President Donald Trump capped off this week’s European trip by sitting for an interview with Fox News host Laura Ingraham Thursday morning, just before participating in a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day -- when the Allies invaded Western Europe -- in Normandy, France. The appearance again demonstrates both the manner in which Fox’s propagandists have been integrated into the White House’s operations and how the network’s hosts operate without ethical and moral standards.
Fox’s fusion with the Trump administration has upended the way international presidential trips are covered, with the network’s stars regularly accompanying Trump on his trips abroad and often getting the president’s only interview of the voyage with a U.S. television network. That exchange is mutually beneficial: Fox gets an exclusive sit-down with the president for its audience, while the fawning coverage from its pro-Trump hosts ensures that the “first snapshot of history gets filtered through a sympathetic lens” for the president, as Politico put it in chronicling the phenomenon in February.
These exclusive interviews during international forays are part of a broader pattern in which the network’s pro-Trump commentators are rewarded for their support. Fox News, Fox Business, and Fox Broadcasting combined have done 54 Trump interviews since his inauguration by our count (not including Ingraham’s latest one), amounting to more than 70 percent of all of his national TV interviews. In 2019, the White House has been putting Trump almost exclusively on Fox, rewarding the networks with 12 of his 13 nationally televised interviews.
As usual, the president has little to fear from a Fox interview. Ingraham has spent the week hosting her show live from London and Normandy, bashing anti-Trump protesters because they supposedly “didn’t seem British” and getting quoted in a presidential tweet after praising his “incredibly successful visit.” Her behavior tracks with the incredibly positive way her colleague Sean Hannity has reported from previous international trips with the president.
Ingraham’s participation in the president’s international trips, however, is somehow even more ethically fraught than Hannity’s. That’s no small feat, since Hannity advises the president regularly and last year spoke at one of his campaign rallies. But Ingraham has done him one better by becoming a direct financial beneficiary of Trump’s re-election campaign, a staggering conflict of interest for the host of a national cable news program.
Last Tuesday, Ingraham announced that her podcast was sponsored by the Make America Great Committee, a joint fundraising effort by the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee to support his re-election.
A Fox spokesperson made clear that the network is not concerned with the president’s campaign putting money directly into its host’s pocket, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “Laura Ingraham’s podcast is run independently of Fox News and we have nothing to do with its sponsorships.” And just days after that news broke, Fox sent its host, who is effectively on the president’s payroll, to cover his overseas trip and interview him.
Something else happened between the revelation that Ingraham was taking money from Trump’s campaign and her interview with the president before a D-Day celebration: She defended a white supremacist who is obsessed with the “Jewish Question.” Her inclusion of Paul Nehlen on a graphic of “prominent voices censored on social media” and her description of the group as simply “people who believe in border enforcement, people who believe in national sovereignty” during last Thursday’s show triggered a media firestorm.
Fox did not respond to the controversy with an apology or an explanation -- network founder and Chairman Rupert Murdoch reportedly views apologies as egregious signs of weakness, and any effort to distance Ingraham from Nehlen would raise more questions about the other “voices” she defended during the segment, as well as her own history of bigoted commentary. Instead, the network issued a gaslighting statement that attacked its critics and pretended Ingraham hadn’t actually defended Nehlen.
Fox likely hoped that the statement would confuse the situation long enough for the story to lose momentum and fade away, a bet that appears to have paid off. Meanwhile, Ingraham packed her bags to accompany the president to Europe.
We’re beyond the point where Fox is simply allowing its star hosts the impunity to defy ethical standards and promote bigotry. In granting Ingraham the opportunity to travel abroad with the president and interview him after the week she just had, the network is now openly rewarding this behavior.