Fox News was busy Monday covering for President Donald Trump in the wake of The New York Times’s report Sunday that he paid only $750 in income tax for the years 2016 and 2017and that he had “paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years — largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.”
The Times also reported that Trump paid $24.3 million in the alternative minimum tax — which is meant to catch up the very wealthy who claim exorbitant business deductions — during seven years between 2000 and 2017. “For 2015, he paid $641,931, his first payment of any federal income tax since 2010.”
Fox has not addressed any of the specific deductions that Trump has claimed, such as for the $70,000 paid to style his hair when he did the TV show The Apprentice or what the Times described as a write-off for “a mansion used as a family retreat.” And while Fox did mention the returns showing he is $300 million in debt, the network did not dwell at all on the potential ramifications this would have for the president of the United States, who might face personal pressure from his creditors.
Rather, Fox’s purported “news”-side anchors have been uncritically carrying denials from Trump aides without asking any follow-up questions, while discussing any implications for the campaign between Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden, rather than exploring the main thrust of the story itself.
Meanwhile, Fox’s pure opinion-based commentators are becoming especially strident in their reactions to this story.
Fox News host Steve Hilton opened Sunday night’s edition of The Next Revolution with Steve Hilton by declaring the Times article “an establishment hit job,” while he also posited that “this latest attack, orchestrated by The New York Times, CNN, and MSNBC, could be the moment the establishment handed the election to Donald Trump.”
Later in the program, Fox News contributor Kristen Soltis Anderson said the tax returns don’t matter as much as they might have in 2016, because Trump is already president. “So I think there is some risk because there may be a lot of Americans that go, ‘Wait a minute, I paid more than $750 in taxes last year,’ who are personally upset to hear that,” Anderson said. “But I do think it may have less of an effect because people are already judging President Trump's economic record on its own numbers rather than on it as a hypothetical thing based on Trump's business record.”
But the rhetorical crescendo reached its apex in a discussion with Trump campaign adviser Corey Lewandowski, when he and Hilton said that in avoiding paying taxes Trump was simply meeting his obligation to his family and his employees — and he has done the same for you, by cutting your taxes.
Fox & Friends began Monday morning with a quick news headline about the Times story and the Biden campaign’s initial response — framing the story based on Biden rolling out an attack ad, not on the merits of the story itself. Later in the program, Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee declared: “Frankly, I don't care. I didn't elect him to be my tax accountant. I elected him to be president, and I'm really happy with the job that he's doing.”
The show also hosted Donald Trump Jr., who called the story “ridiculous” on the grounds that his father had paid tens of millions in taxes in other years, and was legitimately taking various depreciations, write-offs, and tax credits.
“People don't understand what goes into a business,” Trump Jr. said. “It doesn't include property taxes, it doesn't include payroll taxes, it doesn't include real estate taxes, it doesn't include so many of the things that he’s been paying taxes on forever — as he is also putting thousands and thousands of people to work on an annual basis.”
Furthermore, Trump Jr. said that he wished the Times would have “spent as much time looking for, maybe, I don't know, Hunter Biden's tax returns, and the Biden crime family issues,” referring to the continued effort by Senate Republicans and right-wing media personalities to continue circulating the kinds of allegations that had led to Trump’s impeachment last year.
The show also hosted White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who called the story “the same playbook they tried in 2016,” and said the president was focused on the issues such as “bringing back the economy, a V-shape recovery that’s looking more like a super-V,” before the hosts moved on to the next topic.
Over at Fox Business, host Stuart Varney spoke to Republican National Committee spokesperson Liz Harrington about the story. Varney at one point interrupted Harrington to make it clear that the story didn’t look good for Trump — but at the same time, he complained that voters wouldn’t understand how unfair the Times was really being.
“A lot of people will be saying, ‘Gee, I paid a lot of money in tax — and the president, according to the Times, paid nothing,’” Varney said. “But the point here is, the Times will not release the documents on which their report is made — is mentioned — is based, I should say. They won't release their sources. I understand that. And the president says, ‘You're flat-out wrong.’ His lawyer says, look, he has paid a lot of money — millions in personal taxes. I mean, a lot of people — but people won't hear that side of the story, will they?”
Later in the program, Varney agreed with Trump campaign press secretary Hogan Gidley that the word “bombshell” is overused.
In the opening hour of America’s Newsroom, Fox News White House correspondent Kristin Fisher deployed a rather unusual both-sides narrative: “So you’ve got the Biden campaign saying that President Trump should release his tax returns, while at the same time you have President Trump saying that Joe Biden should agree to do a drug test before the big debate tomorrow night.”
Fox News contributor Karl Rove, however, acknowledged that this story did not look good politically – even if Trump was justified in taking the write-offs. “If this is true, the president had losses that were bigger than his income — and that’s a fundamental principle of tax policy that if you have losses, you should be able to offset your income,” said Rove. “But to the average cat on the street, the idea that the president paid a small amount of tax is probably not something that they like.”
But Rove also complained about the Times having obtained the documents in the first place: “Somebody potentially violated the law, by taking those documents and providing them to The New York Times. But we’re not going to know the truth about this thing until probably years in the future, when these things are ultimately revealed.”
Fox News politics editor Chris Stirewalt said the report wouldn’t change things “that much,” but when reiterating his point later in the conversation, he acknowledged that it didn’t look good.
“I don't think this is a mover. I don't think this moves people — but you see why Trump has worked so hard to keep them secret,” Stirewalt said. “Because if this would’ve come out in 2016, … if data of this specificity had come out in 2016, it would’ve badly damaged the image that Trump was trying to create and broadcast to the American people. But we know him now — that’s good and bad for Trump, but he’s a totally known commodity now.”
Co-anchor Sandra Smith got a brief comment on the taxes story from Trump campaign communications director Erin Perrine — but only at the very end of their interview, and with no follow-up.
Co-anchor Bill Hemmer had a more involved conversation on the topic with Fox News radio host Guy Benson, who said Trump had already created the image of a “smart” person who avoids paying lots of taxes.
And on Monday’s edition of Outnumbered, the purported “news”-side anchors Harris Faulkner and Bret Baier stood by as Fox News contributor Mollie Hemingway asserted, without any evidence, that the Times must have “quickly coordinated with the Biden campaign” on the story. (Hemingway has made this sort of claim before, asserting, when a report emerges to corroborate negative allegations against Trump, that this was really because the various sources were lying but all worked carefully, including with the press, to synchronize their stories.)
Fox’s website also has a distinctly pro-Trump bias in the presentation for its news article on the subject:
And even this online acknowledgment of the story, as Media Matters’ Matt Gertz pointed out, comes after a concerted effort to bury the story far down the page:
It's no wonder that Trump ally Charlie Kirk is a big fan of how Fox News has downplayed the story.