Executive Time | Media Matters for America

Executive Time

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  • 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.
  • Executive Time: How Trump's Fox habit upends bipartisan negotiations

    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 (1/11): Four (three editions of Fox & Friends, one edition of Fox & Friends Weekend).

    Tweets since our last Executive Time update apparently resulting from live-tweeting cable news: 14 (11 from Fox & Friends, three from the Sunday edition of Fox & Friends Weekend).

    Republicans are slouching toward a government shutdown, unable to muster enough support within their House and Senate majorities to keep the government open and unwilling to compromise with Democrats who won’t surrender their votes if the spending bill doesn’t renew the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that the president terminated last year.

    This would be a tough position requiring delicate action for a competent leader, and we don’t have one. President Donald Trump was reportedly on board with a bipartisan immigration deal last week that would have kept the government open, only to reverse course later the same day in a meeting with legislators in which he made racist comments. Ever since, he has been using his Twitter feed to pre-emptively blame Democrats for any shutdown and lie about what will happen if the government isn’t funded.

    By this morning, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a Republican senator who had spent months demeaning himself to cultivate the president in hopes of getting him to support bipartisan immigration reform, had had enough: “We don’t have a reliable partner at the White House to negotiate with,” he told The Washington Post.

    Trump’s racism, ignorance, and unwillingness to compromise -- all fundamental parts of his makeup -- are at the heart of the dispute. But the president’s constant wallowing in the arguments and rhetoric of Fox News are certainly not helping the effort.

    The hosts and guests of Fox & Friends -- the president’s favorite program, which he frequently begins his mornings by live-tweeting -- have been slamming any potential budget deal that includes relief for DACA recipients. On Tuesday, co-host Steve Doocy said that the bipartisan immigration deal was a bad deal for Trump because it gives Democrats “everything they want.”

    Other figures on the show have claimed there’s no need for urgency around DACA, suggesting that a recent judicial ruling means recipients will be protected into the summer.

    Trump stalwarts like Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Jeanine Pirro have also used their shows to undermine any immigration deal that doesn’t involve Trump getting everything he wants.

    The commentary serves to reinforce the president’s general unwillingness to compromise, and he is obviously getting the message, at times appearing to live-tweet Fox segments this week that criticize the immigration deal.

    This wouldn’t be the first time Fox’s on-air talent has thrown legislative efforts into chaos during the Trump presidency. Trump reportedly called House Speaker Paul Ryan and threatened to veto a previous omnibus spending bill after seeing a Fox & Friends segment “questioning the spending bill and calling it wasteful.” A deal between Trump and congressional Democratic leaders to protect the Dreamers reportedly fell apart last year after Hannity weighed in. And just last week, House passage of surveillance legislation was jeopardized after the president live-tweeted a Fox & Friends segment criticizing the bill.

    While Trump’s avid viewership has made the Fox-GOP feedback loop much tighter, the network has long played a role in styming bipartisan legislative efforts by attacking them from the right. In 2010, Graham warned senators he was working with on bipartisan climate change legislation that they needed to get as close to a deal as they could “before Fox News got wind of the fact that this was a serious process," saying that he would not be able to stand the countervailing pressure the conservative network could create among the viewers in his state.

    Seven years later, the president of the United States is one of the network’s most fervent viewers, seeming to put bipartisan deals utterly out of reach.   

    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 12. Six Fox & Friends tweets.

    January 14. Three Fox & Friends Weekend live-tweets.

    January 16. Four Fox & Friends live-tweets.

    January 17. One Fox & Friends live-tweet.
  • Executive Time: Hail to the live-tweeter in chief

    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 this week Trump appeared to live-tweet cable news: Five (three from Fox & Friends, one from Fox & Friends Saturday, one Fox’s America’s Newsroom.)

    Tweets this week apparently resulting from live-tweeting cable news: 11 (six from Fox & Friends, two from Fox & Friends Saturday, three from Fox’s America’s Newsroom.)

    It’s almost a year into Donald Trump’s presidency, and to celebrate, Axios reporter Jonathan Swan gave us a gift that perfectly sums up this administration: the news that White House staff refer to the lengthy blocks on the president’s private schedule when he is quite literally left to his own devices as “Executive Time.”

    Those blocks “almost always means TV and Twitter time alone in the residence,” per Swan’s sources, and the president has been demanding them more frequently as he heads into his second year in office.

