Executive Time | Media Matters for America

Executive Time

Tags ››› Executive Time
  • The Fox News shutdown is here, and Trump is tweeting through it

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After shutting down the government to placate his allies at Fox News, President Donald Trump spent the holidays stuck in the White House, tweeting in response to the network’s programming.

    2018 was a tug of war for the president’s attention between his right-wing media allies, who wanted him to use a government shutdown as leverage to extract concessions on immigration policy, and Republican congressional leaders, who wanted to fund the government.

    Time after time, the same pattern unfolded: Congressional leaders would negotiate a spending bill and move it through the legislative process, Fox commentators would declare the bill a betrayal of the president’s base because it didn’t fulfill his immigration priorities, Trump would tweet something suggesting he agreed with the commentators, and Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan would press him to back the legislation again.

    But as I warned in September, this cycle could not continue forever -- it was inevitable that the president would give in to his closest, most devoted allies at some point.

    In December, after the White House signaled that it would back off its demand for $5 billion to fund a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border as its price to keep the federal government funded until the next year, the network’s airwaves were filled with right-wing media figures urging Trump to reconsider. They warned the president that giving in would fracture his relationship with his closest supporters and let the Democrats win.

    Trump “alternately seethed and panicked about the stream of invective he’s hearing from allies on television,” Politico reported. Then, he took their advice, kicking off the Fox News shutdown.

    Trump usually spends the holidays at his Mar-A-Lago resort, where he golfs, schmoozes, and attends a lavish New Year’s Eve party for club members willing to shell out $1,000 apiece. When his shutdown made that politically untenable, he canceled his planned 16-day vacation and stayed in Washington. But as The Washington Post reported, he didn’t spend the time burning up the phones trying to negotiate a solution with congressional leaders, or trying to sell his position to the press or the public. Instead, “he has filled the silence with a rash of tweets that have blamed Democrats for the shutdown and cast illegal immigration as a threat to the country.”

    Put another way, the president spent the holidays as he has spent so many days of his presidency: watching Fox coverage and tweeting about what he saw. By my count, roughly 20 of his tweets since December 21 came in response to the network’s programming -- and there were almost certainly more.

    Sometimes, Trump’s Fox live-tweeting has kept him on topic, attacking the purported scourge of illegal immigration and the Democrats who refuse to support his border wall. But cable news coverage is built on covering a host of different stories, and letting the network dictate his tweets has at times led him far afield from the issues central to the shutdown. Trump tweeted about commentators who praised his foreign policy and his stewardship of the economy. When the network fearmongered about a new caravan of migrants, he did too. The president tweeted the network’s conspiracy theories and myths about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. And he shilled for the new book from Fox-commentator-turned-White-House-aide-turned-Fox-commentator Sebastian Gorka after Gorka appeared on the network to peddle it.

    While negotiations with Democrats will be crucial in bringing the shutdown to a close, the decisive factor could be the advice and feedback Trump gets from his most trusted adviser: his television.

  • Fox News wanted to exploit a caravan of migrants as a midterm election issue, so that's what Trump is doing

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump responded on Thursday morning to reports of a caravan of migrants moving through Central America toward the U.S. border by blaming Democrats for their purported “assault on our country.” The president was mimicking the commentators he was likely watching on Fox News, who urged Republicans to weaponize the caravan as an election issue ahead of next month’s midterms.

    A caravan of as many as 4,000 Honduran migrants has entered Guatemala, leading Fox hosts to spend much of the week trying to stoke fears that the migrants are “heading this way” with plans “to storm our border.” None of this makes much sense -- the caravan would still need to make it through all of Guatemala and Mexico, and the Mexican government is currently deploying its own resources to stop the migrants. But because Trump’s worldview is shaped by the hours of Fox he consumes each day, that coverage is having an impact on U.S. policy -- and now, the topics of discussion in the midterm elections.

    Trump entered the fray on Tuesday morning, warning that the U.S. would cut off aid to Honduras if the caravan isn’t turned back:

    Trump frequently spends his mornings live-tweeting Fox & Friends, and his tweet almost certainly came in response to the show's coverage of the story that day:

    With Trump weighing in, the story’s coverage escalated. And on Wednesday night, Fox contributor and presidential confidant Newt Gingrich urged Republicans to make the caravan a key voting issue:

    “I think two words are going to define the night of the 2018 election in the next three weeks,” he told Sean Hannity. “One is Kavanaugh and the other is caravan.” Claiming that “the left is eager” for the caravan to enter the United States, Gingrich argued that “the American people are going to reject ... the way they are dealing with the border, and I think those will end up being the reasons the Republicans keep the House and dramatically increase the number of senators they have.”

    The next morning, Fox & Friends repeatedly urged Republicans to take Gingrich’s advice.

    During the show’s lead segment, after several minutes of dire warnings about the caravan, the hosts replayed portions of Gingrich’s comment. “So it comes down to a simple question regarding the Republicans and the Democrats, because it’s clear,” said host Steve Doocy. "If you think that our southern border should be open, support the Democrat. If you think the southern border should actually be a border with security, and stopping people, and processing them accordingly, then you’ve got to vote for Republicans, the Republicans say.”

    In a second segment that hour, Fox contributor and former ICE Acting Director Tom Homan said, “This caravan issue lays at the feet of the Democratic Party up on the Hill” for not closing loopholes in immigration law. “I hope the American people are paying attention because this isn’t the president’s failure, this isn’t the secretary’s failure; this is the Democrats’ failure because they know the issue and they refuse to fix it. They’re putting their political ambitions ahead of public safety, national security, and border control.”

    During a third segment, Doocy said that the election is “going to come down to” voters asking each other, “Hey, did you see that story this morning on Fox & Friends about the caravan? Can you believe that the Democrats want open borders?”

    And at 7 a.m., the hosts again highlighted the migrant caravan, with Doocy arguing that “these images do get the base on the Republican side interested in voting because, clearly, it's a choice. Do you want a southern border with security or not?”

    The president apparently got the message. In a series of tweets beginning at 7:25 a.m., he used the caravan to attack Democrats, saying they had “led (because they want Open Borders and existing weak laws)” an “assault on our country.” He also threatened to stop "all payments” to Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, and said he would “call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER” if Mexico could not “stop this onslaught.”

    This is not the first time Fox’s migrant coverage has triggered Trump to erupt on Twitter. In the spring, he similarly lashed out in response to Fox’s coverage of a caravan of migrants moving through Central America.

    This Fox-Trump feedback loop presents a problem for journalists, as the president drives the network’s fearmongering coverage into the mainstream policy debate.

  • What Fox is telling Trump about Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh's hearing

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump said during Wednesday’s press conference that he planned to watch professor Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing and that he could “be convinced” Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh had attempted to rape her when they were in high school in the early 1980s.

    If the president has been watching the hearing on Fox News, the conservative network that frequently influences his behavior, this is some of the commentary he’s been seeing amid the testimony.

    This post will be updated throughout the day.
  • What Trump’s Fox News cabinet wants him to do about Rod Rosenstein

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    When news breaks and you want to know how President Donald Trump might respond, it’s always a good idea to tune in to Fox News. On that network, a flock of pro-Trump propagandists compete for the president’s favor, describing him in increasingly lofty terms and his political enemies in increasingly dire ones, building semicoherent alternative narratives across their programs. Trump watches Fox shows, responds in real time on Twitter, and maintains personal relationships with several of the network’s leading commentators, consulting them for advice on policy and politics. Fox’s hosts hold as much influence on the president as his official cabinet does -- but the former broadcast their advice to the entire nation.

    Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is scheduled to meet with Trump Thursday to discuss whether he will remain in that position. The president’s Fox cabinet waged a brutal campaign against him for months, arguing that Trump could hamstring special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation by replacing Rosenstein, who oversees the probe, with a more Trump-friendly replacement. But while the president’s favorite commentators all have Trump’s best interests firmly in mind, they are now divided about whether the president should fire Rosenstein. That may influence his decision this week -- even as he reportedly intends to eventually take their advice and remove Rosenstein after the midterm elections.

    At issue is The New York Times’ Friday afternoon report that Rosenstein, in meetings with Justice Department and FBI officials in May 2017, suggested secretly recording Trump and seeking his removal from office via the 25th Amendment. It’s an open question whether he was being serious or sarcastic. But because the president and his propagandists have been attacking Rosenstein for months due to Trump’s authoritarian view that the Justice Department should protect his personal and political interests, it seemed plausible that the Times could have become the excuse Trump needed to get rid of the deputy attorney general.

    Several staunch members of Trump’s Fox cabinet clearly viewed the article that way at first. Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, Laura Ingraham, Gregg Jarrett, Sara Carter, and Joseph diGenova were among the commentators to call for Rosenstein’s firing.

    But as afternoon turned to evening, several Trump loyalists -- including Hannity -- began arguing that the Times article might be part of a trap by the president’s enemies, intended to goad him into firing Rosenstein and cause a scandal that could hurt GOP prospects in the midterm elections. As a result, some have been arguing that Rosenstein should not be fired, but should be stripped of his oversight of the Mueller probe -- a key sign that their actual goal is to damage that investigation.

    The situation on Fox has been fluid, with commentators moving from one camp to another, and at times synthesizing the two positions to argue that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should be the one to fire his deputy.

    This split among the Fox cabinet, and their warnings that he may be walking into a trap, may be influencing Trump to avoid immediately canning Rosenstein. Recent reports suggest that the deputy attorney general may escape unscathed from Thursday’s meeting, which was scheduled after Monday’s chaos, as dueling reports suggested that Rosenstein was either about to resign or be fired. But if Trump grants Rosenstein a respite, it is clear that it will be only a temporary one, with the day of his firing simply delayed until after the midterms, when the political risk is lessened. Eventually, the Fox cabinet will get its way.

    Here’s where Trump’s Fox allies stand right now.

    Sean Hannity: After originally arguing that Trump should fire Rosenstein, he now argues that Sessions should do it to avoid a trap.

    Hannity, the Fox figure closest to the president, has swung wildly on this topic depending on his interpretation of Trump’s best interest. Immediately after the Times story broke on Friday, and consistent with his campaign against Rosenstein and Mueller over the past year, Hannity argued on his radio program that Trump firing Rosenstein “would be the right thing to do, in my opinion.” But that night, the Fox host made headlines by saying on air, “I have a message for the president tonight: Under zero circumstances should the president fire anybody.” According to Hannity, the Times story was a “deep state” plot “designed to set up the president,” with Trump’s enemies provoking him to fire Rosenstein in order to “turn this politically into their equivalent of a Friday night massacre.” In order to avoid that trap, Hannity pressured Sessions to fire Rosenstein. “Now, it’s time tonight for the attorney general to now do his job. Mr. Sessions, this is your Department of Justice,” he said.

    Hannity returned to this point on Monday, repeatedly asking his guests why the attorney general hadn’t taken action, while stressing again that “the president should not be the one firing” Rosenstein.

    Lou Dobbs: Leave Rosenstein hanging to face Congress.

    Dobbs, another close confidant of the president -- who regularly watches Dobbs’ Fox Business show -- had previously called for Rosenstein’s impeachment, and on Friday he suggested that what the Times reported of Rosenstein “looks to be, if not treason, about as close to it as you can get.” But he has not called for Rosenstein’s firing since the story broke, arguing that night that the report “may be a ploy by the left-wing” newspaper “to get the president” to do so. Instead, Dobbs has supported calls Republican congressman have made on his program for Rosenstein to appear before their committees and testify about the story.

    Jeanine Pirro: After initially calling for Rosenstein’s firing, she now says it’s a trap.

    Pirro, a longtime friend of the president who interviewed for the Justice Department position that eventually went to Rosenstein, has supported his removal since at least January. The Fox host stuck with this position immediately after the Times story broke, tweeting, “Rod rosenstein shld have been fired long ago for being part of the ‘resistance’ and not providing documents to congress in order to save his corrupt pals. NOW HE MUST BE FIRED.”

    But by the time her show aired the next night -- and notably, after Fox appearances from Hannity and others who warned against Trump firing Rosenstein -- she pulled back from that position. On Saturday afternoon, she tweeted, “Is it possible Rod Rosenstein leaked the story to the @nytimes himself to force @realDonaldTrump to fire him?” And on her Saturday night show she stuck with that message, suggesting that the deputy attorney general may have “plant[ed] the story” himself because “he’s looking to be fired” in order to “bring on a Saturday night massacre and give the Dems a leg up.”

    “I don’t want him fired,” she added during a Monday appearance on The Five. “I don’t want the president firing him.”

    Fox & Friends weekday crew: The hosts provided minimal discussion of what Trump should do.

    The president regularly begins his work days by watching Fox & Friends and tweeting about what he sees. As this phenomenon has become more clear, the program’s effusively pro-Trump hosts and guests have increasingly aimed their commentary directly to him. But if Trump has been watching this week, show hosts Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, and Brian Kilmeade haven’t been giving him much advice about how to handle Rosenstein. The trio really haven’t engaged with the topic much, though Doocy did at one point on Tuesday float the theory that the allegation had been leaked in an effort to “provoke the president” into firing Rosenstein so that “chaos will ensue.”

    On Wednesday, the program hosted Ian Prior, a former DOJ colleague of Rosenstein, for an interview that seemed geared toward mollifying Trump. Prior argued that Rosenstein “actually has a ton of respect for the president” and “enjoys the working relationship they’ve had,” adding that the Mueller probe will end up being “a colossal disappointment to Democrats and the never Trump Republican crowd.”

    Fox & Friends weekend crew: This is an effort to provoke Trump, and he shouldn’t fall for it.

    By contrast, Fox & Friends’ weekend crew -- whom the president also watches frequently -- spent much of their Saturday and Sunday editions running with the theory that Trump could be walking into a trap. At the top of the program, co-host Pete Hegseth -- a Trump sycophant who has been considered for a cabinet post -- argued that it was time for Rosenstein to go, but he swiftly agreed after correspondent Ed Henry raised the possibility that the president’s enemies were trying to get Trump to fire him and provoke a constitutional crisis. The next time the subject came up, Hegseth said that if Trump fired Rosenstein it would cause “a cascading effect that the media will run with forever.”

    The hosts stuck with that argument the rest of the weekend, including in an interview with Prior, who argued that Rosenstein’s remark was sarcastic; that Rosenstein was actually doing a favor for Trump by naming a special counsel because it took the investigation out of the hands of senior DOJ official Andrew McCabe, whom Prior suggested was biased against the president; and that a McCabe associate subsequently leaked Rosenstein’s remarks to set up Trump.

    Gregg Jarrett: Fire Rosenstein if possible, but at least relieve him of overseeing the Mueller probe.

