Donald Trump’s longtime close relationship with Fox News, like so many other unions in the time of lockdown, is beginning to buckle under pressure, with an increasingly sensitive president furious at the conservative media channel.
Trump has attacked the conservative channel in recent days, accusing the usually uncritical network of being “fed Democratic talking points”, with some observers suggesting his ire may have been caused in part by a string of anti-Trump ads due to run on Fox News this week.
The breakdown between president and news channel was laid bare in a string of tweets from Trump on Sunday evening. Trump has occasionally criticized Fox News in recent months, but this attack went further, as Trump declared he wants “an alternative now”.
“[Fox News] just doesn’t get what’s happening! They are being fed Democrat talking points, and they play them without hesitation or research,” he tweeted.
“They forgot that Fake News @CNN & MSDNC [a term Trump has used for MSNBC] wouldn’t let @FoxNews participate, even a little bit, in the poor ratings Democrat Debates.”
Trump president continued his criticism by attacking prominent Fox News personalities including the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, before concluding: “The people who are watching @FoxNews, in record numbers (thank you President Trump), are angry. They want an alternative now. So do I!”
Trump did not give a specific reason for his upset, but it could be linked to a critical advert a group of anti-Trump Republicans are running on Fox News this week. Republicans for the Rule of Law, a group opposed to the president, paid for an ad spot during Fox & Friends – one of Trump’s favorite shows – which highlights his response to the coronavirus.
“50,000 people have died,” reads capitalized text at the start of the advert.
“This is our president.”
The advert then cuts to Trump musing about the potential ability of “very powerful light” in curing coronavirus. The advert ends with the words “Unfit, unwell, unacceptable” appearing on screen.
Despite Trump’s objections and insults, Fox News has remained largely supportive of his administration and performance during the coronavirus outbreak.
After Trump suggested the possibility of injecting coronavirus patients with disinfectant, Fox News’ website billed the ensuing criticism as a matter of “twisted words”. Hosts Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity have praised Trump’s performance, with the latter suggesting: “New York would be dead without Donald Trump’s help.”
The Trump-Fox fracture comes as the profile of One America News Network (OANN), a news outlet which has repeatedly pushed conspiracy theories and is regarded as even more rightwing than Fox News, continues to rise. In early April the then White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, personally invited an OANN reporter to a coronavirus briefing. The same reporter has been called on repeatedly by Trump to ask questions – frequently questions that tee Trump up to praise his own performance – at the briefings.
On Monday it was reported that Fox News had also cut ties with Diamond and Silk, two outspoken Trump supporters who have peddled misinformation about the coronavirus. The booting of the influential pair, whose loyalty has won repeated praise from Trump, is unlikely to have pleased the president.
If the Trump-Fox News rift proves to be permanent, it could have a substantial impact on Trump’s public statements, given he has repeatedly been guided by Fox News on his reactions to crises and policies. As recently as mid-April, Trump tweeted messages of support for anti-stay-at-home protesters just two minutes after Fox News ran a favorable segment on the protests.