    The president’s twin obsessions of Twitter and television are deeply entwined. In fact, I’ve concluded that the best explanation for the president’s Twitter feed is often that Trump is “live-tweeting Fox, particularly the network’s Trump-loving morning show, Fox & Friends,” as I wrote last week in Politico Magazine. I’ve been chronicling that pattern on Twitter for months, starting my mornings by carefully tracking the president’s truculent tweets back to the Fox programming he is echoing. This presidential live-tweeting has occurred even more frequently in recent days.

    The president’s private schedule for January 2, Swan reports, shows that Trump’s first meeting was at 11 a.m., that he had two and a half hours of “Executive Time” throughout the day, and that his “official day” ended at 4:15 p.m. Here’s what else the president did that day, as cogently described by Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale:

    Trump appears to often use the early-morning “Executive Time” to watch Fox & Friends, where co-hosts Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, and Brian Kilmeade provide the president with soothing bromides about his successes, helpful explanations for his failures, vicious attacks on his political and media foes, and seething culture war jeremiads that stir up his base. The hosts and guests know that the president may be watching, and openly use the program to try to influence his decisions.

    We saw presidential live-tweeting scramble the policy-making process just this morning. Fox & Friends was covering a House vote scheduled for today to renew a portion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act -- a move supported by the White House. During the segment, Fox senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano commented, “I don’t understand why Donald Trump is in favor of this. His woes began with unlawful foreign surveillance and unconstitutional domestic surveillance of him before he was the president of the United States.” He then turned to the camera and said, “Mr. President, this is not the way to go.” Doocy added, "Our lead story today was about how apparently that dirty dossier filled with stuff that was just made up apparently was used in part to get a FISA warrant to spy on President Trump."

    Roughly 45 minutes later, the president, who had been live-tweeting the program all morning, tweeted that FISA was “the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?” With a few words on the president’s favorite show, a Fox analyst created chaos, with a House Republican source telling NBC that the tweet “is an issue” and the president being forced to send another tweet trying to walk back his first one. Meanwhile, Swan reported, "Top Hill sources are trying to figure out who 'got to' Trump to influence him to write the first tweet."

    The problems of this Fox-Trump feedback loop are legion. The president's views are molded by right-wing misinformation, as he relies on a pack of bigoted morons to explain the world rather than the vast expertise of the federal government. His live-tweets upend the news cycle, thrusting the network’s obsessions into the mainstream and turning conservative pseudoscandals into national news. As journalists shuffle their priorities to respond to the president’s tweets from in front of his television, important news stories are crowded out. And of course, it’s deeply unnerving that the leader of the most powerful nation on earth is spending hours each day watching television.

    None of this is likely to change in the near future --  since Politico published my piece early Friday morning, Trump has sent 11 tweets on five different days that I was able to link to Fox’s programming.

    And so, I’ll be covering this intersection of the president’s tweets and the cable news he watches, with a special focus on his favorite program Fox & Friends, for a regular feature we’re calling “Executive Time.”

    The president is live-tweeting

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

    January 5. One Fox & Friends live-tweet.

    January 6. Two Fox & Friends Saturday live-tweets.

    January 8. One Fox & Friends live-tweet.

    January 10. Three America's Newsroom live-tweets.

    January 11. Four Fox & Friends live-tweets.

    Fire and fury

    While the president takes his cues from Fox & Friends, he regularly lashes out at outlets producing journalism critical of his presidency.

    Propaganda watch

    Other highlights from Fox & Friends, the president’s favorite morning cable news program.

    President’s Daily Brief

    The people Trump turns to for news are not the best and the brightest.

  • Trump’s Fox live-tweets are a problem for the press

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    As Media Matters readers know, for the last few months I’ve typically started my day by comparing any tweets President Donald Trump has sent that morning with the corresponding programming on his favorite cable news program, Fox & Friends, searching for cases where he appears to be live-tweeting the broadcast.

    I wrote about that effort for a piece in Politico Magazine:

    It’s no secret, of course, that the president likes to tweet about what he sees on TV. Thanks to diligent reporting from the White House beat, we know Trump often watches several hours of cable news each day via the “Super TiVo” he had installed at the White House. And journalists at CNN, the Washington Post, New York magazine, among others, have compiled lists of Trump tweets they believe were inspired by Fox.

    But here’s what is shocking: After comparing the president’s tweets to Fox coverage every day since October, I can tell you that the Fox-Trump feedback loop is happening far more often than you think. There is no strategy to Trump’s Twitter feed; he is not trying to distract the media. He is being distracted. He darts with quark-like speed from topic to topic in his tweets because that’s how cable news works.

    I want to tease out one of the points I made in that piece. While I believe the president is not engaged in a deliberate strategy to distract the media, his Fox live-tweets do have the effect of shuffling the news cycle.

