Only Fox News can bring down President Trump, a recent New York Times op-ed argued. “If Fox turns, it’s inevitable,” it said.
For a few moments on Tuesday, it seemed as if Fox News was turning. Several of the network’s hosts and contributors either condemned or criticized Trump’s remarks blaming “both sides” for the weekend violence in Charlottesville.
In the 5pm hour, for instance, “Specialists” co-host Kat Timpf went as far as to say it was “honestly crazy” she had to comment in the immediate aftermath of the spectacle because she was “still in the phase” where she was “actually wondering” if what she watched “was real life.”
“It was one of the biggest messes I’ve ever seen,” Timpf said.
Then came prime time, and the return of pro-Trump TV.
For the better part of three hours, Tucker Carlson, the co-hosts of “The Five” and Sean Hannity went after liberals and the media instead of criticizing Trump for his decision to draw a moral equivalency between neo-Nazis and leftist counter-protestors.
Fox’s programming stood in stark contrast to much of the rest of the media’s coverage on the controversial nature of Trump’s remarks. Instead, the night was heavy with “whataboutism.” The average Fox viewer was likely left with the impression that the media’s criticism of Trump and leftist protestors’ toppling of some Confederate statues were far greater threats to America than white supremacism or the president’s apparent defense of bigotry.
Yes, Carlson, Hannity and the hosts of “The Five” made clear that they condemned white supremacists.
“Of course white supremacists are despicable human beings who shouldn’t exist in America,” Jesse Watters said, for instance.
But that throat-clearing was very quickly followed by monologues advancing Trump’s thesis that “both sides” were to blame for what happened in Charlottesville, as well as attacks on the left and the media.
Carlson began his show with a monologue about the history of slavery, noting that historical figures from Plato to Mohammed to Simon Bolivar had owned slaves. “None of this is a defense of the atrocity of human bondage,” Carlson said. “The point, however, is that if we are going to judge the past by the standards of the present… we had better be prepared for the consequences of that.”
He then dedicated half of his show to worrying about how the destruction of Confederate statues could lead to the destruction of the statues of Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, even Abraham Lincoln. The lesson of Charlottesville, Carlson seemed to be saying at times, is that we need to protect our statues.
One guest, John Daniel Davidson, a senior correspondent for The Federalist, compared the protestors tearing down statues to “Weimar thugs” and the Taliban. Later, Carlson asked: “What will [the left] feel empowered to destroy next?”
On “The Five,” Watters called Trump’s news conference “brave and honest.” Though he later condemned the neo-Nazis as “degenerates,” he said the media shouldn’t be so focused on their efforts because, he said, there were “only 100,000” of them in America.
While Five co-hosts Dana Perino and Juan Williams did criticize Trump’s remarks at Tuesday’s press conference, the bulk of their discussion centered on whether or not the left should bear equal blame for the violence in Charlottesville — a debate that in its very premise advanced Trump’s “both sides” narrative.
The Five spent the second half of its hour targeting other media organizations for unrelated issues, including The New York Times and CNN.
Finally, Hannity. To his credit, Hannity condemned white supremacists. “The white supremacists provoked this, they are the ones who are most responsible.” But he also credited the president for “setting the record straight about the violence in Charlottesville.”
Then, he moved on to a familiar target: the media. The “destroy Trump media” would never give Trump credit for condemning white supremacists and neo-Nazis, Hannity said, seemingly ignoring that Trump’s remarks Tuesday stood in contrast to his less-enthusiastic condemnation of them on Monday.
The media’s campaign against Trump was a central theme throughout Hannity’s program — until he pivoted, as he often does, to raising suspicions about Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Obama Justice Department.
None of what took place on Fox News Tuesday night was necessarily surprising. Fox News has become almost unfailingly loyal to Trump, and reflexively dismissive of his faults and missteps.
And yet it showed that if Fox News has a line when it comes to Trump’s presidency, it was not crossed on Tuesday.