Sean Hannity Erased a Line by Taking the Stage With Trump

But after Mr. Trump entered the Oval Office, the network’s opinion hosts — from the cast of the president’s favorite morning show, “Fox & Friends,” to the anchor of “Hannity” — began to cheerlead his agenda more and more. Ratings and revenue increased, thanks to the overlap between the network’s audience and the Make America Great Again crowd.

On Monday night, though, with its biggest star joining Mr. Trump at a raucous campaign event, Fox News entered new territory — a thicket in which it’s hard to tell where the network ends and the president begins. The morning after, Fox News employees were complaining about what had happened in Cape Girardeau.

Mr. Trump introduced Mr. Hannity — an informal adviser and close confidant since the 2016 campaign — as someone who had been “with us since the beginning.” After a firm handshake and a warm bro-hug, Mr. Hannity pointed toward the reporters in the back and said, “By the way, all those people in the back are fake news.”

The host and the president smiled as the crowd jeered the press pen — which included the Fox News White House correspondent Kristin Fisher. Then Mr. Hannity delivered, in a thunderous voice, one of the Trump campaign’s slogans: “Promises made, promises kept!”

His Fox News colleague Jeanine Pirro also appeared on the rally stage that night. “Do you like the fact that this man is the tip of the spear that goes out there every day and fights for us?” she said, to cheers.

.. For all his many faults, Mr. Ailes understood the value of maintaining at least the semblance of separation between the network and the political party he was effectively commandeering from his desk in Manhattan. And he believed he had to protect his stable of news correspondents and producers to give Fox News some credibility beyond the core viewers who tuned in for its opinion hosts.

So, for instance, when Mr. Hannity went to Cincinnati to headline a planned Tea Party event in 2010, the boss forced him to cancel, angry that he had even said yes to such a thing.

.. These days, it seems, Fox News doesn’t have anyone drawing the line. It has been that way since the departure of Mr. Ailes, who was booted from the network in 2016 after multiple women accused him of sexual harassment and who died the next year.

  • .. Mr. Hannity has called the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, part of a “deep state” conspiracy run by a “crime family.”
  • Laura Ingraham has likened the federal detention facilities holding migrant children to “summer camps.” And
  • Tucker Carlson has described the caravan of asylum seekers as “highly dangerous.”

.. Ainsley Earhardt, a “Fox & Friends” host, did not score one for journalism when she offered an on-air defense of Mr. Trump’s use of the phrase “enemy of the people” to describe the news media. “He’s saying: ‘If you don’t want to be called the enemy, then get the story right. Be accurate and report the story the way I want it reported,’” Ms. Earhardt said.

.. I have yet to see Rachel Maddow showing up at a campaign event for Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer.

.. The morning after the rally in Missouri — after in-house complaints from anchors and reporters and a broader social media backlash — the network issued a statement that mentioned neither Mr. Hannity nor Ms. Pirro by name. “Fox News does not condone talent participating in campaign events,” it said, before referring vaguely to “an unfortunate distraction” that had “been addressed.”

.. Two weeks ago, a guest on Lou Dobbs’s show on the Fox Business Network, the conservative activist Chris Farrell, made the false allegation that the liberal political donor George Soros, who is Jewish, had paid migrants to come to the United States; he also asserted without evidence that Mr. Soros had undue influence in the State Department. Those false charges hark back to common anti-Semitic tropes. After deafening blowback, Fox News said Mr. Farrell would no longer appear on its channels.

.. And earlier this month, Ms. Pirro headlined a fund-raiser for Scott Wagner, the Republican candidate for governor in Pennsylvania. As The Philadelphia Inquirer reported, she earned $24,500 for serving as an “event speaker.” (Fox News had no official statement on that one.)

.. The only guardians of the old rules separating Fox News journalists from the people they are supposed to cover are the working journalists at the network. Apparently fed up with the caravan hysteria promoted by the prime-time pundits, the Fox News anchor Shepard Smith said on-air, “There is no invasion. No one is coming to get you. There is nothing at all to worry about.” Others, like the Fox News anchor Bret Baier and the Sunday host Chris Wallace, have at times made public complaints. As Mr. Wallace once said about the network’s pundits parroting Mr. Trump’s anti-press attacks, “It bothers me.”