    Presidential statements are intrinsically newsworthy, so recent White Houses have carefully controlled communications from the president. They are doled out methodically in order to try to keep reporters focused on the issues and policies the administration is trying to promote. That’s because presidential comments can have big effects. When President Barack Obama commented during a 2009 press conference that police officers “acted stupidly” in arresting an African-American professor on his own doorstep, for example, those offhand remarks consumed the news cycle for weeks, at a time when the White House would likely have preferred to focus on health care and banking reform legislation.

    That deliberate calibration is not how the Trump White House operates. When Trump kicks off the morning by tweeting about what he’s seeing on Fox & Friends, over the course of a few hours he can make newsworthy statements on a wide variety of topics. And in response, journalists tear up their plans for the day and instead produce cable news segments responding to his comments, news articles debunking his falsehoods, and so on.

    This effect has led some to believe that the president is doing this deliberately, responding to damaging news by diverting the media’s attention. I don’t think that’s right. The simplest explanation is that this is a president who does the things that he likes to do -- like golfing, visiting his properties, speaking at rallies, publicly signing documents, being in the presence of sycophants -- while avoiding the things he doesn’t like to do -- like reading briefing materials, doing TV interviews with real journalists, and speaking with experts about issues. The president enjoys watching pro-Trump television shows and tweeting about what he sees, and he has no sense of self-restraint, so he does it.

    This cycle has significant downsides for the public. Because Trump is regularly publicly commenting on Fox’s obsessions, the rest of the press ends up chasing them as well, even when they are ludicrous pseudoscandals like Uranium One. Meanwhile, crucial policy issues, like how the Republican Congress’ failure to reauthorize health care legislation is putting millions of children at risk, or the ongoing crisis in Puerto Rico, or the Trump’s administration’s dangerous environmental regulatory rollbacks, or the repeal of net neutrality, get crowded out.

    I don’t have a solution; Trump’s tweets are news, and it’s impossible to argue that the press shouldn’t report on Trump calling for the imprisonment of a Hillary Clinton aide just because he’s responding to something he saw on Fox. But Trump’s ability to change the conversation by sitting in front of the television with his phone is going to remain a problem for the media’s efforts to inform the public.

  • The president spent his holiday tweeting at the television

    Trump livetweeted Fox on eight of the 11 days of his Florida trip 

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump left the White House December 22 for an extended holiday vacation at Mar-a-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach, Florida. Along with daily games of golf at Trump International Golf Club and an appearance at Mar-a-Lago’s ethically dubious New Year’s Eve party, the president found time to regularly engage in one of his favorite pastimes: watching Fox News programming and tweeting about it.

    I traced 12 of Trump’s tweets from December 22 through his January 1 return to the capital to Fox segments Trump appeared to be watching at the time. Trump live-tweeted various Fox programs on eight of the 11 days he spent on vacation. He even seems to have tweeted based on a segment he watched on Air Force One en route to Florida.

    With some of these tweets, the president simply continued his ongoing feuds with the media and the FBI. But others could have real ramifications for U.S. foreign policy and domestic politics. In response to Fox’s programming, Trump tweeted about protests in Iran, issued an ultimatum to Democrats over immigration policy, attacked China over its handling of North Korea, and endorsed a Republican congressman for governor of Florida.

    Trump loves Fox & Friends, the network’s morning show, often holding up the program’s shockingly sycophantic anchors as a model that other, more critical journalists should emulate.

    The day before he left for Florida, Trump praised the program’s anchors for being named the “most influential media figures” by Mediaite. The anchors received that designation because of Trump, who watched the program obsessively, frequently tweeting about what he saw.

    And indeed, Trump tweeted based on Fox & Friends and its weekend editions on December 22, December 24, December 26, December 28, December 29, and December 31.

    Here are the Trump tweets and the associated Fox segments:

    December 22

    December 23

    December 24

    December 25

    December 26

    December 27

    December 28

    December 29

    December 30

    December  31

    January 1

    After returning to Washington, D.C., yesterday, the president seems to have spent much of the morning live-tweeting Fox & Friends and Fox’s America’s Newsroom:

  • I never thought Fox & Friends might actually kill me, but here we are

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump is a conspiracy theorist with a hair-trigger personality, he prefers to take advice from what he sees on his TV screen over experts, and he has immense unilateral authority over the most powerful military in history. On any given day, the president of the United States could trigger historic death and destruction based on what he sees on his favorite morning cable news show, Fox & Friends.

