Yesterday, President Trump shocked the world by firing FBI Director James Comey, the man who was leading the investigation into the Trump regime’s ties to Russia. Trump has sparked a constitutional crisis, as many Americans wonder if Trump has fundamentally broken our admittedly imperfect system of checks and balances. Many Americans are waking up this morning with a sense of helplessness as we watch the allegedly democratic institutions of the United States unravel. But that’s not the story that most Americans who voted for Trump saw reflected on TV last night. If you watched Fox News, you learned that everything is fine. But everything isn’t fine. In fact, everything is fucked. And if Trump is still president by year’s end, we’ll have Fox News to thank.
In the six months since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, a lot of digital ink has been spilled about the media habits of the people who voted for Trump. Folks in media want to believe that the internet and young people and Russian robots swung this election—a coalition of stupid millennials and Nazi anime frogs and millions of Trumpbots. And while digital media was certainly part of the mix, and troll armies of assorted nationalities certainly wanted to sow confusion, the single biggest force in the election of Donald Trump was Fox News. And more to the point, the cable network owned by Rupert Murdoch will be the single most important force that will keep Trump in power.
It’s hard for many cordcutters and younger people to understand the presence of Fox News in the lives of Trump voters. Most Americans aren’t sitting on Twitter all day obsessing over Trump’s tweets, dissecting his every word, getting their Trump pure and uncut. They’re watching a couple hours of Fox News before bed, maybe getting news of Trump’s tweet diarrhea streams through the lens of Fox News as each tweet is read like state propaganda on air.
Most analysis of the Trump media phenomenon simply misses the reality of who got Trump elected: white Baby Boomers making over $70,000 per year whose primary news source is Fox News. Somehow many pundits imagined that the election’s big swing for Trump hinged on unemployed coal miners reading Breitbart or soccer moms reading 4chan or flag-waving unicorns reading Sputnik International. But they’re all a fantasy of people who want to believe that internet news is more powerful than it really is.
TV is still king. And when it comes to TV news, Fox is the only choice for Republican voters looking for a “fair and balanced” view of the world. Yes, the spread of disinformation got to Fox News, as rumors and conspiracy theories find their way to air easier than ever. But the main point of delivery—the common denominator for the majority of Trump voters—was Fox News.
Take a look at this Pew Research survey about where American voters got their news during the 2016 election. Fox News was the single most important source for news, beating out Facebook, local TV, and newspapers of any kind by a huge margin. After the election, 40 percent of Trump voters described Fox News as their “main source” of news.
It’s not even close. Fox News was the clear winner. If you voted for Trump—a man, it should be noted, who lost the popular vote by 3 million votes—you probably watched Fox.
And to see why Fox News will help keep him in power, all you need to do is look at last night’s coverage of the Comey firing. Story after story was about how this all made perfect sense. When the news first broke, Fox News even briefly positioned it as Comey resigning rather than Trump firing him.
That lie may have been quickly corrected, but throughout the night Fox News viewers were told repeatedly that “Trump had no choice” and that firing Comey was “inevitable” and that “calling firing of Comey a ‘coup’ is hysterical.”
Bret Baier: When you hear Democrats, and growing number of Democrats saying this sounds and feels Nixonian, what do you say?
Republican Senator Susan Collins: He did not fire the entire FBI. He fired the director of the FBI in any suggestion this is somehow to stop the FBI’s investigation of the attempt by the Russians to influence the elections last fall is really patently absurd. This is one person. It is the director. The investigation is going forward both at the FBI and in the Senate Intelligence Committee in a bipartisan way. So I don’t think there’s any link at all.
Newt Gingrich: You can’t have the nation’s leading law enforcement agency, with its thousands and thousands of agents, with its capacity to get court-ordered wiretaps—with all the things they can do to gather information, you can’t have the top of that behaving capriciously and deciding whether or not he or she will release things. That’s why they serve under the Justice Department, they don’t serve equal to it or above it.
Brit Hume: The idea that to me this is a cover-up seems to be poorly founded, but predictable from the Democrats, and of course the other thing that they’re saying is that this makes manifest the need for... you got it... an independent counsel.
Tucker Carlson: What are the chances of that happening?