    Jarrett, the Fox legal analyst who adds a lawyer’s imprimatur to the network’s anti-Mueller conspiracy theories, has gradually pulled back on the maximalist call for Rosenstein’s removal over tactical concerns. He called for Rosenstein’s immediate firing on Twitter, FoxNews.com, and Hannity’s radio show shortly after the Times story dropped. “I don't care who fires him, whether it's Sessions or the president. It may not be politically expedient at this time, but he certainly deserves to be fired,” Jarrett added on Hannity’s Fox show that night. But on the Sunday edition of Fox & Friends, he acknowledged that while “Rosenstein deserves to be fired,” Trump “realizes that it’s politically unwise to do it right now.”

    By Monday’s Hannity, he had adopted the position that because the story could be a “setup,” the better move was “to simply relieve Rod Rosenstein of oversight of the special counsel case pending an investigation into these very serious charges.”  

    Tucker Carlson: It’s a trap.

    Carlson, whose Fox program has driven the president to start international incidents, suggested on Friday night that McCabe had leaked Rosenstein’s remarks “knowing that the story might cause the president to fire Rod Rosenstein” and set off a constitutional crisis. "If you were laying a trap for Donald Trump, this might be exactly how you'd do it," Carlson warned. "Before moving forward, the president might ask himself, 'why do McCabe and the New York Times want me to fire Rod Rosenstein? And why do they want me to do it now, rather than a year ago?'"

    Carlson stuck with that theory on Monday night, arguing that the president’s best tactical move was to keep Rosenstein in place.

    Laura Ingraham: She’s no longer saying “fire him,” but she’s also not on board with the “setup” theory.

    Ingraham has gradually moved closer to her prime-time colleagues’ position, while not yet adopting their take on what is happening. Immediately after the Times story broke, she tweeted, “Rod Rosenstein must be fired today.” That night on Fox, she added that Trump “tonight should seriously consider whether Rod Rosenstein should remain on the job.” But the next morning, as journalists pointed out that her opinion diverged from the “trap” theory of Hannity and Carlson, she deleted her tweet.

    Ingraham disparaged her colleagues’ theory on Monday night, saying, “I don’t buy this whole thing, ‘It’s a big setup for Trump,’ I really don’t.” But she’s stopped calling for Rosenstein’s outright firing, instead suggesting that he should be moved to a different position in the administration.

    Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing: They’ve gone from “Fire the SOB tonight” to wait till after the election.

    Toensing and diGenova are a married legal team who are mainstays in the right-wing legal community (at one point it was announced they were joining Trump’s legal team) and regularly appear on Fox programs to disparage the Mueller probe. During a joint appearance on Hannity’s radio show immediately after the article dropped, diGenova argued, “Jeff Sessions should fire [Rosenstein] today, he should be out of that building, the U.S. marshals should escort him out of the building, if he stays one more day -- I just can’t imagine that he can stay any longer.” He added, “Fire the SOB tonight.” But on Tuesday’s Dobbs show, Toensing argued, “The president should not fire him. He should not do diddly squat before the election. It would be such a political distraction. Republicans are not good at handling it, and the mainstream media is great at generating it. No, do not fire him before then. The day after the election, yes.” DiGenova agreed.

    Tom Fitton: Fire him or otherwise “take him out of the equation.”

    Fitton is a Trump ally who uses his conservative Judicial Watch organization to obtain and distribute government documents he claims undermine the Mueller probe. He argued on Tuesday’s Dobbs show that Trump “has got a choice to make on Thursday,” which is to either “remove Rosenstein or, in the least, take him out of the equation in the sense of having the [inspector general] investigate everything he's been doing.”

    Sara Carter: Sessions should fire Rosenstein, but it’s “up to” Trump.

    Carter, a Fox contributor who publishes her anti-Mueller reporting on her personal blog, originally argued on Friday that Trump should fire Rosenstein, but she changed her tune later that afternoon to adopt Hannity’s position that Sessions should do it. But she has also exposed the hollowness of that argument by tweeting that whether Rosenstein will stay or go is “up to” Trump.

    Dan Bongino: Rosenstein has to be fired.

    Bongino, an NRATV contributor who regularly appears on Fox, argued on Saturday’s Fox & Friends that Rosenstein “has to be fired” whether or not the Times story is a “setup.”

    Jesse Watters: The Times article is “Rosenstein’s pink slip.”

    Fox host Jesse Watters said Saturday, “This New York Times article is Rod Rosenstein's pink slip. There's no way he can recover from this. The writing is on the wall -- Rosenstein is done. He's out of there.”

  • The looming Fox News government shutdown

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Maybe it won’t be this time. Maybe it won’t be next time. But at some point in the future, it seems inevitable that President Donald Trump will take the advice of his supporters at Fox News and shut down the federal government.

    With the September 30 expiration of government funding swiftly approaching, the Senate on Tuesday voted 93-7 to pass a carefully negotiated short-term spending bill that would keep the federal lights on until December 7, after the midterm elections. The legislation gives all parties some of what they want but none of them all of what they want -- including the president, as it does not provide the funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border that he has demanded.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) portrayed the bill as a breakthrough, evidence that the Senate “is getting its appropriations process back on track.” The House of Representatives was expected to take up the legislation next week, raising hopes that federal funding could be swiftly secured.

    But then the president watched television.

    On Thursday morning, Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), one of the handful of Republicans to oppose the legislation, went on Fox & Friends, the president’s favorite morning news program, to condemn the bill. Host Brian Kilmeade chimed in, arguing that the lack of wall funding was “a thumb in the eye to the president.”

    And minutes later, Trump, who was watching the show, began angrily tweeting his displeasure with the legislation, calling into question whether he will sign it if it comes to his desk.

    Trump has been threatening a government shutdown for more than a month, explicitly citing right-wing Fox News and talk radio hosts as his inspiration for the tactic.

    His latest tweets are part of an alarming pattern: Federal policy has increasingly been influenced by the president’s television habits and the “shadow cabinet” of cable news personalities he privately consults for advice.

    Trump threw the Capitol into chaos in January by appearing to withdraw his support for major surveillance legislation after watching a Fox contributor turn to the camera and say, “Mr. President, this is not the way to go.”

    In March, he threatened to veto an omnibus spending bill, perhaps because one of his favorite pundits was savaging the legislation on Fox & Friends.

    Last month, the president criticized Google after watching his sycophants attack the company’s “tyranny” on Fox host Lou Dobbs’ show. Hours later, his top economic advisor told reporters that the administration was considering new regulations on the company.

    And earlier this week, he admitted that he had demanded the declassification of sensitive Justice Department documents that he had not read -- and that experts warn could endanger U.S. intelligence sources and methods -- because he had been urged to do so by Fox hosts.

    Republican congressional leaders, worried about the impact of a shutdown on their hopes of retaining power after midterm elections, may be able to talk the president down. But sooner or later, the Fox government shutdown is coming.

  • Trump’s Puerto Rico conspiracy theory appears to have been set off by a CNN segment

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On CNN Thursday morning, as Hurricane Florence barrelled toward the Carolina coast, discussion turned to the White House’s response to Hurricane Maria last year -- and President Donald Trump’s praise for that effort the day before. The Category 4 storm caused catastrophic damage to Puerto Rico, crippling its power grid and resulting in an estimated 2,975 deaths, according to a recent study, but Trump had touted the federal response as “an unappreciated great job.”

    “We’ve seen two years of the president rewriting history,” anchor Alisyn Camerota noted on CNN. Citing Bob Woodward’s new book and other reports, she posited that many of Trump’s aides “don't think that the president is rooted in reality and that he's often amoral when it comes to decisions like this, like not mentioning the 3,000 victims in Puerto Rico.”

