A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
I wanted to know what President Trump was hearing about day one of the televised impeachment hearings. So I decided to mute all my other TVs and just watch Fox News on Wednesday night.
I heard White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham say that “today was a joke.” I heard Donald Trump Jr. say “it’s insanity.” I heard Jeff Sessions ask, “Where’s the beef?”
Here’s how I would sum up everything I heard from Fox’s prime time hosts: Wednesday’s hearing was a bust. It was all just hearsay. It was a “disaster” for the Democrats and a “great day” for the Republicans. Impeachment is “stupid.” Impeachment is “fake.” There’s nothing impeachable here. There’s no reason to hold hearings. This inquiry needs to stop right now.
The message was one-sided and overwhelming. Every host and practically every guest said the Republican tribe is winning and the Democrat tribe is losing. I’m sure the president loved watching every minute of it. That’s one of the reasons why this right-wing rhetoric matters so much — because it is reassuring and emboldening Trump.
I decided to write it all down because of something that CNN’s Oliver Darcy wrote earlier in the day. “Don’t expect viewers, listeners, and readers of right-wing media to walk away from Wednesday’s impeachment hearings with a different opinion of President Trump’s behavior,” Darcy said. “In fact, it’s possible they might be more convinced than ever that Trump did nothing wrong. Why? Because right-wing media has largely — and unsurprisingly — focused on the moments in the hearing favorable to its preferred narrative.”
He was right. Here’s what Fox News viewers heard on Wednesday night…
Tucker: “MEDIA MELTDOWN”
On the OTHER cable news channels, 8 p.m. host Tucker Carlson said, “it was like Christmas and New Year’s and the Super Bowl all put together.” Carlson seemed reluctant to cover Wednesday’s news, calling the hearings “stupid” and the importance of the impeachment inquiry “questionable.”
Grisham called it a “joke” while others made jokes — Christian Whiton said witnesses Bill Taylor and George Kent, both veteran public servants with impressive resumes, “looked like people who sat by themselves at recess.”
It didn’t end there. The witnesses were insulted all evening long. And Grisham said foreign service officials who are resisting Trump’s policies should resign.
Later in the hour, Carlson mocked news outlets for taking this once-in-a-generation impeachment inquiry seriously. “The media went completely bonkers today,” he said, while the on-screen graphic alleged a “MEDIA MELTDOWN.” He agreed with his guest Larry O’Connor, who said America doesn’t have a free press because the press is made up of “political activists.”
Both speakers, by the way, are political activists, and the press IS free.
A few minutes later, Trish Regan on the Fox Business Network ran a similar media-bashing segment. At one point her banner just said “RPT: LIBERAL MEDIA ANTI-TRUMP BIAS,” which is just a string of triggering words selected to keep Regan’s viewers angry and attentive.
But I digress. Back to Fox News. Carlson wrapped his hour by calling the city where he lives, Washington, D.C., “a city in the grip of insanity.” Then he handed off to Sean Hannity…
Hannity: Shut this down!
Hannity dubbed day one “THE WORST SHOW ON EARTH.” He said the Democrats are “a national disgrace.” He said they are guilty of “an abuse of their power.” (This is a classic case of “I know you are but what am I,” flipping the charge against Trump back on his accusers.)
The Democrats are “corrupt idiots” who look “dumb, bad, stupid, and shallow” after Wednesday’s “sham hearing,” he said. House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff? A “congenital liar.” Wednesday’s witnesses? Just “self-important, uncompelling” bureaucrats. The hearing was so bad, Hannity said, that “I’m not so sure” that all the House Democrats will vote for impeachment. “It was that bad a day for them.”
But even though the day was “a disaster for Democrats,” and “the Republicans had a great day all the way around,” Hannity said “this circus, this sham, this charade” should be “shut down immediately” for “the sake of the country.”
