Opinion: Trump’s impeachment trial was barely live and Fox News was already working on the coverup

As Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) led opening arguments in the Senate impeachment trial Wednesday, Sean Hannity, pictured, and Fox News muted the proceedings in favor of their own spin on the news.
(Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

Poor President Trump. Even as his impeachment transitions from the House hearings to the Senate trial proper, our, ermm, easily excitable commander-in-chief can’t seem to escape his greatest foe yet: Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), the ice-blooded California congressman who has been the guiding light of the prosecution team.

And, man oh man, does Schiff have the touch when it comes to laying out Trump’s duplicitous Ukraine scheme. So far for the president, there is no avoiding the man who — to crib from my Times opinion teammate Virginia Heffernan — can nail the persuasive sweet spot between ethos, pathos and logos with enviable ease and precision.

Check out this snippet from Schiff’s closing remarks, where he begs Republican senators to adhere to their highest values:

Across the aisle, he even garnered a slap on the back from Former Sensible Republican and current Trump toady Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Indeed, even if (or, most likely, when) Republican senators vote to let Trump off the hook, as they seem determined to do, there may be no escape from the cold, hard facts of insidious guilt. No escape, of course, unless you flip to Fox News.


Because if you happened to be tuned in to the president’s favorite cable news outlet Wednesday night, you would’ve missed Schiff’s closing remarks in their entirety. In fact, by late afternoon, the network mostly relegated the proceedings to a small, silent box in the bottom corner of the screen.

Even with a complicit Republican-controlled Senate led by the legislatively ruthless Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Trump’s greatest asset in his impeachment trial — and his presidency writ large — continues to be the unconditional love of America’s most watched news network.

We’re in the midst of only the third impeachment trial ever — and only its second in the television age! — and one of the titans of TV refused to air it live. Instead, Fox viewers were subjected to Jesse Watters’ low-brow Statler and Waldorf impression, a dumbed-down “Mystery Science Theater 3000” knockoff for the Rush Limbaugh crowd.

Around the time Schiff began his closing remarks, Sean Hannity was on the air, shouting over the congressman in a warped, incoherent monologue. A chyron declared “NO QUID PRO QUO, NO EXTORTION, NO GROUNDS TO IMPEACH: SCHIFF TALKS FOREVER BUT KEY FACTS WILL NEVER CHANGE” (for the record, I, for one, think it’s quite nice that Fox appears to have hired the president as the chyron-writing intern).

Here’s what Fox viewers were treated to in Hannity’s opening monologue, which played over Schiff’s closing remarks: “We got hours and hours and hours, literally, of the compromised, corrupt, congenital liar Adam Schiff. Never ending, nonstop, feigned moral outrage … a lunatic … who has lost his mind…. If you watched him today, he was totally unhinged…. Babbling, repeating over and over and over again, incoherently … a psychotic meltdown for the entire world to see.”

I’m no psychologist, but I play one on the internet, and I’ll go ahead and call that projection.

He continued on, with the worst insult he could conjure: “Worst of all, he’s monotonous, repetitive, boring.”

Well, which is it, Sean? Is Schiff a psychotic lunatic or a boring drone? Here’s an idea: Let the American people watch and decide for themselves.

Throughout the rest of his hour, most of which occurred while Schiff still had the floor, the host trotted out a who’s who of Trump favorites, including new defense lawyer Alan Dershowitz and House pitbull Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), to defend the president and smear the congressman. I know all of this because I watched the show live.

Perhaps most annoyingly, Hannity and his guests couldn’t even engage with the trial on its merits. Instead, they waved it away as nonsense, a ludicrous step to take for a president who keeps racking up “wins” for the so-called Real America.

Journalistically speaking, it’s a ridiculous and obvious dereliction of duty to not air the trial live. But it’s hard to ascribe journalism ethics and values to a station with a lead host who is so closely embroiled with the Trump administration.

So far, McConnell has wavered only ever-so-slightly from his initial plan to acquit the president as quickly as possible. The prospect of future witnesses — chief among them Trump’s former national security advisor, John Bolton — is still technically on the table, should at least four vulnerable (or sensible) Republican senators vote for it along with every Democrat and independent in the chamber. And McConnell’s initial proposal to extend the trial into the wee hours of the morning has been replaced with a more reasonable plan to align the trial with prime-time TV hours — you know, when Americans are actually watching. At least now there is some small hint of fairness in McConnell’s Senate (and even that’s a stretch).

But with the prospect of prime-time audiences watching Schiff plead the case, Fox did what they do best, and covered for the president.

“The Schumer Schiff sham show,” Hannity declared the process, adding, “Every time I say that successfully, it’s a miracle.”

Actually, Sean, when the best you can muster is quadruply alliterative nonsense, it’s a miracle anyone still takes you seriously.