    CNN senior political analyst John Avlon agreed, contrasting the president’s sunny tweet about the administration’s success in responding to Hurricane Maria with the reality that there were “nearly 3,000 humans dead.” “And that lack of focus on that fact and the fact there hasn't been an inquest -- an official inquest -- there hasn't been a full lesson learned, is itself a scandal,” he added.

    Roughly seven minutes later, the segment appeared to draw an unhinged response from the president, who denied that 3,000 had died in Puerto Rico as a result of the hurricane, baselessly blaming the evidence to the contrary on a conspiracy by Democrats to deny him credit for an effective response.

    Trump’s furious tweets had the hallmarks of executive time, the regular phenomenon in which the idle president watches hours of cable news coverage of his presidency and responds on Twitter in near real time. Indeed, in a series of tweets earlier that morning, Trump had made clear that he was planted in front of the television. When the president’s morning tweets seem to come out of left field, the reason is almost always that he’s reacting to what he sees there.

    The president’s top aides have struggled to curtail the president’s exposure to cable news, concerned that it affects his mood and that the resulting tweets take the White House off message. As might be expected in a case where Trump is responding in real time to critical media coverage, there’s little apparent strategy or forethought on display with today’s Puerto Rico tweets. Instead, we see the convergence of two of the president’s unsettling but persistent character traits: He is incapable of ignoring perceived slights, and he is a conspiracy theorist. The CNN segment notwithstanding, the deaths of thousands in Puerto Rico has drawn shamelessly little media attention and minimal scrutiny from the Republicans who control Congress. By lashing out on Twitter, the president has now put that tragedy on the national news agenda. His comments are unhinged, baseless nonsense because that’s who he is, the birther president, the guy who goes on 9/11 truther Alex Jones’ show and praises his “amazing” reputation.

    “[H]e's got to guard against his natural impulse, which is to puff himself up while other people are in pain,” Avlon said this morning. The problem is that the president is little more than a sum of those impulses, and expecting rational, measured behavior is hoping for the impossible. Minutes later, he proved it.

  • What you need to know about the “media leak strategy,” the latest attack on the Mueller probe

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump pushed the latest effort by congressional Republicans to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation in a series of Tuesday morning tweets. His comments propelled into the mainstream conversation a speculative theory about a former FBI official’s vague texts that had been heavily promoted by the right-wing press.

    Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) sent a letter yesterday to the Justice Department alleging that FBI and DOJ officials were engaged in a “coordinated effort” to leak information about the federal investigation into Russian election interference in order to damage the Trump administration in its early days.

    Meadows says he drew this conclusion based on texts from former FBI official Peter Strzok to former Justice Department official Lisa Page, both of whom were pushed out at the culmination of an effort to discredit them by congressional Republicans, right-wing media, and the president himself.

    But there’s little reason to believe Meadows’ interpretation of the texts and every reason to doubt him: He’s the chair of the far-right, Trumpist Freedom Caucus and a key player in the congressional opposition to the Mueller probe, which has frequently involved taking Strzok’s and Page’s texts out of context to suggest the president is the victim of a nefarious plot.

    Meadows sent a letter to DOJ baselessly alleging malfeasance

    “We’ve received NEW text messages from the DOJ, once again suggesting our suspicions are true--senior officials at FBI/DOJ selectively leaked info to the media about ongoing investigations related to the Trump admin,” Meadows tweeted yesterday evening, along with an image of a letter he said he had “just sent” to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

    The Meadows letter bases this conclusion on texts from Strzok to Page in April 2017:

    Meadows puts these texts in the context of an April 11, 2017, Washington Post story which revealed that the FBI in October 2016 had obtained a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor communications of former Trump adviser Carter Page, suggesting that the Strzok and Lisa Page texts show an effort to “place derogatory information in the media to justify a continued probe.”

    Right-wing media outlets swallow Meadows’ spin

    By the time Meadows tweeted the letter, right-wing media outlets had already begun publishing credulous articles on its contents.

    Meadows’ charges set off a flurry of coverage in the conservative press, with articles amplifying his interpretation of the texts quickly popping up at FoxNews.com, Washington Examiner, The Washington Times, The Daily Caller, Townhall, and New York Post.

    Both Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity, Fox hosts with close ties to the president who have turned their shows into nightly assaults on the Mueller probe, did multiple segments on the story last night. Hannity’s audience heard the texts described as evidence of “an illicit and illegal scheme to frame Donald Trump” and an effort to “destroy the president.” On Dobbs’ show, the story was more proof Trump needs to declassify the Carter Page FISA warrants.

    The Fox coverage brought the story to the attention of the most powerful Fox fan on the planet. Beginning shortly after 7 a.m. EST, Trump sent three tweets highlighting a segment from last night’s edition Dobbs’ program about the texts (in between the first and second tweets, the president’s Twitter feed commemorated the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks).

    Trump’s tweeted quotes from one of the Dobbs segments pushed the story into the national press.

    There’s no reason to buy Meadows’ interpretation of the texts

    The president and his congressional allies, cheered on by their friends in the right-wing press, have produced a series of conspiracy theories to smear the law enforcement officials scrutinizing Trump and his associates. Page and Strzok, who played key roles in the early stages of the investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election, have been key targets of that effort. Congressional Republicans have trickled out texts that the pair sent to each other for months, presenting their comments in the worst possible light in order to undermine their credibility and, thus, the credibility of the Mueller probe.

    At times these attacks have strayed into the comically overwrought; an inside joke between the two about a “secret society” was warped into evidence of massive anti-Trump corruption.

    Meadows seems to be engaged in a similar exercise.

    His first point is a text Strzok sent Page in which he said that he wanted to “discuss media leak strategy with DOJ.” The congressman, with no evidence to support him, leaps to the conclusion that Strzok meant that he wanted to discuss how to leak details of an ongoing investigation into Trump associates to the media. The right-wing press follows along, treating Meadows’ theory as the only plausible interpretation of Strzok’s comment.

    But that’s absurd. We’re supposed to believe that Strzok is canny enough to be masterminding a conspiracy against the president, but dumb enough to conduct that conspiracy over his work phone? If Strzok and Page were literally texting each other about how to conduct leaks to the media, shouldn’t Meadows have been able to find more specific cases in which they actually did that?

    The explanation Strzok’s lawyer put out this morning seems more plausible -- they were discussing a department-wide strategy to PREVENT leaks to the press. (Indeed, a former Senate staffer has been indicted in connection with revealing Carter Page’s identity to a reporter.)

    Meadows’ second point is so speculative that he needs to lead with his own spin on the texts.

    According to the letter, Strzok sent texts “congratulat[ing] Lisa Page on a job well done while referring to two derogatory articles about Carter Page.” But in what should be an obvious tell, Meadows doesn’t provide the full texts at issue, instead chopping them up in a confusing fashion and mixing them together with his explanation of what they mean. If Meadows’ interpretation is clearly correct, he should be able to provide the actual language Strzok used.

    Is “well done, Page” a reference to Lisa Page or a sarcastic jab at Carter Page? It seems pretty clear that Meadows’ entire argument rests on it being the former, but the available context suggests it could be the latter.

    Meadows, his right-wing media allies, and the president don’t really care which interpretation is correct. They just want to dirty up the FBI in order to protect the Trump administration. This tactic may be blowing up in their face, but they’ll just move on to the next nonsensical hoax.

