Nine Ways Fox News Tried To Rehabilitate Trump After His Disastrous Debate

Following the first 2016 presidential debate, Fox News defended Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s poor debate performance with an array of excuses and misinformation including misleading charts, “unscientific” online polling, and attacks on moderator Lester Holt. The network also offered Trump an immediate post-debate refuge with host Sean Hannity.

Majority Of Debate Viewers Polled Thought Clinton Won And Trump Lost

CNN: “Hillary Clinton Forced Donald Trump Onto Defense.” A September 27 article discussed how Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton forced her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, “onto defense over his temperament, refusal to release his taxes and his past comments about race and women.” The article noted that “A CNN/ORC poll of debate watchers released after the event found 62% felt Clinton won compared to 27% for Trump”:

Hillary Clinton forced Donald Trump onto defense over his temperament, refusal to release his taxes and his past comments about race and women during a fiery debut presidential debate Monday -- a potentially pivotal moment in a tight election campaign.

Clinton, who has seen her dominance of the presidential race fade in the weeks since the Democratic convention, delivered a strong performance in which she demonstrated a command of policy and a sense of humor, smiling through some of Trump's strongest attacks. She delivered the best zinger of the night in response to criticism from Trump for staying off the campaign trail recently.

“I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate,” she said. “And yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be President. And that is a good thing.”

Trump came out swinging at the beginning of the debate, and made some effective points on the economy and jobs -- some of the aspects of his outsider presidential campaign that have struck a chord with many Americans. But the debate highlighted Trump's tendency to make false claims as he made inaccurate statements on everything from laws regarding policing, his support for the Iraq War and his contention that Clinton was behind the so-called birther conspiracy.


A CNN/ORC poll of debate watchers released after the event found 62% felt Clinton won compared to 27% for Trump. The poll suggests the debate audience was a bit more Democratic than the public as a whole, about on par with the Democratic tilt in the audience that watched the first debate in 2008 between Obama and John McCain. [, 9/27/16]

Nine Ways Fox News Defended Trump’s Debate Performance

Fox Cited “Unscientific” Online Polls To Claim Trump Actually Won

Fox Hosts Cited Online Polls To Say Trump Won. After the presidential debate. multiple Fox figures claimed online polls showed Trump easily won the debate. Sean Hannity declared that “every single online poll, but the Clinton News Network, has Trump winning this debate.” An article posted to claimed that “online surveys had Donald Trump as the yuge winner.” Fox anchor Martha MacCallum added that it was “fascinating to see” online polls “leaning towards Donald Trump, and by pretty large margins.” MacCallum also dismissed a scientific CNN poll showing that Clinton won as an “outlier.” [Media Matters, 9/28/16]

Despite Internal Memo Saying Online Polls “Do Not Meet” Fox’s “Editorial Standards,” Fox Figures Continued To Cite Them. Business Insider shared a memo from Fox News’ vice president for public-opinion research, Dana Blanton, reminding Fox employees that “quick vote items posted on the web are nonsense, not true measures of public opinion.” In the memo, Blanton also warned that online polls “do not meet our editorial standards” because they “obviously can't be representative of the electorate because they only reflect the views of those Internet users who have chosen to participate.” [Media Matters, 9/28/16]

Fox Doubled Down On “Bullshit” Lie That Trump Opposed The Iraq War

Fox News Posted A “Complete Bullshit” Article Claiming Trump Opposed The Iraq War. On September 27, an unbylined article on claimed a clip from a January 2003 interview with Neil Cavuto “backs up Trump on Iraq War opposition.” [Media Matters, 9/27/16]

Bill O’Reilly: “My Firsthand Experience” Is That Trump Always Opposed The Iraq War. On the September 27 edition of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, host Bill O’Reilly told pollster Frank Luntz, “I can then report this. I know Trump. Trump didn't like that war. He didn't like it. So I can tell you, that's firsthand experience.” O’Reilly also said it is “possible that no one cares” if Trump opposed the war from the beginning or not. [Fox News, The O’Reilly Factor, 9/27/16]

BuzzFeed And Cavuto Debunk The Idea The Cavuto Interview Shows Trump Always Opposed The War. BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski denounced the “embarrassing” Fox News article as “complete bullshit” since fact-checkers had previously reviewed this “unearth[ed]” clip and found no conclusive evidence in it of Trump’s early opposition to the war. Even Fox’s Neil Cavuto, the host of the show from which this clip came, said at the time that Trump’s appearance “could leave you with a different impression” than his brazen lie that he opposed the war from the beginning. [Media Matters, 9/27/16]

