Rightwing media’s coverage of Trump’s presidential bid shows it just can’t turn away

All the signs in the past week have been that the Rupert Murdoch-owned US media was ready to ditch Donald Trump en masse. The New York Post mocked Trump as Humpty Dumpty, the Wall Street Journal declared him to be “the Republican party’s biggest loser” and even Fox News offered scant defense of Trump’s miserable midterm elections.

Watching Fox News on Tuesday night, however, as Trump announced he was running for president yet again in 2024, it seemed that not everyone was ready to let Trump go.

The rightwing network, once a staunch supporter of the twice-impeached president, offered mixed messaging on the importance, and prudence, of Trump running for re-election, as early evening shows largely ignored Trump’s planned announcement, while later in the evening some Fox News stalwarts did their bit to pump up Trump.

The signals during the 6pm hour had been that Fox News might be edging away from their former hero.

Bret Baier, a Fox News personality seen as less partisan than the likes of Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, hosted Mike Pence, the former vice-president who is rumored to be planning a presidential bid himself.

Given that Trump loathes Pence, after the latter refused to decertify the result of the 2020 election, the former president wouldn’t have been too pleased to see Pence given air time hours ahead of the Mar-a-Lago announcement.

Trump would have been less pleased with Pence’s response when he was asked about Trump’s upcoming declaration for president. “Well, it’s a free country, Bret, and the president is entitled to make whatever announcement that he wants to make tonight,” Pence said, before adding a “but”.

“As I’ve traveled around the country over the last two years, what I hear again and again, Bret, is that people want to see us return to the policies of the Trump-Pence administration.”

“But I hear people saying that they would like us to move forward with leadership that will unite our country around our highest ideal, and reflect the kind of respect and civility that the American people demonstrate to each other every day.”

Pence’s thoughts fit into the narrative that the Murdoch press, and the Fox News website, have been spinning for days – that the country has moved on from Trump, and that maybe it’s someone else’s turn.

After dubbing Trump the biggest loser last week, the Journal was at it again on Tuesday, with an editorial that noted: “Nearly everywhere in competitive races last week, Mr Trump’s endorsed candidates went down in pyrotechnics.”

Fox News had been more circumspect, but had notably offered little defense of Trump in its analysis of election night, and the opinion page section of the Fox News website ran two different articles last Wednesday and Thursday proclaiming Florida governor Ron DeSantis to be the future of the Republican party.

Former president Trump listens as Sean Hannity speaks at a campaign rally in Missouri in 2018. On 15 November, Hannity provided supportive coverage of Trump’s presidential bid.
Former president Trump listens as Sean Hannity speaks at a campaign rally in Missouri in 2018. On 15 November, Hannity provided supportive coverage of Trump’s presidential bid. Photograph: Carlos Barría/Reuters

As the hours ticked towards Trump’s 9pm announcement, it seemed Fox News was going to continue with its gentle distancing from Trump.

Jesse Watters, who hosts a daily hour-long show at 7pm, only addressed the topic of Trump’s announcement at 7.45pm. There could be “a collision” coming between Trump and DeSantis, noted Watters, previously a keen Trump defender, before concluding:

“Both of these guys, whether it’s Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis, is going to just have to take it to Biden, because you know, this country can’t afford another four more years.”

Will Cain, filling in the 8pm hour for Carlson, who was apparently on holiday, didn’t pay much heed to Trump either, mentioning the former president a couple of times during longer riffs about the border, crime, and the FBI.

At 9pm, it was back to something like the old relationship. Fox News rarely airs Trump rallies these days, but Hannity handed over the bulk of his show to Trump’s speech, remaining silent as Trump rambled about perceived slights and “blood-soaked” cities.

When Hannity, a long-time supporter of Trump who was previously reprimanded by Fox News after appearing on stage at a Trump rally during his presidency, twice cut into Trump’s speech – a feed of Trump talking and gesticulating quietly continued to play on the right-hand side of the screen – it was to offer supportive sentiments from hand-picked, Trump-allied guests.

In Hannity’s first intercession, after Trump had been speaking for about 35 minutes, he turned to Pete Hegseth, a noted Trump fan boy, for analysis.

“This looks like Trump in as good a form as you’ve ever seen him,” Hegseth duly gushed.

Notably, Hannity himself didn’t weigh in with his own takes on Trump’s speech, or the idea of Trump running again, instead acting merely as a sober moderator as his guests – who included Trumpist congressman Jim Jordan – weighed in with excitement and praise.

Perhaps there was some insight, too, in the sterile chyrons Fox News ran during Trump’s speech, which started blandly with “President Trump to make major announcement” and continued with the prosaic “Donald Trump announces 2024 presidential run”.

At 10pm, Donald Trump was still going, which meant he crossed into the time slot of Laura Ingraham, who, like Hannity, has been an ardent supporter.

Ingraham played a minute or so of Trump’s continuing speech before announcing: “We’re gonna go back to former President Trump when news warrants.” It never did.

Like Hannity, Ingraham, unusually, didn’t have much to say on Trump’s speech. But notably, one of her guests was Ben Domenech, a conservative writer who on Monday declared on Fox News that Trump has “served his purpose”.

Domenech didn’t go quite as far again, but then Ingraham didn’t devote a huge amount of time to Trump’s speech.

But after 10 minutes or so of back and forth about the former president, there came a reminder from Fox News that Trump is no longer the only show in town.

As Ingraham spoke, a Fox News alert banner flashed at the bottom of the screen.

The breaking news? “DeSantis receives warm welcome at RGA [Republican Governors Association] meeting”.

source: theguardian.com