  • What Trump's Fox News cabinet is urging him to do right now 

    Trump's on-air advisers: Release DOJ docs, attack social media “bias,” shut down the government

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump “is increasingly relying” on a shadow cabinet of cable news hosts and commentators, particularly at Fox, to advise him, The Washington Post reported last month. Trump’s worldview is shaped by the hours of Fox coverage he watches each day, with the president often responding to segments that catch his eye in near-real-time on Twitter. And he speaks regularly with Fox hosts like Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs, seeking private counsel on the topics they discuss on their shows every night. These public and private channels of communication allow Trump’s on-screen allies to play a substantial role in making federal policy.

    Here are some of the things the president’s Fox advisers would like him to do.

    Release the FISA and Bruce Ohr documents

    Remember #ReleasetheMemo? Earlier this year, Trump’s congressional and media allies frantically hyped House intelligence committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) secretly drafted document as a silver bullet that would prove special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation was illegitimate. The FBI, they claimed, had illegally obtained warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to surveil former Trump campaign aide Carter Page by concealing the political origins of a dossier included in the evidence provided to the court. When the memo finally came to light after weeks of over-the-top buildup, the result was a calamitous flop for Nunes and his champions: The memo provided little new evidence and acknowledged that the FBI had disclosed the dossier’s origins.

    Get ready for more of the same.

    This time, Trump’s most loyal congressional and media allies are calling for Trump to declassify and release unredacted pages from the Page warrant. They're also calling for the release of documents related to Justice Department official Bruce Ohr’s purported role as a “middle man” between the DOJ, British former intelligence officer Christopher Steele (who compiled the document), and Fusion GPS, the research firm that employed both Steele and Ohr’s wife, Nellie.

    Ohr and the FISA documents were among last week’s biggest stories on the Fox programs most invested in undermining the Mueller probe. Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs gave each story major play every day after Monday’s holiday, with their audiences hearing hysterical claims that the document releases would prove “one of the biggest scandals in America political history, the biggest abuse of power” and “exculpate the president and incriminate the people at the Department of Justice and the FBI.”

    Some of the commentary was directed at the president, who regularly tunes into these programs:

    This campaign apparently succeeded, with the president reportedly planning to declassify the documents as soon as this week.

    As with the Nunes memo, Trump’s supporters are trying to create a spectacle in order to divert media attention away from the damning results of the Mueller investigation, give his base something to shout about, confuse the public, and lay the groundwork for Trump to hamstring the probe.

    Go after biased social media platforms

    On Wednesday, the Senate intelligence committee questioned Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey about the role social media played in enabling Russian interference in the 2016 election. The hearing “was the culmination of a two-year investigation into Russian election interference by the committee and Congress’ best opportunity to publicly hold Facebook and Twitter accountable for their role in allowing Russian operatives to game their platforms to target Americans with propaganda,” as my colleague Melissa Ryan put it.

    But Trump’s media allies aren’t terribly interested in preventing Russia from helping Republicans win elections, with their focus instead on blasting the tech companies for their purported bias against conservatives.

    Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, sisters who produce Trumpist videoblogs under the stage names Diamond and Silk, are at the center of this effort. The pair have made more than two dozen appearances on Fox this year, regularly offering hyperbolic criticism of social media platforms (they have declared themselves the victims of the “new Jim Crow” and accused tech firms of “political lynching”). Their Fox platform garnered them an invitation to a congressional hearing earlier this year, an opportunity they used to push debunked claims that Facebook is censoring conservatives.

    For decades, conservatives have criticized the purported “liberal bias” of the news media, using that argument to defang negative coverage and urge journalists to provide more positive coverage of its leading lights. More recently, they’ve deployed that same strategy against social media platforms, pushing fabricated social media censorship claims in order to push for preferential treatment for themselves on those platforms.

    Trump watches his supporters making nonsensical claims of censorship on Fox and then catapults the discussion by commenting on the segments he sees.

    That cycle turns nonsensical claims of bias into federal policy. Two weeks ago, the president criticized Google after watching Diamond and Silk attack the company’s “tyranny” on Dobbs’ show. Hours later, his top economic advisor told reporters that the administration was considering new regulations on the company.

    Shut down the government for political benefit

    Trump told reporters Friday that he is willing to shut down the government because it’s a “great political issue.” That’s not new -- the president has been threatening a government shutdown for more than a month, saying it would give him leverage with Democrats to extract concessions on immigration policy. Republican congressional leaders are against this strategy. But some of the people Trump listens to the most are for it.

    Keep an eye on this story. Trump threatened to veto a spending bill in March, perhaps because he saw criticism of the legislation earlier that morning on Fox & Friends. It’s hard to imagine that he’ll complete his term without trying out the Limbaugh-Levin-Hannity strategy -- especially if Democrats take back the House.

  • With Fox feedback loop tightening, Trump lashes out on immigration

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    A screengrab from this morning's edition of Fox & Friends shows a tweet President Donald Trump sent yesterday in response to that morning's Fox & Friends broadcast.

    Fox News’ hosts triggered a hard-line turn on immigration from President Donald Trump over Easter weekend, making the case in private meetings at his Mar-A-Lago resort and egging him on with inflammatory coverage on the network’s airwaves.

    Not only does Fox’s stable of conservatives provide fawning coverage of the presidency, but Trump also looks to them for advice and to fill his administration. He is also enmeshed in a feedback loop with the network’s programming, frequently watching Fox broadcasts and tweeting along. This loop, too, can trigger major shifts in White House communications strategy and policy, causing chaos as the administration, Congress, and the press try to figure out what the live tweet du jour really means.

    On Friday night, Trump dined at Mar-A-Lago with Fox host Sean Hannity. Hannity regularly advises the president, reportedly convincing Trump to kill an incipient deal with Democrats last year to ensure legal status for the undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.

    Over the weekend, Hannity, whose show is pure pro-Trump propaganda, reportedly urged the president to take a firmer line on immigration, citing the need to preserve the GOP’s chances in this year’s midterm elections. Trump’s decision to sign an omnibus spending bill that did not include funding for the long-sought wall on the U.S.-Mexican border has drawn a fevered response from some of the president’s most loyal supporters.

    Hannity’s remarks appear to have been the first salvo in a successful weekend-long effort by the president’s supporters at Fox to get him to step up his criticism of immigration.

    The next morning, Trump appeared to respond to Hannity’s advice while taking his cues from Fox’s morning programming.

    After Fox & Friends ran multiple segments criticizing California Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to pardon five immigrants who were facing deportation, Trump slammed the “Moonbeam” governor. Trump’s tweet, sent while traveling in his motorcade from Mar-A-Lago to the Trump International Golf Club, copied language from one of the show’s graphics and tagged the network’s handle.

    Later that day, Trump reportedly met with Fox’s Jeanine Pirro, another staunch loyalist who has also advised him during his presidency. Pirro echoed Hannity’s message on the need to take a harsher stance on immigration, according to CNN. The president also dined that evening with Hannity and Bill Shine, the former Hannity producer who rose to become co-president of the network before being forced out in disgrace because of his role in the network’s culture of sexual harassment.

    On the morning of Easter Sunday, the president again live-tweeted Fox & Friends’ immigration reporting. The program devoted several segments to a BuzzFeed News report about a caravan of several hundred Central American migrants who have been traveling from Mexico’s southern border toward the U.S. southern border, with the reported intention of settling in either country.