..  When companies pulled their commercials from “The Ingraham Angle” after its host poked fun at David Hogg, a student survivor of the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., the show’s ratings went up.

.. Administration officials with former on-air roles at the network include Ben Carson, the housing secretary; John Bolton, the national security director; Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman; and Mercedes Schlapp, the White House strategic communications director. Oh, and Mr. Trump’s former communications director, Hope Hicks, has been hired as the communications director at Fox News’s corporate parent.

 

Trump appears to have a misunderstanding of campaign-finance law, and may have inadvertently admitted to breaking the law as a result

“Later on I knew,” Trump said. “Later on. But you have to understand, Ainsley, what he did — and they weren’t taken out of campaign finance. That’s a big thing. That’s a much bigger thing. Did they come out of the campaign? They came from me. I tweeted about it. I don’t know if you know, but I tweeted about the payments. But they didn’t come out of the campaign. In fact, my first question when I heard about it was, ‘Did they come out of the campaign?’ Because that could be a little dicey. They didn’t come out of the campaign, and that’s big. It’s not even a campaign violation.”

.. Cohen explained that he committed the campaign-finance violations “at the direction of the candidate” and with the “purpose of influencing the election.”

.. Based on Trump’s interview on Fox, he seems to think that a campaign-finance violation would have occurred if campaign funds were used to pay off Daniels and McDougal, rather than his personal cash, which was used to reimburse Cohen for the initial Daniels payment. The reverse of this is true, as The Huffington Post first reported.

.. If Trump had routed money through his campaign to pay off women, it would be legal. Campaigns can spend unlimited amounts of money. The problem would have been that if Trump did use his campaign to pay off any women, it would have defeated the purpose of making the payment, which was to ensure silence. Such an expenditure would have had to be reported to the Federal Election Commission and publicly disclosed.

.. Trump’s best defense is one that Cohen claimed was true earlier this year, and one that Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has also latched onto: That the arrangement was made not to boost Trump’s candidacy but to shield his family, particularly his wife, Melania Trump, from the embarrassing information. That argument was what helped former Democratic Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina in a similar case.

But Cohen’s testimony, backed up by what the government says is evidence that corroborates it, hurts that narrative.

How “Fox & Friends” Rewrites Trump’s Reality

The thin fourth wall between the President and his TV.

..Once, while riffing about a Scandinavian scientific study, he shared his opinion that “the Swedes have pure genes,” unlike Americans, who “keep marrying other species and other ethnics.”

..  On cable, where the audiences are smaller and more ideologically segmented, morning hosts are free to be more opinionated; on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” for example, Trump is compared to an autocrat, a thug, or worse. “Fox & Friends” mashes these two genres together, resulting in some whiplash-inducing segues. A few minutes of misty-eyed Christmas nostalgia leads immediately—“meanwhile, switching gears”—to a conspiracy theory about Benghazi. A weather report gives way to a warning about the dangers of chain migration, with little adjustment in tone.

.. However, Earhardt noted buoyantly, “Republican candidate Roy Moore has President Trump on his side.” Trump had just recorded a robocall for the Moore campaign.

.. Turning to a person on the ground named Diane, he said, “So, ultimately, a vote for Roy Moore is a vote for President Trump?”

“Correct,” Diane said.

Hegseth ended the segment and then directed viewers back to his colleagues, the pundits in New York City.

Moore lost. The following morning, both “Fox & Friends” and its No. 1 fan were busy rewriting the immediate past. “The President had said that Roy Moore couldn’t win, and, as it turns out, he was right,” Doocy said.

.. Earhardt, speaking “as a female,” summed up her view: “I think this is a referendum on Harvey Weinstein, not on President Trump.” She delivered the line twice more, with slight variations, at the top of each hour. Earhardt is clearly the brainiest of the three co-hosts, if only because she can get through a broadcast without any notable malapropisms or endorsements of eugenics. Still, inevitably, she plays the role of the down-to-earth Southern gal, asking only the softest of softball questions. (Earhardt, to Ivanka Trump, in July of 2016: “Were you a tractor girl, or were you, like me, the pink Barbie Jeep?” Ivanka: “I was that combination.”)