    Every morning as I walk out of my apartment, I check my phone to see if President Trump has tweeted. If he has not, I enjoy a leisurely 45-minute stroll through downtown Washington, D.C., walking toward the sunrise to the Media Matters office. If he has, I rush in as quickly as possible, hurtling through the city to get to my computer so I can try to plot the presidential tweets against the day’s edition of Fox News’ morning show. The president’s affinity for the program and its insipid co-hosts, Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, and Brian Kilmeade, is well-known, their tendency to use the program to speak directly to the most powerful man in the world well-documented. An unnerving percentage of the time, I find that Trump’s early-morning tweets are the result of him responding to things he’s seen on that program, either in real time or on a tape delay.

    The president's increasingly unsettling behavior places the show in a position of frightening influence.

    Yesterday, The New York Times and The Washington Post published stories detailing Trump’s apparent detachment from reality. Per these reports, the president has been floating wild conspiracy theories in private conversations with White House aides and others, asserting that the Access Hollywood video in which he bragged about sexually assaulting women -- for which he apologized last year -- was faked, raising questions about former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, and claiming that massive voter fraud in the 2016 election prevented him from winning the popular vote. While the president’s tendency to publicly spout such conspiracy theories is well-documented, there was always the possibility that he did so deliberately, to achieve some political end. These reports strongly imply that he really believes the absurd claims.

    This morning, as if in an effort to confirm the validity of the Times and Post stories, Trump -- after apparently tweeting along to a few segments from Fox & Friends -- invoked the baseless conspiracy theory that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough may have murdered one of his staffers in 2001 when he was a congressman.

    So Trump is a conspiracy theorist who seems to really believe anything that, in the words of the Post, helps “paint the rosiest possible picture of his presidency and his character.” He’s also incredibly suggestible, with a tendency to echo the position of the most recent person with whom he has spoken. And he lashes out at anyone he perceives to be disrespecting him.

    It is that combination of ignorance and recklessness that led 10 former nuclear launch control officers to issue a public letter warning voters not to allow him to become the commander in chief. “He should not be entrusted with the nuclear launch codes,” they wrote last October. “He should not have his finger on the button.” But now he does.

    That brings us to yesterday’s news that North Korea had test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile that it claims could deliver nuclear warheads throughout the continental United States. There remain several technical hurdles that North Korea may not have overcome, and substantial reasons to doubt its statement. But even under the best of circumstances, the increasing nuclearization of a pariah state in one of the most militarized spots on the planet would be a reason for increasing alarm. It’s easy to see how the situation could tip into disaster even if we had a smart, functioning president taking advice from experts.

    We don’t. We have a president with no self-restraint and the focus of a gerbil who takes advice from cable news hosts who once tried to roast marshmallows with their bare hands on national television.

    The good news (I guess?) is that based on his tweets, Trump seemed more interested in pivoting off Fox & Friends’ coverage to attack CNN and NBC than he was in the show's segments on North Korea. And to be fair, that North Korea coverage focused on using missile defense technology to shoot down an ICBM, rather than on, say, a pre-emptive strike on North Korea’s missile site, the sort of thing which could lead to a catastrophic regional war and millions of deaths.

    But in August, the last time the Korean peninsula became a topic of regular discussion, the program wavered back and forth between warning of the potential dangers of making the situation worse and praising the president’s bellicose rhetoric that experts were saying could send the situation spiraling out of control. And since then, the circumstances have only grown more fraught.

    Depending on the hosts, guests, and producers of a right-wing gabfest not to send the president cascading into a nuclear crisis is no way to live. And yet, we do. So tomorrow morning, I’ll step out of my apartment, check my phone, and see what kind of day it’s going to be.


  • How Trump helps Fox & Friends set the media agenda

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump often spends large chunks of his mornings tweeting along to recordings of the Fox News morning show Fox & Friends, a fun-house mirror of a program that serves up a ready stream of praise for the president and condemnations of his political foes. This unusual feedback loop leads to bizarre phenomena: The hosts often seem to be using their show to advise the president, Republican politicians try to pitch ideas to the president during on-air interviews, and Trump singles out the show for praise when confronted by more critical journalists. But because the president’s tweets are treated as breaking news by journalists at other outlets, the president’s superfan status and his tendency to comment on the show to his 40 million Twitter followers also gives Fox & Friends rare power to set the agenda for the rest of the press.

    That’s what happened this morning. Fox & Friends devoted several segments to a story that the other cable news morning shows did not cover. But then Trump tweeted about the Fox & Friends segment. And within a few hours, CNN and MSNBC had both reported on his tweets, thrusting the Fox & Friends narrative into the mainstream media spotlight.