As for Hannity’s guests, well, Mark Levin called Schiff “an incompetent left-wing boob” and likened the witnesses to “two homeless guys.” Donald Trump Jr. said “everything was hearsay” from “career government bureaucrats.” Steve Scalise said “a lot” of Democrats are worried about impeachment backfiring. Which brings me to the 10 p.m. hour…
Ed Henry shares hearsay
Laura Ingraham, like her prime time colleagues, criticized Democrats for promoting “hearsay” from witnesses who have never spoken directly with the president.
Ingraham also welcomed Fox’s chief national correspondent Ed Henry, who said he had been working the phones on Capitol Hill. Henry said he spoke to “three senior Republicans” who told him that THEY were talking to Democrats who were “absolutely deflated” by Wednesday’s hearing.
So… in other words… hearsay. Second-hand information.
Then, as if to back up the “deflated” claim, Henry quoted what a Dem aide told the Washington Post: “The onus is on us to wow some people this week.” But that quote came out before Wednesday’s hearing, so it did not prove his point.
These banners summed up Fox’s 10 p.m. hour: “DEMOCRATS’ STAR WITNESSES BURN OUT” and “DEMS’ IMPEACHMENT COLLAPSE.”
Ingraham asserted that impeachment is a “cataclysmic mistake” for the other party — after just one day of televised testimony. One of her guests, Republican congressman Chris Stewart, said “it was really just a huge dud” and “there just wasn’t any surprises or any bombshells,” even though there was, in fact, a big surprise: Taylor’s disclosure about a July 26 phone call with Gordon Sondland.
Later in the day, Trump claimed “I’ve never heard” of that call. Pretty soon we’ll know whether or not that was a lie. But that new disclosure barely came up during Fox’s prime time shows.
Another GOP lawmaker, Mark Meadows, told Ingraham that Wednesday was “a swing and a miss for the Democrats.” And he accused the witnesses of having a “Ukraine first,” not “America first,” sentiment.
At one point in the hour, when Fox’s banner said the “IMPEACHMENT STUNT WILL HAUNT 2020 DEMS,” I looked up at MSNBC and saw a banner that said “REPUBLICANS SCRAMBLE TO DEFEND TRUMP AS NEW EVIDENCE TIES TRUMP MORE DIRECTLY TO UKRAINE PUSH.”
Maybe Republican lawmakers are “scrambling” to defend Trump, but right-wing TV and radio hosts aren’t scrambling at all. They’re sounding very confident. Now, maybe that’s just part of the performance, part of the act — But Fox’s stars on Wednesday night were much more effective than some of the GOP questioners at the hearing. They’re not talking about the evidence of extortion — they’re talking about bitter Dems and brave Republicans and ensuring the audience that the process will hurt the Dems in 2020…
Notes and quotes
— Try to square Fox’s prime time talking points with “Fox News Sunday” moderator Chris Wallace’s midday assessment: “I think that William Taylor was a very impressive witness and was very damaging to the president…” (The Hill)
— This Lou Dobbs segment is sparking outrage on social media: “The husband-and-wife Trump defense team of Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing” pushed “an outlandish conspiracy theory about Ukraine, baselessly alleging that left-wing billionaire George Soros ‘controls a large part of the foreign service part of the State Department and the activities of FBI agents overseas…'” (Mediaite)
— “The Republican playbook here is a time-honored one: delay, deny, obfuscate, and, if that fails, beg Americans to turn off the TV,” Susan Glasser writes… (New Yorker)
Darcy’s bottom line…
Oliver Darcy writes: All day long, pro-Trump websites hyped clips of GOP stars like Jim Jordan and Devin Nunes “eviscerating” or “destroying” their opponents. THOSE were the moments that generated focus — not the instances when Taylor or Kent shed new light on the Ukraine scandal. And after the hearings wrapped, Trump’s defenders in media dismissed the hearings as “boring” and a bust for the Democrats. If you were watching the hearing through the lens of the right-wing media, you probably didn’t see a case against the president being built. You probably walked away thinking the Democrats’ case collapsed…