As the impeachment trial got underway in the Senate on Wednesday, Fox News covered it in a way that gave the appearance of journalism but was actually propaganda.
In fairness, the network did cover the entirety of Rep. Adam Schiff’s two-hour opening statement. But after that, while CNN and MSNBC continued to broadcast the trial, Fox News turned to spin.
Back in November, Fox News spun the House impeachment hearings by featuring short, out-of-context clips of Republicans defending President Trump that portrayed things in the best possible light for them. But that option wasn’t available on Wednesday, as the entirety of the day was allotted to Democratic impeachment managers.
Starting with The Five, the network’s early evening roundtable commentary show, and continuing throughout the evening, Fox News broadcast portions of screen-in-screen video of the trial. But instead of playing the audio, network hosts provided the normal Trumpian spin. So while someone who just looked at the screen may have concluded Fox News was covering the trial, in fact it wasn’t covering it at all.
Fox News has the optics of covering the #ImpeachmentTrial without actually covering it. They've been showing screen-in-screen video of the proceedings without audio. Instead, hosts are providing Trumpian spin. It's propaganda giving the illusion of journalism. Remarkable. pic.twitter.com/NKbN2Sic1o— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 23, 2020
The network went as far as to broadcast screen-in-screen video of the trial during commercial breaks — but, again, without the sound that was necessary to make any sense of what was being discussed.
Fox News primetime hosts did everything they could to diminish the significance of the impeachment trial. Tucker Carlson began his show by comparing it to “a movie written and directed by children whose ending you already know, and by the way, it’s 20 hours long, in Hungarian, with misspelled subtitles.” He even offered a tongue-in-cheek apology to viewers when he did show brief clips from the trial.
Tucker Carlson began his show dismissing the #ImpeachmentTrial by comparing it to "a movie written & directed by children whose ending you already know, & by the way, it's 20 hours long, in Hungarian, with misspelled subtitles." That's how his viewers will process things. pic.twitter.com/0PXgxFuXNA— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 23, 2020
During the 9 pm hour — just before Schiff closed the day’s proceedings by emotionally imploring Republican senators to have the same courage that witnesses like Fiona Hill and Alexander Vindman did in coming forward to testify, even at risk of their careers — Sean Hannity began his show by immediately cutting away from the trial, telling his viewers “none of this will matter,” and describing Schiff as a “lunatic” (a characterization at odds with other primetime segments that criticized the trial for being boring).
Hannity later played a supercut of snippets of Schiff’s testimony that framed things in the most demeaning possible light.
Fox News added scary music and, in one section, a red overtone to an Adam Schiff supercut from today pic.twitter.com/yV2wRdOG7d— Andrew Lawrence (@ndrew_lawrence) January 23, 2020
Say what you will about Adam Schiff, but nobody who actually watched his presentation on Wednesday was likely to come away with the impression that he’s insane or, as Carlson suggested, so unlikable he’s incapable of making friends. But those are the takeaways Fox News viewers were force-fed.
Things didn’t get much better on Thursday morning. Fox News’s coverage of the trial had a circular quality, criticizing Democrats for not presenting new evidence while ignoring the fact that they’re unable to do so because of GOP stonewalling.
Step 1: Dems try repeatedly to get new evidence into the trial— Lis Power (@LisPower1) January 23, 2020
Step 2: Republicans repeatedly vote it down
Step 3: Fox criticizes Dems for having no new evidence.
Rinse and repeat.
Fox's Jason Chaffetz: "It had nothing to do with proving the facts, there was no new evidence" pic.twitter.com/LSdPEKkzGE
Why does this matter? Fox News’s coverage of the impeachment trial’s day-long rules debate on Tuesday was easily the highest-rated on broadcast and cable. The network drew record ratings in 2019, and its viewers constitute a large portion of Trump’s base. Trump rewards the network for its loyalty by relentlessly promoting its programming on social media and granting it exclusive interviews, including as recently as Wednesday morning.
The 2.7 million people who have been watching Fox News’s impeachment trial coverage at any given time are being told a story about it that’s completely untethered from reality — one that reinforces America’s deep polarization between the roughly 50 percent of voters who want Trump removed from office and the 40 to 45 percent who continue to support him through scandal after scandal.
There’s nothing Schiff could have said on Wednesday that Fox News’s evening and primetime hosts wouldn’t have spun as evidence of his mental instability, his obsession with taking down Trump. And while viewers were being spun on Wednesday, they were shown soundless video of the trial, the misleading implication being that they don’t have to bother watching it since Fox News is on top of it for them.