    The Fox morning show devoted multiple segments this morning to the decision yesterday by two executives at the opposition research firm Fusion GPS to refuse to give testimony to a Senate committee. The company is reportedly trying to avoid being compelled to violate its clients’ guarantee of confidentiality by revealing who funded the production of a controversial dossier authored by a former British intelligence agent. While some portions of the dossier have reportedly been verified by U.S. intelligence officials, co-host Doocy described it as the “fake Trump dossier that helped kick start the FBI's Russia probe.” During the segment, Fox senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano said, “We all want to know the origins of this fake dossier. Did the FBI pay for it? There are reports out there that the FBI offered $50,000 for it.”

    At 7:56 a.m. EST, Trump, who was apparently watching the segment and tweeting in response, highlighted the Fusion GPS decision to plead the Fifth and questioned whether the dossier may have been commissioned by the FBI, echoing Napolitano:

    Trump’s repetition of a conspiracy theory that he is being victimized by the FBI is consistent with his efforts to undermine the federal investigation into his ties to Russia. There’s no evidence to support this; while the FBI reportedly did consider compensating the dossier’s author for further work on Russian interference with the election, there’s nothing to indicate that the bureau funded the original dossier, which was paid for by Republican and Democratic sources.

    The White House’s failure to treat Napolitano’s claims with skepticism has previously had disastrous results. In March, then-press secretary Sean Spicer quoted from Napolitano's report that a British intelligence service had spied on Trump on President Obama’s behalf during a press briefing. This caused an international incident, with furious denials from the British, and led to Napolitano’s suspension from Fox.

    By highlighting Napolitano’s latest claim on Twitter, Trump pushed the Fusion GPS story out of the right-wing media echo chamber and into the mainstream.

    Fox & Friends’ MSNBC counterpart, Morning Joe, had not mentioned Fusion GPS on this morning’s broadcast. But at 8:58 a.m., the hosts brought up Trump’s tweet on the story. Mika Brzezinski portrayed it as “Trump’s latest attempt to change the conversation away from the four American soldiers killed overseas,” while co-host Joe Scarborough said the president had “finally show[ed] his hand” by “bashing American law enforcement officers who protect us.”

    CNN also had not mentioned the story this morning, until a segment on the president’s tweet that ran in the 9 a.m. EST hour. “Amid all of this this morning, and there is a lot going around and swirling around this White House, the president chose to tweet about Russia,” CNN Newsroom anchor Poppy Harlow said before reading the tweet. “It's an extraordinary charge,” added co-anchor John Berman, “to suggest that the FBI was paying to put together a big giant dossier of negative information about him. I mean it’s, he says it in passing right there, but that really jumps out at you. That’s not the kind of thing you normally see, the president accusing the FBI of coming after him.”

    Within a few hours, The Associated Press, The Washington Post, Politico, PBS, and a host of other news outlets had run stories on Trump’s tweet. Many of the reports indicated that Trump’s claim had been baseless. But the reaction nonetheless shows the ability of Fox & Friends to warp the contours of the news environment, shifting the discussion that plays out in the press because of the newsiness of the comments made by the program’s most powerful viewer. Before, most media outlets were not focused on Fusion GPS. Now, thanks to Fox & Friends and Trump, they are.

    Trump often spends his early mornings dashing off thoughts on Twitter on a number of seemingly unrelated items. But there’s often a method to the apparent madness. On three occasions over the past few weeks, I’ve found a strong correlation between his tweets and Fox & Friends’ programming that indicate that he is watching the show and tweeting about what he sees. It can be difficult to match up tweets to corresponding segments because the president is known to record shows and watch them at his leisure, and because Fox & Friends will often air similar segments during multiple hours of the broadcast.

    Here’s my effort to chronicle the pattern on Twitter this morning (note that I went back and reconsidered my correlations when Trump added an additional tweet after I had started working).

    Trump was apparently also watching Fox & Friends and tweeting about it yesterday morning:

    He seems to have done the same thing on October 10:

  • Fox & Friends might be all that stands between us and the nuclear apocalypse

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The United States may be on the brink of frightening conflict in East Asia. Since The Washington Post reported earlier this week that a U.S. intelligence agency believes North Korea possesses miniaturized nuclear warheads that can fit inside its missiles, President Donald Trump and the North Korean government have traded threats. It is in the interest of neither country to start a conflict that could quickly engulf the region and threaten the lives of tens of millions of people. But Trump has immense unilateral authority to dramatically escalate the situation -- including through the use of nuclear weapons -- and he is known for making snap decisions without fully consulting experts or his staff. And the biggest influence on his thinking may not be our diplomats or generals, but rather the hosts, producers, and bookers of the Fox News morning show Fox & Friends, who seem largely content to confirm the president’s biases and promote his worst impulses.

