The Stormy Daniels saga is becoming a massive story. It’s not only responsible for cornering President Trump into admitting to something that might be a violation of campaign finance law; it’s also turning into a cultural touchstone, with Daniels playing herself to Alec Baldwin’s version of Trump on Saturday Night Live.
But to Fox News’s top pundit, Sean Hannity, the story is “old news.” And on much of the Fox News Channel, it’s not even old news; it’s barely news at all.
Since the story broke in January, Fox News has given significantly less airtime to the Stormy Daniels story than other cable networks.
It was always going to be a hard story for Fox News to cover — but its omission is getting more conspicuous with each passing week.
And it’s not just Daniels who isn’t being covered. Fox News has suppressed coverage of Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer who paid Daniels $130,000 in hush money as part of a nondisclosure agreement. In fact, after Cohen’s office was raided by the FBI on April 9, Fox News spent barely 1 percent of its airtime talking about Cohen in the days that followed.
That brings us to the past week.
Trump, after initially denying knowledge of the hush money, admitted he actually paid back Cohen — which means he had to have known about it. He was somewhat forced into this admission after his new lawyer Rudy Giuliani revealed this information on Hannity’s show.
If this was campaign-related, and Trump failed to report the loan and the repayments of the loan, that is a campaign finance violation. And willful violations can lead to criminal liability. Much turns on Trump’s motive. On Fox News, Giuliani suggested Trump’s motivation was indeed campaign-related.
Surely Giuliani’s inadvertent revelation that the president of the United States may have potentially violated campaign finance law is a huge deal, right?
On Fox News, not so much.
When the network has covered the Stormy Daniels saga, it has attempted to tell a certain story. The particulars of that story are:
- Trump didn’t have an affair with Stormy Daniels.
- Trump didn’t know about the hush money Cohen paid to Daniels.
- And Cohen didn’t violate any campaign finance laws because it was a “private transaction.”
Because those things were taken as true, on Fox News, the Daniels story was considered a “witch hunt” that didn’t deserve much coverage. And even if you didn’t completely believe Trump was innocent, Fox News made sure you knew that the true sin was what the mainstream media was doing: trying to take down Trump.
Why does it matter that Fox News is barely covering the Daniels story and the related scandals besieging the administration?
The network is the main source of news for 40 percent of Trump voters. Now, there is some programming on Fox News that attempts to do honest journalism and hold the president accountable. But the most valuable time slots are held by pundits like Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and the trio on Fox & Friends, and it’s clear they have no interest in doing the same.
When the Knight Foundation and Gallup asked thousands of Americans last year how they defined the term “fake news,” they found that conservatives were far more likely to think that an accurate story casting politicians in a “negative light” is always fake news.
In other words, Fox News has convinced many of its viewers that it doesn’t matter if news is accurate. If it makes Trump look bad, it’s fake.