    In one such segment, Brandon Judd, the head of the union that represents border patrol agents, criticized “catch and release” immigration policies in which immigration officials allow apprehended undocumented immigrants to remain at large if they are not considered dangerous in order to free up space in detention centers. Judd also called for the use of the “nuclear option” in the Senate to allow Republicans to pass immigration legislation without Democratic support.

    Roughly 40 minutes later, the president began sending a series of tweets that echoed Judd’s rhetoric.

    Questioned about his tweets by pool reporters as he walked into the Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea for Easter services, Trump again slammed Mexico, said that Democrats “blew it” over DACA, and baselessly claimed that “a lot of people are coming in because they want to take advantage of DACA.”

    Trump himself took the action that puts DACA recipients in jeopardy, he has been inconsistent on whether he actually wants to protect them, and there is no evidence that recent migrants are trying to “take advantage” of DACA, which applies only to people who came to the U.S. as children and have been in the country since 2007.

    Trump’s comments about Mexico, which upended the administration’s recent effort to improve its relationship with the country, drew a quick response from that government.

    The president had obviously taken the advice from Fox’s hosts to heart, and the network could not be happier.

    This morning, Fox & Friends was trumpeting the president’s statements, with the first captions of the program reading, “TRUMP: NO MORE DACA DEAL!” and “CARAVAN OF IMMIGRANTS HEADED TO U.S.”

    And within the hour, the nation’s most prominent Fox & Friends viewer kicked off a morning of live-tweeting by chiming in once more:

    Trump was tweeting about a Fox & Friends segment about Trump tweeting about a Fox & Friends segment. The feedback loop is tighter than ever.

  • Executive Time: Are we about to have a Fox News shutdown?

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Welcome to Executive Time, a recurring feature in which Media Matters senior fellow Matt Gertz explores the intersection between President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed and the hours of cable news he reportedly consumes daily, with a special focus on his favorite morning program, Fox & Friends. You can follow Matt’s work on Twitter @mattgertz and see previous installments in this series here.

    UPDATE: After several hours of panicked uncertainty, Trump signed the omnibus bill.

    The omnibus spending bill was supposed to be a done deal. The legislation, which provides $1.3 trillion in spending, passed both the Senate and the House of Representatives by wide, bipartisan margins. Three different senior administration officials had assured reporters over the past two days that President Donald Trump supported the bill and would sign it. Fears of the third federal shutdown this year, which would begin at midnight tonight without new funding legislation, abated.   

    And then this morning, just before 9 a.m. ET, the president tweeted that he was having second thoughts:

    It’s hard to say what spurred his tweet. But earlier this morning on Fox & Friends, co-host Pete Hegseth savaged the legislation in similar terms:

    Trump watches Fox & Friends regularly and has sought out Hegseth -- reportedly a top contender to join his cabinet -- for advice. This might be a case of the Trump-Fox feedback loop in action, with the network’s personalities effectively changing White House policy by influencing the president through the television. The president "obviously turned on Fox News this morning, saw people criticizing the deal, and got mad," a White House official told Politico

    Hegseth isn’t the only Fox Trump supporter to savage the omnibus. Last night, Tucker Carlson claimed that it “reads like something the Democratic leadership put together” and slammed its immigration provisions, particularly the lack of border wall funding. Laura Ingraham likewise savaged it as a “boondoggle” and a “rotten piece of fish” that violated Trump’s wall promise, adding that it was “an embarrassment to the president” and “not what the American people voted for.” (Sean Hannity, a sometime Trump adviser, has claimed that he has “some insight” that makes the bill acceptable.) Both before and after Trump's tweet, other Fox personalities have also encouraged Trump to veto the bill.

    If it sounds absurd that the president might shut down the government based on a Fox segment, recall that in January, Trump appeared to withdraw his support for major surveillance legislation on Twitter after watching a Fox contributor turn to the camera and say, “Mr. President, this is not the way to go.”

    While the president walked back his tweet and signed the surveillance bill, some reporting indicates that the president is serious about the omnibus, with a White House source telling Politico there is an "extremely high" chance of a shutdown.

    As the president becomes more comfortable in his role, he has also become more combative, pushing out staff who try to rein him in and demanding that his preferences -- like the tariffs his top economics staffers opposed -- become policy. As of yet, there’s no sign that Trump intends to turn back. Which means we could be headed for federal government shutdown triggered by the president’s favorite cable news channel.

  • Trump was live-tweeting Fox News when he went after Steph Curry

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Golden State Warriors will visit Washington, D.C., this week for the first time since they won the 2017 NBA championship last June. But they won't be making the traditional visit to the White House after President Donald Trump revoked the team's invitation in September. At the time, Trump was responding to a Fox News report about star player Stephen Curry’s criticism of him, according to a Media Matters review of Trump’s Twitter feed and the network’s programming.

    After the Warriors’ victory, there was speculation that the team, whose coach and players frequently use their platforms to discuss social justice issues, might skip the traditional meeting with the president. On September 22, during the team’s annual media day before the start of the 2017-18 NBA season, Curry told reporters that he didn't think the team should visit the White House in light of the president’s coddling of white supremacists during the protests in Charlottesville, VA, the previous month.

    The NBA star said that refusing to meet with the president would send a message that the Warriors reject “the things that he’s said and the things that he hasn’t said in the right times -- that we won’t stand for it.” Curry added, “And by acting and not going, hopefully that will inspire some change when it comes to what we tolerate in this country and what is accepted and what we turn a blind eye to.”

    According to the team’s general manager, at that point no decision had been made about whether the Warriors would visit the White House. But the next day, Trump made the decision for them.

    “Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team,” the president tweeted at 8:45 a.m. EST on September 23. “Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!”

    Trump’s tweet came roughly 20 minutes after Fox’s Saturday morning program, Fox & Friends Weekend, aired a headline segment about Curry’s reluctance to visit the White House.

    “The Golden State Warriors are preparing to defend their NBA title, but it still remains unclear if they’ll celebrate their championship at the White House,” co-host Griff Jenkins reported. “Star Steph Curry is now making it clear he doesn’t want to go.”

    The network then aired a video clip of Curry saying, “We have an opportunity to send a statement that hopefully encourages unity, encourages us to just appreciate what it means to be American and stand for something.” The segment featured the caption “Curry Wants To Skip White House Visit.”

    The president’s tweet about Curry followed a series of tweets he posted about the defeat of health care legislation in the Senate that track with the network’s programming that morning. The president frequently watches Fox’s programming, especially Fox & Friends and its weekend edition, and tweets reactions to what he sees.

    The White House subsequently blamed Curry, with legislative affairs director Marc Short saying that “he’s the one that injected politics into the invitation,” while the Warriors said in a statement they were “disappointed that we did not have an opportunity during this process to share our views or have open dialogue on issues impacting our communities that we felt would be important to raise.”

    Trump’s tweet drew a furious response from Curry’s fellow NBA players.

    LeBron James, who has won the NBA Most Valuable Player award four times, called the president a “bum” in a tweet that was retweeted more than 650,000 times.

    The Washington Wizards’ Bradley Beal said the president was “a clown” who should be focused on issues like “Puerto Rico doesn't have water and power.”

    Trump’s criticism of Curry drew special attention because it came the day after the president first lashed out at NFL players who kneel during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality. Trump demanded that the NFL team owners fire protesting players, creating a firestorm, with more players protesting in response.

    Observers noted that Trump’s attacks on Curry fit a pattern of the president picking fights with black athletes and constantly engaging in divisive commentary.