    Trump is obsessed with Fox & Friends, regularly watching the program, tweeting along with it, and praising its hosts. That gives Fox & Friends incredible power, and the show’s hosts use it, apparently tailoring the show to the most powerful cable news viewer in the world. According to a Vox study, hosts Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, and Brian Kilmeade and their guests “increasingly view their role as giving advice to the president.”

    That “advice” is all the more important with the nation careening toward a flashpoint. The president apparently watched Fox & Friends the last two mornings, as the North Korea situation became more serious. What he saw was the program’s hosts and guests repeatedly assuring him that he was doing everything right, and that his critics were not only wrong, but partisans who are undermining the country.

    Much of the Fox & Friends discussion has revolved around Trump’s ill-advised, improvised warning on Tuesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will face “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if he continues to threaten the U.S. Democrats and Republicans alike criticized the statement, as did analysts and experts from the U.S. and across the region, with many interpreting Trump’s remarks as threatening a nuclear strike.

    But on Fox & Friends, Trump’s statement was viewed as “right on target,” in the words of Kilmeade. The president had been “measured,” according to Earhardt: “He thought about what he was going to say before because he repeated it twice.” “Keep in mind the president's point was North Korea's threats are intolerable,” Doocy said this morning. “Also, at the same time, while he was talking about fire and fury, he did not set any red lines. Was he hyperbolic? Sure. But we know that this president has been hyperbolic in the past.”

    The hosts played into Trump’s own natural inclination, portraying all of his critics as enemies of the president -- "Liberal Media Slams President's Rhetoric" and "Media Blasts President's 'Fire And Fury' Message" were two chyrons that appeared on today’s show -- who just want to tear him down and would prefer the U.S. make no response at all to Kim. They warned that the critics were not just wrong but were endangering America. North Koreans “see the Democrats ridiculing the president, and they think the president shouldn’t be taken seriously, which is dangerous,” Kilmeade commented today.

    This behavior is fairly typical for the program, which constantly supports everything Trump does and is quick to lash out at his perceived foes. But there’s a real danger in Trump’s rhetoric; as Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, put it, Trump’s statements only “exacerbate” concerns of potentially “stumbling into an inadvertent nuclear war on the Korean peninsula.” By sending Trump the message that he’s making the right decision and his critics are acting in bad faith, Fox & Friends is increasing the possibility that Trump repeats his behavior, with potentially dire consequences.

    Given the unsettling power of the show and the gravity of the moment, I find myself grasping at straws, straining to read the program in a way that could lead the president to avoid the worst. At times, the program’s guests have pointed out that it’s unlikely Kim would attack us because he knows our retaliation would bring down his regime, and that a U.S. offensive against North Korea would have a serious “collateral effect.” The show featured a pastor who says the Bible gives Trump the authority to attack North Korea, but at least it put him up against a priest who urged restraint rather than endorsing the sentiment outright. Even Doocy has pointed out that the danger from North Korea may not be that extreme because of the instability of its missiles.

    On the other hand, over the last two days the show’s hosts have also: casually discussed deploying U.S. nuclear missiles to South Korea; said of Kim, "This guy is crazy. We have got to prevent him from killing all of us”; and claimed that if the U.S. strikes North Korea from Guam, it doesn't need to ask South Korea or Japan for permission. “What is scary is how quickly [a North Korean nuke] could make it to you, to me, to your family. Look at this map -- we're going to show you,” Earhardt said yesterday, before explaining how long it would take for an intercontinental ballistic missile to strike New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Hawaii.

    This is the crack team that has the ear of the president. We are all in a lot of trouble.

  • The Bigotry And Idiocy Of Donald Trump's Favorite News Show

    The President Of The United States Has Made Fox & Friends' Lack Of Journalistic Standards A National Security Issue

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    “For the record,” a top Fox News executive explained to the network’s newsroom a decade ago, “seeing an item on a website does not mean it is right. Nor does it mean it is ready for air on FNC.”

    John Moody, at the time Fox’s vice president for news, issued that missive after Fox & Friends co-hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade highlighted for their millions of viewers a right-wing outlet’s quickly debunked report that then-Sen. Barack Obama had gone to school at an extremist Islamic madrassa as a child. “The hosts violated one of our general rules, which is know what you are talking about,” Moody told The New York Times. “They reported information from a publication whose accuracy we didn’t know.”

