“Earlier this week when the DOJ people were testifying, Fox News spent almost as much time talking about Duck Dynasty's treasure hunt as they did the January 6 hearings”

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Citation From the July 2, 2022, edition of MSNBC's The Katie Phang Show

KATIE PHANG (HOST): It's not every day that a top Fox News host like Bret Baier makes a declaration like this on a network that for years championed Donald Trump at every turn, sticking by his side, even in his darkest moments, which is why that moment was noteworthy. Now, don't get me wrong. Not all of Fox News is ready to move on from Trump, but this week's testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, including damning allegations that Trump knew some of his supporters were armed on January 6th, but still encouraged them to march on the Capitol anyway. Well, that seems to have kickstarted a wave of conservative news outlets turning their backs on Donald Trump. Frequent Fox News contributor, conservative lawyer Andrew McCarthy wrote in a New York Post op-ed that the case to charge Trump with a crime is only getting stronger. And the editorial board of conservative paper The Washington Examiner went even further, saying Hutchinson's testimony ought to ring the death knell for Trump's political career and that Trump is unfit to be anywhere near power ever again. Even The Wall Street Journal's editorial board noted that Republicans can't afford to look away from accumulating evidence of Trump's conduct. Here to help me break this all down, is Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters. Angelo, good morning. Thanks for being here. Are we witnessing the start of a very public breakup? And will more of Trump's defenders in the media sphere tell him, it's not me, it's you?

ANGELO CARUSONE (MEDIA MATTERS CEO): Unclear. I don't think so. And I'm not trying to be a downer about it. It's just that it's true. These are real fault lines. They are. And there are some opportunities and some pushback that's coming from conservative media. But the reason why you haven't seen, say, a full-throated attack or even a full-on onslaught from the right-wing media is that Trump still has the audience captured. And I – just for context, if you go back to the first three days in 2020, after the election was called, Fox News coverage was more critical of Donald Trump in that three-day period after he lost the election than it has been this week, for example. And I know why people are sort of pointing out these instances, because you're right, they do tend to portend what's going to happen in the future. But for context, we've been here before. And as long as the Fox audience, as long as that core base is with Trump, conservative media will maybe take a couple shots, there will be some softening, but they won't, you know, do what they do, which is which is really fully attack. And in fact, they've been carrying an awful lot of water for Trump this week too.

PHANG: You know, Angelo, though, I want to follow up for a second, though. How absurd is it, though, that we make these events noteworthy that a major cable news network like Fox News, having people like Bret Baier acknowledge the truth and the evidence that's coming out on the 1/6 hearing, the fact that it's so noteworthy, does that send a message, though, that Fox News itself is not reliable in terms of the information that it's imparting? In fact, it's dispensing or it's disseminating misinformation at this point.

CARUSONE: Oh, yeah. I'm so glad you pointed that out. I think that's been my reaction this week. And watching the coverage is that these things are noteworthy. I'm not dismissing the significance of them. And as you pointed out, it is noteworthy because it is such a big deal that somebody like a Bret Baier would even say something like you said, which is just acknowledging that the testimony doesn't look good for Donald Trump. That is a remarkable thing happening. And that's actually a reflection of the fact that Fox News really functions much more like a partisan super-PAC does than it does say, you know, an ideological, even, media outlet at this point. And that is all because Trump has really captured the Fox News audience. Now, you know, there are some real differences between then and now. And I think that's what's really important about where this goes from here. You know, every time Trump has fought with Fox News, and there have been some real fights, he's one of those fights because he was able to leapfrog over Fox News as host and talk directly to the audience. And then the audience pushed back on Fox. He doesn't have social media anymore. IHe doesn't have Twitter. He doesn't have Facebook. At the end of the year, right after the election. Facebook is set to put Trump back on. And if Elon Musk's Twitter acquisition goes through, Elon Musk is going to restore his Twitter account. That's going to change the landscape. Trump is going to have that cudgel again to whip up the Fox audience. And so these even these little events that we point out that are remarkable. They'll become even farer and fewer.

PHANG: We know Rupert Murdoch, who owns Fox and The Wall Street Journal, has previously told Trump, dude, it's time to move on, move on from the 2020 election, stop living in the past. Do you think for some of these media outlets, this kind of maybe tidal shift we're seeing, albeit small, is coming from the top?


PHANG: Or does the timing seem more geared towards the 1/6 hearings themselves?

CARUSONE: I think it's coming from the top. I think this is a way of sending a message and a shot across the bow without getting into a full-on fight. And they're trying to have it both ways. And I think that's where the tension comes from, is that on the one hand, they are allowing these op-eds to go through, which have real significance for blowback and push back from Trump. And he hasn't really done that yet. On the other hand, you know, they're sidelining Bret Baier, right?. You know, when it came time to do the main event, they didn't carry the first hearing live. They didn't let Bret Baier anchor it. They had Tucker Carlson do the live response, for instance.

And day to day, they're doing two things. They're signaling to Trump that maybe they may not be with him fully. Right. That's as much as what they say about him as also by hosting more of these potential competitors. But at the same time, you know, they're dismissing it, attacking the legitimacy of the hearing. They're downplaying the events that – and the information that comes out. And then they're also – it's what else they choose to cover. I mean, earlier this week when the DOJ people were testifying, Fox News spent almost as much time talking about Duck Dynasty's treasure hunt as they did the January 6 hearings. So I just want that context because it is coming from the top. But these are more like little signals. And I think that's you know, we're at the start of something, but it's not clear where it's going to go.

PHANG: Well, Angelo Carusone, we'll have you back from Media Matters to make sure that we actually keep track of where things go. Thanks for being here this morning.