    “Never in modern times has an occupant of the Oval Office seemed to reject so thoroughly the nostrum that a president’s duty is to bring the country together,” The New York Times' Peter Baker wrote that weekend. “Relentlessly pugnacious, energized by a fight, unwilling to let any slight go unanswered, Mr. Trump has made himself America’s apostle of anger, its deacon of divisiveness.”

    But while the president’s feud with the NFL lasted for months, he has not mentioned Curry on Twitter since his initial comment. 

    This, too, may partly be because of Fox’s programming.

    Fox News fueled Trump’s NFL fight, with the president frequently re-engaging in the battle on Twitter immediately after seeing one of the network’s regular segments about NFL protests over the following weeks and months.

    By contrast, Fox’s coverage of the Curry dispute basically dried up after the first 24 hours, according to Media Matters searches of the Nexis and iQ media databases. This lack of ongoing programming about the feud prevented the feedback loop effect with the president that we saw during his NFL conflict.

    For his part, Curry has no regrets about the president revoking the team’s invitation. "If you're not going to celebrate the collective and the majority of Americans that are living in this country and that watch us play, and the fact that sports rallies all these different types of people, these different types of background together to celebrate the game ... I didn't want to go,” he told CNN’s Van Jones on Saturday.

    With their White House invitation withdrawn, the Warriors plan to instead “go on a private tour of an undisclosed locale” where “local kids would join them,” ESPN reported Thursday.

  • Executive Time: White House aides reportedly tried to stop Trump’s Mueller indictment tirade with Fox hits

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Welcome to Executive Time, a recurring feature in which Media Matters senior fellow Matt Gertz explores the intersection between President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed and the hours of cable news he reportedly consumes daily, with a special focus on his favorite morning program, Fox & Friends. You can follow Matt’s work on Twitter @mattgertz and see previous installments in this series here.

    Days Trump appeared to live-tweet cable news since our last Executive Time update (2/2): 10 (seven editions of Fox & Friends, one edition each of Fox & Friends First, Fox & Friends Weekend, and Tucker Carlson Tonight).

    Tweets since our last Executive Time update apparently resulting from live-tweeting cable news: 30 (21 from Fox & Friends, six from Fox & Friends Weekend, two from Fox & Friends First, one from Tucker Carlson Tonight).

    White House aides, aghast at President Donald Trump’s angry public reaction to special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities, tried to get him back on track by booking spokesmen on his favorite Fox News programs, Time magazine’s Philip Elliott reported this week.

    After trying and failing to talk the president out of incorrectly declaring that Mueller had vindicated the president’s associates of collusion, White House aides sought to “mitigate that situation.”

    “Knowing the President’s fondness for Fox, the White House booked spokesmen to try to direct Trump toward a little less fanciful readings of the indictments,” Time reported.

    Trump’s allies have frequently tried to influence the president through his television screen, reportedly using the strategy on issues ranging from whether Trump should agree to an interview with Mueller to how the president should respond to January’s government shutdown.

    It’s certainly an understandable strategy. The president reportedly spends hours each day watching cable news, and, as I’ve documented, tweeting about what he sees in real time. He often praises or quotes Fox guests who make points that he likes.

    Given that Fox host Sean Hannity and the hosts of Fox & Friends often appear to be the president’s top advisers, it’s not surprising that people on his payroll would try to compete for his attention through the same medium.

    While Trump doesn’t praise White House staffers in the same way he does other Fox guests, I have documented him channeling their talking points immediately after they have appeared on Fox broadcasts he was watching. He’s done that in response to recent segments featuring:

    White House press secretary Sarah Sanders:

    White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short:
    White House counselor Kellyanne Conway:

    The aides have to be careful, however, not to make it too obvious to the president that they are going on television in an effort to influence him. After an August 2016 report indicated that his campaign aides were trying to do this, Trump reportedly lashed out at then-campaign chair Paul Manafort, shouting, "You think you've gotta go on TV to talk to me? You treat me like a baby! Am I like a baby to you? I sit there like a little baby and watch TV and you talk to me?" Trump fired Manafort soon after.

    And of course, the strategy is limited because Trump has other sources of information that impact his actions beyond the cable news appearances of his aides, including other Fox guests and a host of unsavory personal friends.

    While Time’s Elliott suggested that one Trump tweet on Saturday morning came in response to a Fox appearance by a White House aide, he also reported that Trump spent the rest of the day mingling with guests at his Mar-A-Lago club in Florida, calling his friends and outside advisers, and, inevitably, lashing out on Twitter at everyone from the FBI to his national security adviser to Oprah Winfrey.

    There are obvious flaws in a White House internal communications strategy that involves keeping the president from disaster by trying to sway him through his television set. But as long as Trump continues to spend hours each day with his TiVo, it may be the best way for the White House staffers to get their arguments in front of him through his preferred medium. Today’s news that former Trump campaign aide Richard Gates will plead guilty and cooperate with Mueller gives them their next opportunity.

    The president is live-tweeting

    Here are the Trump tweets since our last update which I am reasonably confident are the result of the president directly responding to cable news programs he had been watching.

    February 2. Two Fox & Friends First live tweets.

    February 5. Four Fox & Friends live tweets.

    February 6. Two Fox & Friends live tweets.

    February 7. Two Fox & Friends live tweets.

    February 10. Six Fox & Friends Weekend live tweets.

    February 12. One Fox & Friends live tweet.

    February 18. Two Fox & Friends live tweets.

    February 20. Six Fox & Friends live tweets.

    February 22. One Tucker Carlson Tonight live tweet.

    February 23. Four Fox & Friends live tweets.

  • Executive Time Super Bowl Edition: How the Trump-Fox feedback loop kept his NFL feud alive

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Welcome to Executive Time, a recurring feature in which Media Matters senior fellow Matt Gertz explores the intersection between President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed and the hours of cable news he reportedly consumes daily, with a special focus on his favorite morning program, Fox & Friends. You can follow Matt’s work on Twitter @mattgertz and see previous installments in this series here.

    Days Trump appeared to live-tweet cable news since our last Executive Time update (1/18): Six (two editions of Fox & Friends, three editions of Fox & Friends Weekend, one edition of Fox & Friends First).

    Tweets since our last Executive Time update apparently resulting from live-tweeting cable news: 16 (nine from Fox & Friends, six from Fox & Friends Weekend, one from Fox & Friends First).

    At the State of the Union Tuesday night, President Donald Trump took a thinly-veiled shot at largely African-American NFL players who have protested racial inequality and police brutality by kneeling during the pre-game national anthem over the course of the football season. This Sunday night, tens of millions of Americans who tune in to watch Super Bowl LII will find out if any of the New England Patriots or the Philadelphia Eagles respond by protesting before the game begins.

    Trump lashed out at protesting football players at a September 22 rally for Alabama Republican Senate candidate Luther Strange, urging fans to “leave the stadium” if players knelt during the anthem and calling on NFL owners to fire players who did so. Those remarks created a firestorm that consumed the press for several days, as the president furiously defended his racial demagoguery and more NFL players protested during the anthem in response.

    Over the ensuing months, Trump has continued a running war against the NFL which he largely conducts through early-morning tweets attacking the players for protesting and the league for not forcing them to stand. Based on my research, the timing and method of the president’s criticisms are not a coincidence.