Fox Lamented The Lack Of Questions About Clinton Scandals

Fox’s Megyn Kelly: “There Weren’t Any Questions Asked About [The] Clinton Foundation.” In Fox News’ post-debate coverage, host Megyn Kelly asked radio host and Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham what she thought “about the fact that there weren't any questions asked about [the] Clinton Foundation.” Ingraham replied that it was an “unbelievable” omission, as was the fact that there was “Nothing on the pay to play. Nothing on Saudi Arabia. Nothing on the Russia-uranium deal. None of that was mentioned and I mean really nothing on Benghazi. Nothing on not being in the situation room.” [Fox News, coverage of the First 2016 Presidential Debate, 9/26/16]

Fox’s Mike Emanuel: The Lack Of Questions About The Clinton Foundation, Benghazi, Or Obamacare Was “Another Potential Advantage” For Clinton. On the September 27 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, reporter Mike Emanuel characterized the lack of questions about the Clinton Foundation, Benghazi, and Obamacare as “another potential advantage” for Clinton in the debates:

MIKE EMANUEL: Another potential advantage is Hillary Clinton was not asked about contributions to the Clinton Foundation, was not asked about the Benghazi terror attack, and even was not asked about her support for Obamacare. [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 9/27/16]

Fox Defended Trump’s Claim That Avoiding Taxes Was Smart

Fox’s Brian Kilmeade: “The Goal For Every American Is To Pay As Little Taxes As Possible.” On the September 28 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade asked Fox News contributor Herman Cain “what’s the truth” regarding taxes when you get to Trump’s “level of success,” adding “the truth is, at that level, the goal for every American is pay as little taxes as possible, but do it legally.” Cain concurred, adding that “people don’t believe the tax code is fair” so "I don't believe he’s breaking any rules regardless of how much tax he’s paying”:

BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): Herman, there’s so many parallels between your candidacy and the Trump candidacy, his going all the way through, but you laid the groundwork with your business success. When they start going after him on his taxes and on how much he paid, what's the truth when you get to this level of income and this level of success? People are saying, well, he doesn't pay any taxes, it's not going to resonate with people. But the truth is, at that level, the goal for every American is pay as little taxes as possible, but do it legally.

HERMAN CAIN: Do it legally, and the other thing is people don't believe that the tax code is fair. So I don't believe he's breaking any rules regardless of how much tax he is paying. And here's my advice to Donald Trump. I know he threw out a challenge to Hillary, that if you release those 33,000 deleted emails, I release my tax returns. Well, I would not release my tax returns if I were Donald Trump, and here's why. It would just give some nitpickers more opportunities to nitpick something to try to turn it into a big story in order to distract from the success that Donald Trump is having. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 9/28/16]

Fox’s Stuart Varney: “Show Me The Lunatic” Who Doesn’t Try Everything To Minimize Their Tax Bill. Stuart Varney, host of Fox Business Network’s Varney & Co., said on Fox & Friends that he agreed with Trump’s claim that not paying taxes makes him “smart.” Varney postulated that “every single person in America tries to minimize the taxes they pay” and challenged the hosts to “show me the lunatic who says ‘I’ve got to work out how to pay much more in taxes.’” Varney also positively compared Trump’s secretive tax filings to corporations storing cash reserves overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes:

AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): Remember in the debate when she's talking about him releasing his tax returns and says in the years past, you haven't paid taxes, he says that’s because I’m smart --


EARHARDT: -- maybe. He says that’s because I’m smart. You agree with that?

STUART VARNEY: Well, every single person in America tries to minimize the taxes that they pay. Is that not correct?

DOOCY: Do you try to pay the most you can?

VARNEY: Yeah, show me the lunatic who says, “yeah I’ve got to work out how to pay much more in taxes. I’m not paying enough already. I’ve got to pay more.” Show me that person.

DOOCY: Sure, you got to pay what you owe, but you want the number to be as small as possible.

VARNEY: You stick within the law, but you want the number as small as possible. Of course you do; everybody does that.


DOOCY: Stuart, when was the last time GE paid taxes?

VARNEY: Well, they do pay corporate taxes, but not a whole lot in corporate taxes. I think -- I don't know for a fact -- but I think they've got a lot of money parked overseas where they pay a much lower tax rate. Look at Apple. Apple's got more than $200 billion, almost all of it -- this is in cash -- almost all of it overseas. They don't bring it back because if they did, they'd pay a 35 percent tax rate. They leave it over there.

BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): That is part of what people do at that level, you want to talk about it, but he’s got to define it, he can’t leave it out there. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 9/28/16]

Fox Gave Trump Credit For Simply Appearing At The Debate

Fox’s Bret Baier: “I Do Think [Trump] Gets Credit For Just Being On The Stage.” Fox host Bret Baier said Trump “gets credit for just being on the stage” because “It legitimized him” as a presidential candidate. Baier, who was appearing on the September 27 edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered, added that Trump “answers every question,” unlike “the traditional politician where you answer a little bit and you pivot.” [Fox News, Outnumbered, 9/27/16]

Fox Attacked Moderator Lester Holt

Fox Figures Lined Up To Criticize Holt For “Interrupting” Trump. After the debate, multiple Fox figures lined up to criticize NBC News’ Lester Holt for his moderation of the presidential debate. Fox contributor Laura Ingraham complained that Holt “kept interrupting Trump, and rarely interrupted Hillary Clinton.” Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt repeated the allegation, claiming that “Holt interrupted both of the candidates several times last night but interrupted Trump much more.” Fox’s media critic Howard Kurtz also tweeted that “Nearly all of Holt's followups and fact-checking efforts were directed at Trump, not Clinton.” [Media Matters, 9/27/16, 9/27/16]

Rudy Giuliani Falsely Claimed Holt Suggested Stop And Frisk Was Ruled Unconstitutional Nationally. Appearing on Fox & Friends, Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani claimed Holt plainly said that “stop and frisk is unconstitutional.” Giuliani specified that the practice was ruled “unconstitutional as applied. In other words, it was being done incorrectly.” However Holt did in fact correctly specify that “stop and frisk was ruled unconstitutional in New York, because it largely singled out black and Hispanic young men," corroborated by the judge’s 2013 ruling which said stop and frisk allowed New York police officers to stop “blacks and Hispanics who would not have been stopped if they were white." [Media Matters, 9/27/16]

Fox Used Misleading Statistics To Back Up Trump's Inaccurate Crime Claims

Fox News Used An Incomplete Chart To Support The Inaccurate Claim That Murders Are Rising In New York. During the debate, Trump interrupted Clinton to assert that “murders are up” in New York since the administration of Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio began and he moved the New York Police Department away from stop and frisk. In Fox’s post-debate coverage, Megyn Kelly displayed a chart showing FBI homicide totals for New York City in 2013 and 2014, displaying a slight rise in killings. [Media Matters, 9/27/16]

Multiple News Outlets Debunked Misleading Claim That Murders Are Up. After the debate, The Washington Post, MSNBC, ABC News, and CNN reported that murders in 2016 are “down more than 4 percent than the same time period last year,” and despite the modest 2013-14 increase, New York’s murder rate has steadily decreased. [Media Matters, 9/27/16]

Fox Allowed Trump To Double Down On Attacking Former Miss Universe

Fox & Friends Gave Trump A Platform To Denigrate Former Miss Universe. Trump called in to the September 27 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends to attack Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe winner who came up during the debate and whom Trump allegedly called “Miss Piggy” and, because of her Latina background, “Miss Housekeeping.” Trump used the platform to claim Machado was “the absolute worst” and “impossible” to work with because she “gained a massive amount of weight,” which was “a real problem.” [Huffington Post, 5/23/16; Fox News, Fox & Friends, 9/27/16]

Fox's Sean Hannity Provided Trump Immediate Retreat And Support Following The Debate

Trump Retreated To Sean Hannity Immediately After The Debate. During Fox’s post-debate coverage, host Megyn Kelly observed that Trump went to speak “with our own Sean Hannity” before anybody else, and she speculated about “whether he [will speak] to the journalists in this room after that interview.” After airing some of Trump and Hannity’s conversation about the Iraq War and birtherism, Kelly commented that immediately seeking Hannity for interviews “is something we’ve seen from Trump in the past” and “some might argue it's refreshing to have that kind of access.” [Fox News, coverage of the First 2016 Presidential Debate, 9/26/16]

Sean Hannity Immediately Praised Trump’s “Very Good Night.” Sean Hannity launched his post-debate special edition of Hannity with the declaration that Trump had “a very good night,” and announced that he would have at least six Trump advisers and surrogates on the two-hour special. Hannity also proudly announced that “right after the debate, after [Trump] stepped off the stage I had the very first interview with the Republican nominee.” [Fox News, Hannity, 9/27/16]