Tuesday will stand as a defining moment for the Trump presidency for many people.
And for good reason: Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal lawyer, pleaded guilty to multiple crimes, some at the behest of his employer. And Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, became a convicted felon.
But on Fox News, it’s business as usual today. Perhaps not surprising to anyone, it’s lulling its viewers into an alternative reality, reflecting a far different narrative from the one unfolding in the rest of the world.
In the hours after the two former Trump associates had their day of reckoning in court, Fox News' whiplash coverage has run the gamut from “everything's on fire!” to “everything's fine” and back again. And in the process it has created a comforting story for its audience to believe in.
CNN and MSNBC dedicated the bulk of their Wednesday morning coverage to exploring the possibility of impeachment, questioning the legitimacy of the presidency and emphasizing protection of Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
And while Fox News’ scope wasn’t quite as broad, it didn’t shy away from the latest headlines either.
The conservative network hammered Cohen’s guilty plea, during which he admitted to illegally paying off two women who had threatened to expose sexual affairs with Trump, “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office” and had done so “for the principal purpose of influencing the election” for president in 2016.
“Let’s pretend those payments are real,” former U.S. representative and political commentator Jason Chaffetz said on “America’s Newsroom” in an attempt to paint Cohen as a turncoat and a liar.
(Unfortunately for Chaffetz, Trump admitted to the payments to “Fox & Friends” co-host Ainsley Earhardt just hours later. Oops.)
Manafort, by contrast, was treated much more kindly by Fox News’ talking heads, as if he were just a good guy who got caught up in some major financial crimes.
The strategy is simple: If you act like the president isn’t doing anything wrong, then he must not be.
While other networks zeroed in on impeachment, MSNBC and CNN were circumspect about that possibility and spoke to several Democrats who were far more concerned with protecting Mueller’s investigation.
Meanwhile, Fox News planted the idea that Democrats are actually gunning for impeachment to steal away the presidency. The network sees it as a Hail Mary move by Democrats, while Democrats are urging for restraint and waiting for the full results of Mueller’s investigation.
A cool and collected Fox News is not what anyone expects in the days after a tumultuous news cycle for the president. But when night falls, all bets are off.
Look no further than Sean Hannity, a close confidant to Trump and a fellow former client of Cohen, to see the unchecked fury lurking beneath the network’s coverage.
Hannity opened his show on Tuesday night with a 13-minute diatribe bemoaning the state of America and declaring the notion of “equal justice under the law” dead — all because Cohen and Manafort were held accountable by the legal system.
Right on cue, he quickly pivoted to Hillary Clinton’s emails because, sure, and accused the former secretary of State of destroying classified information and violating the espionage act. (An FBI investigation conducted in 2016 found that there was no evidence that warranted prosecution.)
Hannity also speculated that prosecutors forced Cohen to change his story, which seems unlikely given that the president has repeatedly corroborated Cohen’s claims.
This is what makes Fox News so reliable for its faithful audience. Let’s call it the jalapeño popper of news sources. It gives its viewers the bland comfort of fried food in the form of a morning talk show, delivering a facsimile of nutrition — and facts — while in reality laying the groundwork for catastrophic heart failure.