President Donald Trump has access to some of the finest intelligence professionals in the world. He could seek policy guidance and input from the foremost experts. And yet time and time again, the Fox News and Fox Business channels end up setting his administration’s agenda.
A string of tweets he posted Monday night and Tuesday morning confirms it. Across a 14-hour span, Trump tweeted about topics as varied as his one-sided feud with the city of Baltimore and the Chinese economy — a confusing conglomeration, except that the tweetstorm clearly came in response to content he was watching on his favorite television stations.
These days, Trump — who claimed less than two years ago that “I don’t get to watch much television ... primarily because of documents” — isn’t even trying to hide it.
The symbiotic relationship between Fox and the Trump White House is well documented. But the president’s latest Twitter-and-TV binge serves as a stark illustration of the disproportionate role Fox News and Fox Business are playing in setting the country’s agenda.
Fox News validates Trump’s attacks on Democrats of color
Trump tuned in sometime around 9:30 pm on Monday, when he posted tweets echoing Sean Hannity’s just-completed monologue trashing Baltimore in general and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) in particular.
Baltimore’s numbers are the worst in the United States on Crime and the Economy. Billions of dollars have been pumped in over the years, but to no avail. The money was stolen or wasted. Ask Elijah Cummings where it went. He should investigate himself with his Oversight Committee!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2019
Trump on Sunday attacked lashed out at Cummings, tweeting that his district — which includes parts of Baltimore — is “disgusting” and a “rat and rodent infested mess.” His comments about Cummings and Baltimore came a week after he urged four Democratic congresswomen of color to “go back” to the countries they came from (despite three of them being born in America, and all of them being citizens).
There’s little indication that Trump’s latest racist attacks on a Democratic lawmaker of color are playing well outside of his base, but the president, inspired by Hannity’s monologue, decided to repeat them.
Sean Hannity's broadcast, which opened with 20+ minutes on Baltimore and Cummings, was likely the source of Trump's other tweets last night.— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) July 30, 2019
Left, Fox's Hannity, 9:01 p.m.
Right, Trump, 9:34 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. pic.twitter.com/RvWSU5hnK0
Hannity’s show was immediately followed by Laura Ingraham’s — and Trump was watching that too. At 10:46 pm, the president posted a tweet amplifying commentary a woman that Fox News identified as a “Baltimore resident advocate” offered on Ingraham’s show defending Trump’s attacks on Baltimore.
Trump got up on Tuesday and continued watching Fox. His first tweet of the day amplified a Fox & Friends news brief about two Somali refugees who were reportedly arrested in Arizona and have been accused of providing material support for ISIS. (One of the Democratic congresswomen of color Trump has been attacking, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, is a Somali refugee.)
Here's a tweet Trump posted this morning stoking fears about Somali refugees, followed by the Fox & Friends segment he was reacting to pic.twitter.com/2kn7uhiueb— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 30, 2019
Trump then changed the channel from Fox News to Fox Business — but not before he posted a tweet explicitly promoting Fox & Friends over its morning cable news competition on MSNBC.
Over the next half-hour, Trump posted two tweets quoting and responding to interviews from Maria Bartiromo’s Fox Business show, including one in which Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) promoted an infrastructure bill.
Trump's infrastructure week tweet also came in response to a Fox Business segment. It's a stark illustration of how Fox News and Fox Business are setting the executive branch's agenda. pic.twitter.com/uoyErNkxdb— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 30, 2019
It’s notable, but not surprising at this point, that instead of holding a meeting with Barrasso and other lawmakers to learn about the legislation they’re working on, Trump seems content to find out what’s going on from Fox News and Fox Business.
Trump seems to think Fox News is reality. It’s not.
It’s not hard to sync up the president’s tweets with the cable news he’s watching, and yet Trump wants Americans to believe he has his finger on the pulse of the country.
Following his evening and morning of Fox News watching, Trump ventured outside the White House and told reporters that “the African American community is so thankful” for his attacks on Cummings — something he knows because “they’ve called me and they’ve said, ‘Finally, somebody is telling the truth.’”
TRUMP: "The African American community is so thankful. They've called me and they've said, 'finally somebody is telling the truth.'" pic.twitter.com/NTECr7MlGD— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 30, 2019
Later, Trump told reporters he believes his attacks on Cummings are resonating because “you see it watching television.” He went on to blame his bad polling among black Americans on the non-Fox media.
Trump’s attacks on Cummings might make for good Fox News fodder, but in the real world, his approval rating among black Americans is 13 percent. Polling finds that 80 percent of black people think he’s racist.
As disconnected from reality as the Fox-inspired tweets and statements might be, however, they were not as bad as what Trump was up to on Twitter later Tuesday. After delivering a speech in Jamestown, Virginia, in which he was interrupted by a protester (later identified as Virginia state Delegate Ibraheem Samirah) who denounced his recent attacks on Democratic lawmakers of color, Trump retweeted a QAnon account and another account that just five days ago promoted a Pizzagate-inspired conspiracy theory about the Clintons.
So ironically, even as Fox News engages in mutual alternate-world building with Trump, it may also be keeping some of his worst impulses in check.