.. Earhardt, speaking “as a female,” summed up her view: “I think this is a referendum on Harvey Weinstein, not on President Trump.” She delivered the line twice more, with slight variations, at the top of each hour. Earhardt is clearly the brainiest of the three co-hosts, if only because she can get through a broadcast without any notable malapropisms or endorsements of eugenics. Still, inevitably, she plays the role of the down-to-earth Southern gal, asking only the softest of softball questions. (Earhardt, to Ivanka Trump, in July of 2016: “Were you a tractor girl, or were you, like me, the pink Barbie Jeep?” Ivanka: “I was that combination.”)

.. At one point, using some mind-bending rhetorical dark magic, he managed to imply that the real loser in Alabama was neither Trump nor Moore but Hillary Clinton.

.. The Bush Administration was mendacious, but at least it was predictable—the co-hosts had to work hard to build a connection between 9/11 and Iraq, but they didn’t have to worry that they’d wake up one morning to find that the Administration was now blaming the attack on Sudan. These days, hosting “Fox & Friends” is like cheerleading for a player who misses an open shot on goal, then doubles back to score on his own goalie, then storms off in a fit of petulance, complaining that the ref is a loser.

Foreign spies are watching — and probably targeting — Fox News Channel

So if I were a spymaster in the employ of a hostile foreign service, I’d devote some significant effort to penetrating one specific private institution: Fox News Channel.

.. It’s no secret that Fox News — specifically, shows such as “Hannity,” “Fox & Friends,” “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and “Justice with Judge Jeanine” — have outsize influence on the inner workings of how certain policies are carried out by the U.S. government.

.. Mediate recently argued that the most influential people working in the media today are “Fox & Friends” hosts Steve Doocy, Brian Kilmeade and Ainsley Earhardt, because “they have captured the President’s attention — which often then gets tweeted and covered by the media — the topics they cover essentially set the national agenda for the rest of the day.”

.. When Fox News broadcasts, the president often reacts impulsively. His tweet threatening North Korea with his “Nuclear Button” at 7:49 p.m. last Tuesday appeared to have been spurredby a Fox News segment on the very same topic that occurred 12 minutes beforehand

.. The Kremlin has indicated that Russian President Vladimir Putin reads Trump’s tweets and views them as official White House statements. Pakistan recently summoned the U.S. ambassador in Islamabad to account for Trump’s tweet bashing what he called the country’s “lies & deceit.”

.. Trump’s unfiltered Twitter feed provides world intelligence operatives with “a real-time glimpse of a major world leader’s preoccupations, personality quirks and habits of mind” — traits to be exploited in further dealings on the global stage.

.. A truly aggressive intelligence effort would not just monitor what’s being said on the network. It would target the on-air talent, as well as the folks behind the scenes who make the network’s programming possible: producers, bookers, associate producers, production assistants and the like.

..  Trump reportedly calls Sean Hannity after his show. If hostile foreign services compromise Hannity’s phone (or place a listening device in the room where Hannity takes his private calls), that could provide real-time intelligence on the American president and his thoughts.

.. For Russian intelligence, a systematic effort to threaten, coerce and co-opt journalists is a decades-old practice.

.. Kalugin wrote that the KGB’s Tumanov helped spread rumors and disinformation within Radio Liberty for years, turning staff against each other and identifying further potential targets for recruitment. He even had a hand in the bombing of Radio Liberty’s headquarters in Munich in 1981.

.. Compared to government workers, Fox employees would make easy targets.

.. Also, it’s television — full of trade secrets, big personalities and titanic egos. Most wouldn’t expect to be compromised by a hostile intelligence power, especially on American soil.

.. Few, if any, have the sort of counterintelligence training the U.S. government administers to people in sensitive positions

.. One of the major rationales for Putin’s behavior is to cause chaos, ultimately weakening and undermining his American adversaries. It’s his real long game.