    Ten years later, the denizens of the program’s curvy couch still frequently don’t know what they are talking about. But now, their conspiracy theories and bogus claims are repeated by the White House as if they were credible reports from distinguished journalists. Under the Trump administration, the hosts and guests of Fox & Friends are setting the national agenda, thanks to their biggest fan, the president of the United States.

    Last week, Fox senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano stopped by the set of Fox & Friends and claimed that unnamed intelligence sources had told him that late last year, a British spy agency had surveilled now-President Donald Trump on behalf of then-President Barack Obama.

    The incident was typical for Napolitano, a 9/11 truther who regularly uses his Fox airtime to push paranoid conspiracy theories. But the response from the Trump administration was remarkable.

    Two days later, White House press secretary Sean Spicer cited Napolitano’s claim during a briefing. Since then:

    • The British intelligence service has denied the charge.

    • The Trump administration was forced to discuss the incidents with the British government.

    • When a reporter asked Trump about the incident during a press conference with a foreign leader, the president claimed that “all we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television.”

    • Fox News admitted that it could not substantiate Napolitano’s claim.

    • Napolitano acknowledged that one of his sources was a well-known conspiracy theorist.

    • That conspiracy theorist said that Napolitano had botched the story.

    • A British newspaper owned by Fox chief executive Rupert Murdoch reported that the story may have been the result of a Russian intelligence operation.

    • The deputy director of the National Security Agency told BBC News that the charge was “arrant nonsense.”

    “There was a time when a guy like Judge Andrew Napolitano could make some marginal remarks on Fox News, and only a large plume of non-White House officials would take him seriously,” The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple noted Friday. “Perhaps a website or two would pick up on them. Then everyone would move on to other matters. … Warning to Judge Napolitano: People in power are now listening to you. They’re case-building off of your reporting.”

    If Trump can be said to treat Fox News personalities as his advisers, then the hosts of Fox & Friends are his kitchen cabinet. While the president regularly assails journalists as lying members of the “opposition party,” he praises Fox for producing “the most honest morning show” and calls its hosts “honorable people.”

    Trump has said that he may owe his presidency to his years-long weekly interview segment on Fox & Friends, telling the show’s hosts earlier this year that “maybe without those call-ins, somebody else is sitting here.” Since becoming perhaps the most powerful person on the planet, Trump has continued to regularly watch the morning show, sometimes for hours at a time. He frequently tweets along with the program, commenting on the stories he sees and retweeting the broadcast’s feed. And those presidential comments set the news agenda for the rest of the press.

    Given the president’s tendency to run with thinly sourced claims he gets from right-wing outlets, this is not a good sign.

    Doocy and Kilmeade, who have hosted since the show’s debut in 1998, regularly expose themselves as bigoted misogynists. (Ainsley Earhardt, the program’s third co-host for the past year, provides run-of-the-mill conservative-inflected Fox commentary.)

    Notably, Kilmeade has declared that “all terrorists are Muslims” (he later said he misspoke) and issued a shockingly racist rant about how Americans don’t have “pure genes” like the Swedes because “we keep marrying other species and other ethnics” (he subsequently apologized). Former Fox & Friends host Gretchen Carlson accused Doocy of engaging in “a pattern of severe and pervasive mistreatment” on and off air in her sexual harassment lawsuit against the network’s founder and chairman, Roger Ailes; while Ailes was pushed out, no public action was taken against Doocy.

    They are also two of the dumbest people in the news business.

    Lest you think I am exaggerating, please watch this clip of Trump’s favorite morning show hosts attempting to roast marshmallows over an open fire using a plastic spoon and their bare hands. Pay special attention to the look on Chris Wallace’s face as he observes the antics from a remote site with increasing disbelief, and eventually halts the segment to call them “dopes.”

    The gullibility and stupidity of Fox’s morning hosts is now an issue of national import. They frequently push obviously false and easily debunked claims, often based on dubious reports from sources that lack credibility. Some past examples include:

    The Time A Federal Judge Scolded Them For Credulously Reporting A Parody Story. In 2007, just a few months after the hosts’ madrassa commentary spurred the network executive to warn them not to believe everything they see on the internet, they reported that a middle school student had been suspended for leaving a ham sandwich on a lunch table near Muslim students. At one point during the segment, Kilmeade said, "I hope we're not being duped," to which Doocy replied, "We're not being duped. I've looked it up on a couple of different websites up there." They were being duped; their source was a fabricated story from the hoax website Associated Content. Doocy subsequently issued a retraction and apology.  A federal judge later criticized the “gullible” hosts over the incident, saying their actions “should provide grist for journalism classes teaching research and professionalism standards in the Internet age.”