    The engine of Trump’s ongoing attacks on the NFL is Fox & Friends, his favorite morning show. The president frequently begins his day by live-tweeting that program (often on a tape delay), highlighting its praise for his administration and its slashing criticism of his foes. Reviewing the president’s tweets on the protests, I’ve determined that at least 13 of them on nine separate days appear to be the result of Trump responding to Fox’s coverage.

    All three networks devoted a great deal of programming to the protests after Trump’s September 22 comments. But Fox gave significantly more coverage to anthem protests than the other cable news networks, continued to provide regular updates long after the first few days, and generally struck a harshly critical tone in keeping with its virulent response to other protest movements by African-Americans, such as Black Lives Matter.

    This created a feedback loop between Fox and Trump: By continuing to provide updates on the state of the protest, the network reminded Trump of his feud with the league and triggered his quick response. Trump’s Fox live-tweets about the NFL often drove additional coverage from other outlets, as puzzled journalists struggled to determine why the president was reigniting a dormant fight.

    For this piece, I reviewed Trump’s tweets about the national anthem since his initial comments in Alabama. It quickly became apparent that his tweets over the first few days after his rally speech would be impossible to match to any discrete cause -- they were too many, and the news coverage across all outlets too regular to draw such conclusions.

    But beginning with the president’s tweets on September 25 and continuing to as recently as November 28, I found more than a dozen Trump tweets that I believe can be ascribed to him live-tweeting Fox. These tweets were all sent between the hours of 5 a.m. and 9 a.m., came within an hour of a Fox segment on the issue, were often part of a string of tweets that all match Fox programming, and frequently included language or details that seem ripped directly from the network’s coverage.

    September 25

    Beginning at 6:05 a.m. ET, Fox & Friends aired a segment about how the day before, in Steve Doocy’s words, “More than 200 players took a knee in the largest protest since Colin Kaepernick started the practice a year ago.” The hosts criticized the players for protesting, as Brian Kilmeade put it, “during the national anthem, not just for the military -- for the country.” Later in the segment, Kilmeade said, “What’s interesting is, NASCAR has a different approach. Richard Petty and Richard Childress essentially said if any of my people do not go out and stand for the national anthem, they won’t be on my team anymore.” Kilmeade also reported that NFL fans at games in New England and Buffalo had booed the players. Captions during the segment included “President: It’s About Respect, Not Race,” and “NFL Fans Cry Foul.”

    Roughly 14 minutes after the segment ended, Trump sent the first of three tweets about the protests, which track closely with Fox’s coverage:

    September 26

    The hosts opened the show by discussing how the Dallas Cowboys and the team’s evil, soulless owner, Jerry Jones, had locked arms and taken a knee together before the national anthem played at the game the previous night, but stood during its performance. They played a clip from the game of an announcer saying that “boos can be heard from this sell-out crowd” as the players knelt. Kilmeade quibbled with a report that said that there was a “smattering of boos” during the protest, commenting, “that is loud.” Doocy agreed that there was “a lot of booing from the Dallas Cowboy and the Cardinals fans when they took the knee,” but “a gigantic cheer when the national anthem was played and the flag came.”

    The hosts went on to praise the Cowboys for standing up during the anthem, with Kilmeade saying they did “a better job of getting their message out” because it “takes patriotism out of it.” Later in the segment, they reported that the NFL’s ratings had fallen, attributing that to fan anger over the protests. But according to Doocy, “The pregame [ratings] this past weekend were really high because so many people, after the president’s comments, wanted to see whether anybody was going to stand or sit or take a knee.”

    The segment ended at 6:10 a.m. Eighteen minutes later, the president started tweeting about the Cowboys game, with his comments again tracking closely with Fox’s coverage:

    October 9

    On October 8, Vice President Mike Pence walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game in an obvious political stunt when several players took a knee during the national anthem. The next morning, former Pence press secretary Marc Lotter appeared on Fox & Friends to praise the vice president. Lotter criticized the players, saying they “disrespect the flag, disrespect the national anthem and those who defend it.” He pushed back against the notion that Pence’s appearance was a stunt, calling the trip to the game “long-planned.”

    The segment ended at 6:40 a.m. Twenty-five minutes later, the president tweeted:

    October 10

    Discussing former NFL coach Mike Ditka’s criticism of players who protest during the anthem, co-host Ainsley Earhardt urged the players, “If you have a problem with the country, protest, do whatever you want -- do it peacefully. You can take a knee, just don’t do it during the national anthem, too many people have died for this country."

    Moments later, Trump tweeted:

    That was one of five consecutive Trump tweets that I previously matched to Fox & Friends segments from that morning, one of which featured Trump praising an author’s book on Twitter roughly 45 minutes after the author appeared on the network and praised the president.

    October 11

    Fox & Friends ran multiple segments during the 6 a.m. hour highlighting a letter NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent teams in which he said that “we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem.”

    Fox was the only cable news outlet to cover the story during that hour before Trump appeared to respond to the program on Twitter:

    Fox also ran several segments that hour discussing the president’s tax cut plan, which was consistent with two other tweets the president sent that morning.

    October 18

    At 6:25 a.m., Fox & Friends ran a segment criticizing the NFL for deciding not to force the players to stand during the national anthem or punish players who kneel. The co-hosts and contributor Tomi Lahren condemned the NFL’s decision, with Lahren calling Goodell “spineless” and saying that football fans will revolt because “we love our country.”

    About half an hour later, Trump tweeted:

    This was one of four tweets that morning that match Fox & Friends programming.

    November 20

    Early in the broadcast, the Fox & Friends hosts criticized Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch for sitting during the U.S. national anthem and standing for the Mexican anthem during a game that weekend in Mexico City. Kilmeade called the story an “international embarrassment” and said the players union needs to “crack down because it’s hurting the league. Nine percent, the attendance is down. Ratings are down.”

    No other network covered Lynch’s protest that hour. Less than twenty minutes after the segment ended, Trump tweeted:

    Later that hour, Trump tweeted about a different Fox & Friends segment, tagging the program and Fox Business host Stuart Varney in the tweet.

    November 22

    During the 5 a.m. hour of Fox & Friends First, co-host Rob Schmitt reported a “possible game-changer to the NFL anthem policy: the league owners have a new proposal to keep the players in the locker room.” Co-host Jillian Mele responded, “Is that really the solution? Social media says not so much” and termed the idea “a Band-Aid.” Fox’s Carley Shimkus then said the proposal “could cause more controversy for the NFL,” reiterating that owners are considering “keeping teams in the locker room during the national anthem next season” and airing a series of tweets from critical fans.

    Roughly half an hour later, Trump tweeted:

    November 28

    During the 7 a.m. hour, Earhardt reported that “the NFL continues to struggle as protest against the anthem rages on. 23 players choosing to protest the performance during Sunday’s game.” Kilmeade linked the protests to weak attendance and ratings at games. The program then hosted “The Daily Rants Guy” Graham Allen and comedian and blogger Chad Prather to criticize the players and the league.

    About 20 minutes after the segment, Trump tweeted:

    This was one of two apparent Trump live-tweets that morning.

    The president is live-tweeting

    Here are the Trump tweets since our last update which I am reasonably confident are the result of the president directly responding to cable news programs he had been watching.

    January 18. Six Fox & Friends live-tweets.

    January 20. Four Fox & Friends Weekend live-tweets.
    January 23. Three Fox & Friends live-tweets.
    January 27. One Fox & Friends Weekend live-tweet.

    January 28. One Fox & Friends Weekend live-tweet.

    February 1. One Fox & Friends First live-tweet.

    Shelby Jamerson contributed research.