Fox News Functionally Subsidizing White House Communications

(Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto/Sipa via AP Images)

Sean Hannity during the Conservative Political Action Conference on February 23, 2017, in National Harbor, Maryland

Sean Hannity, host of an eponymous Fox News prime-time show, is said to be one of President Donald Trump’s closest advisers. In fact, he’s known around the White House as “the ‘shadow’ chief of staff,” according to Washington Post reporters Robert Costa, Sarah Ellison, and Josh Dawsey. He’s also a client of Trump’s tarnished personal attorney, Michael D. Cohen, now subject of an investigation by the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York.

After Fox was caught by surprise by that fact, which was revealed in a Manhattan court room, the network’s executives issued a statement saying that Hannity “continues to have our full support”— despite the fact that Cohen had been a guest on Hannity’s show with no full disclosure offered of their attorney-client relationship.

Every night, Hannity reaches an average audience of 3.2 million viewers, most of them Trump supporters. But his advertisers are fleeing, according Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman:

“The pro-Trump thing isn’t working. We can’t monetize DACA and the wall and that right-wing shit,” one [Fox News] staffer said. “Despite all the hype on Hannity, they can’t sell it,” another insider told me.

The same phenomenon is afflicting Laura Ingraham’s pro-Trump show, according to Sherman, especially after she took to Twitter to attack David Hogg, one of the student survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. (She later apologized—sort of.)

So it should come as no surprise that Fox News would create a story out of whole cloth after most of the players on the Super Bowl–winning Philadelphia Eagles declined to celebrate their victory with Trump at the White House. Consequently, the president canceled the gathering, replacing it last-minute with a brief “Celebrate America” media event.

At issue is Trump’s repeated denunciations of the NFL players, nearly all of them African American, who regularly protest police killings of unarmed black people by kneeling on one knee during the playing of the national anthem before each game. Beyond that, there’s the Trump administration’s routine stirring of the president’s largely white base by instituting policies designed to further marginalize black Americans, such as the Justice Department’s abandonment of its special oversight of police departments with records of violating civil rights.

Now, of all of the NFL teams whose players have continued the anthem protest begun in 2016 by Colin Kaepernick, then-quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, the Eagles are not among them. But that didn’t stop Trump from asserting that they were, and then using that falsehood to pivot from his failed football photo-op to a narrative, advanced by an official White House statement, that described the Eagles players as being anti-military. From The Atlantic:

“The Philadelphia Eagles are unable to come to the White House with their full team to be celebrated tomorrow,” Trump’s statement read. “They disagree with their President because he insists that they proudly stand for the National Anthem, hand on heart, in honor of the great men and women of our military and the people of our country.”

As Amanda Marcotte tweeted, “It proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that ‘kneeling’ is just code for ‘uppity.’”

Cue up the pro-Trump Fox News lie machine, which ran a story about the controversy featuring photos of kneeling Eagles players. What Fox didn’t tell its viewers was that those were photos of players praying before the game, and before the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Although Fox has since apologized for its, ahem, reporting on the canceled Eagles invitation, smart communications people know how this works. In a media world in which Trump supporters have come to believe that all mainstream news sources make up their stories—a narrative enforced by the president’s frequent attacks on the press—those photos of Eagles players kneeling are now fodder for social-media conspiracy theories.

Hannity, in particular, seems to be a fan of social-media conspiracy theories, be they about the so-called Deep State that ostensibly has it in for Trump, or the unsolved murder of a staff member of the Democratic National Committee. If, in some fetid corner of the internet, some alt-right acolyte decides to make one up about the Eagles, you may just see Hannity promote it. Yet it’s precisely these kinds of antics that are losing him advertisers.

Presumably there’s something in it for Rupert Murdoch, chairman of Fox News’s parent company, to take this kind of hit for acting as a mouthpiece for and defender of the most corrupt presidential administration in modern memory. And it amounts to an incalculably valuable sort of in-kind contribution to the Trump cause.

Yet we accept it. It’s just the way things are, I guess.

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