    The Time Doocy Claimed Obama Fabricated An Earthquake (He Didn’t). In March 2010, Obama said a proposal to adjust Medicaid reimbursement rates for states affected by natural disasters "also affects Hawaii, which went through an earthquake." Doocy suggested that Obama had made the earthquake up, noting that previous Hawaiian earthquakes came in 1868 and 1975. His allegation came from Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft, the dumbest man on the Internet and, not surprisingly, a regular source of Fox & Friends stories; an earthquake struck Hawaii in 2006.

    The Time Fox & Friends Investigated Whether A Terrorist Ghostwrote Obama’s Autobiography. In March 2011, the program hosted WorldNetDaily columnist and noted conspiracy theorist Jack Cashill to discuss his claim that Obama's first book, Dreams from My Father, was actually written by former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers.

    The Time Doocy Told Trump That Obama "Could End It Simply -- Just Show [The Birth Certificate] To Us." In a series of segments in March and April 2011, the hosts supported Trump’s fact-free claims that Obama had not produced his birth certificate. During their regular interview segment, Doocy responded to Trump's false statement that President Obama "has not given a birth certificate" by saying, "He could end it simply -- just show it to us, and it'd be over."

    The Time The Show Invented A TSA Program To Test Airline Passenger DNA. The program ran a March 2011 segment suggesting that the Transportation Security Administration would soon begin testing airline passengers' DNA at airports. Napolitano criticized the purported effort, saying it “offends the Constitution” and “feeds the government's voracious appetite to control people”; Kilmeade defended TSA for “trying to stop illegal human trafficking.” Arguments about civil liberties aside, the entire story was made up, as Doocy acknowledged when he apologized for the “error” the next day.

    The Time Fox & Friends Claimed Obama Wanted To Apologize To Japan For Hiroshima. In October 2011, the hosts lashed out at Obama because he supposedly had wanted to apologize to Japan for the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, but Japan had nixed the idea. The next day, Doocy sought to “clarify” the story by removing the portion of the story that had angered them, stating: “We want to be very clear. There was never a plan for President Obama to apologize to Japan. We should have been clear about that, and we're sorry for the confusion.”

    The Time They Falsely Claimed Obama Met With A Pirate But Not Netanyahu. Channeling a story from The Drudge Report, the hosts claimed in September 2012 that Obama had time to meet with a man in a pirate costume for Talk Like a Pirate Day, but had been “too busy” to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In fact, the photo of Obama and the pirate that the White House had tweeted out the previous day had been taken three years earlier for use during that year's White House Correspondents' Dinner. Doocy and Fox & Friends subsequently acknowledged that fact on social media.

    The Time They Pretended Obama Wanted To Take Kevlar Helmets Away From Cops. After a police officer survived the June 2016 mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, FL, because he had been wearing a Kevlar helmet, Doocy suggested that the Obama administration had been “pushing to take away life-saving armor” like the helmet through a ban on the federal government transferring military equipment to police departments. Kevlar helmets are not on the list of banned equipment, as Doocy acknowledged in a clarification the next day.

    The Time Fox & Friends Pushed The Conspiracy Theory That Google Was Manipulating Search Results To Help Hillary Clinton. In June 2016, Kilmeade and Napolitano accused Google of “manipulating the search [results] for Hillary [Clinton] to bury the bad stuff.” Napolitano said that “we know” Google “has” manipulated search results relating to Clinton according to a "very extensive test," and that the result is an example of “the Google, Eric Schmidt [executive chairman of Google’s board of directors], President Obama, Democratic National Committee, West Wing circle that we all know exists.” But, according to CNNMoney, “Despite what you might have seen online, Google is not manipulating its search results to favor Hillary Clinton.”

    The Time Doocy Pushed A Conspiracy Theory About A Murdered Democratic Staffer. In July 2016, Democratic National Committee (DNC) staffer Seth Rich was murdered while walking home in his Washington, D.C., neighborhood. Conservatives subsequently suggested that he may have been murdered because he had helped WikiLeaks gain access to the DNC’s email servers (his family condemned these conspiracy theories). Fox & Friends picked up the story, with Doocy stating on air, “Some on the internet are suggesting, wait a minute, was [Rich] the source of the WikiLeaks DNC leaks?”

    Now when Doocy and Kilmeade run credulous reports based on something they saw "on the internet," the president is watching -- and taking them seriously.