Brit Hume: I think they’re pretty remote because at this point it’ll be up to Rod Rosenstein, the new Deputy Attorney General, highly respected by the way by the members of both parties—no reputation for partisanship, has served under both Democratic and Republican administrations—and if the investigation proceeds to a point where it becomes a criminal matter he may then elect, if he chooses to, to recommend the employment of an independent counsel to carry it forward. But I think Tucker we’re a long way from that point and it’s not at all necess... certain we’re ever going to get there.
Former FBI Director James Comey reportedly learned about his firing through TV screens playing in the background during a meeting in Los Angeles. Which seems perfectly fitting. For all the talk of cordcutting and the rise of social media, our world is still dominated by TV, whether we like it or not.
And Trump understands that. Donald Trump is a TV president, absorbing more television than perhaps any other US president in history. And you’ll never guess what his favorite channel is.
But President Trump isn’t happy when the TV box is against him. Politico described the scene as Trump watched negative coverage on TV last night, becoming increasingly irritated after he had made calls to prominent senators who he thought would go to bat for him on the nation’s airwaves.
But the fallout seemed to take the White House by surprise. Trump made a round of calls around 5 p.m., asking for support from senators. White House officials believed it would be a “win-win” because Republicans and Democrats alike have problems with the FBI director, one person briefed on their deliberations said.
Instead, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told him he was making a big mistake — and Trump seemed “taken aback,” according to a person familiar with the call.
By Tuesday evening, the president was watching the coverage of his decision and frustrated no one was on TV defending him, a White House official said. He wanted surrogates out there beating the drum.
Trump mobilized his crew, and by the time Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity were on the air, we saw people like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Huckabee-Sanders on Fox News defending the decision to fire Comey in no uncertain terms.
Tucker Carlson: So, a lot of the analysis concerns the Russia investigation. How will the firing of Comey affect that?
Sarah Huckabee Sanders: I don’t think it affects it at all in any capacity whatsoever, you’ve still got the same people that would be carrying out that, whether it’s through the Department of Justice, that process continues both, I believe, in the House and Senate committees. And I don’t see any change or disruption there. But I think the bigger point on that is, My gosh, Tucker, when are they gonna let that go? It’s been going on for nearly a year. Frankly, it’s kinda getting absurd. There’s nothing there. We’ve heard time that time and time again. We’ve heard that in the testimonies earlier this week. We’ve heard it in the last 11 months. There is no there there. It’s time to move on, and frankly it’s time to focus on the things that Americans care about.
It should be noted that Huckabee-Sanders will be leading today’s White House Press briefing in place of Sean Spicer. Spicer has a prior engagement, though he was quite literally hiding in the bushes last night after the shit hit the fan.
From the Washington Post:
After Spicer spent several minutes hidden in the bushes behind these sets, Janet Montesi, an executive assistant in the press office, emerged and told reporters that Spicer would answer some questions, as long as he was not filmed doing so. Spicer then emerged.
“Just turn the lights off. Turn the lights off,” he ordered. “We’ll take care of this... Can you just turn that light off?”
Spicer got his wish and was soon standing in near darkness between two tall hedges, with more than a dozen reporters closely gathered around him. For 10 minutes, he responded to a flurry of questions, vacillating between light-hearted asides and clear frustration with getting the same questions over and over again.
What happens today in Washington will likely be remembered for generations as either the moment that politicians finally stood up to the president or the day that everything came crumbling down. Again, there’s a certain helplessness for the average American because we realize that there’s very little we can do to shape this process anymore. We don’t live in a democracy.
Make no mistake that this is the only time for action. As Trump consolidates power in every branch of government, there will be nothing to stop him in the future should he decide to kick millions of Americans off health insurance or bomb the fuck out of some random country because he felt like it.
America has been a neat, if deeply flawed, experiment. And I’d like to see its institutions survive the Trump administration. But with Fox News on the air, and a majority of Trump voters believing that he’s doing just fine, I’m not so sure about any of it anymore.
The Washington Post recently added the phrase “democracy dies in darkness” to its front page, which may have been true a century ago. It’s an antiquated idea. Today, democracy dies in a cacophony of lies. And when people from the Trump regime like Kellyanne Conway go on TV to say that there was no active investigation of members of the Trump administration by the FBI—something that’s patently false—we may have hit the point of no return.
I hope I’m wrong.