If you turned on Fox News on Thursday night to catch the ongoing Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump — only the third time in American history a president has faced such a proceeding — you were sorely disappointed.
Fox wasn’t showing the trial — as CNN and MSNBC were. Instead, Fox ran its usual primetime lineup of pro-Trump voices with the trial confined to a small corner of the screen, without sound. Sean Hannity, the network’s flagship host, called the entire impeachment trial a “snoozefest.” The previous night, when Fox again ran its primetime lineup rather than live coverage of the impeachment trial, Hannity noted: “If I were a terrible host. I would force you to endure watching the regurgitation, the repetition … the insanity that has gone on all day.”
Unless you have spent the last few years on another planet, that programming decision won’t surprise you. Fox has relentlessly promoted and defended Trump — and he has responded in kind by showering its hosts with coveted interviews.
But what’s terrifying about how Fox News is choosing to cover (or not cover) the impeachment trial is revealed in new polling from the Pew Research Center delving into trust (or lack thereof) in the media.
Asked to name media companies in which they have trust, 65% of Republicans named Fox News. One in 3 named ABC. Not a single other news source was trusted by even 33% of self-identified Republicans in the Pew poll.
That’s in stark contrast to both Democrats and the population at large. More than 1 in 3 Democrats named 13 media sources they trust. For the general public, that number was 8: ABC (48% trusted), CNN (47%), NBC (47%), CBS (45%), Fox News (43%), PBS (42%), BBC (35%), The New York Times (35%) and MSNBC (34%). (Note: The pollsters went through 30 media sources with the respondents.)
Here’s the full chart:
Now, consider what those numbers mean.
A majority of Republicans (and Republican-leaning independents) don’t trust ANY media company even close to as much as they trust Fox News. The next three most-trusted media sourced among Republicans? CBS, NBC and, wait for it, the Sean Hannity radio show — all of which are trusted by 3 in 10 people. Eighteen of the 30 media courses that Pew asked about were trusted by less than 1 in 5 Republicans and Republican-leaners.
Combine those numbers with Fox News’s overwhelming viewership numbers among Republicans (60% get their election news from Fox; no other outlet gets above 30%), and the marked difference between its content and that of all the other mainstream media outlets, and you see a major reason for why we are where we are, politically speaking.
If you primarily trust one news outlet and that news outlet is telling a very different — and factually challenged — version of current events, a massive disconnect is created. It’s not too much to say that Fox News viewers are occupying a different (and less fact-based) reality than the people who seek out other sources for their news.
And it is into that disconnect, that information void, that Trump has leaped — and now resides. What Trump has done and is doing is use his own massive social media following to amplify the messages on national news offered by Fox News. Trump regularly tweets and retweets Fox News segments to his 71+ million Twitter followers. He often directly quotes from Fox personalities. He works to create a totally closed information ecosystem for his supporters — and largely succeeds.
That so many Republicans believe a) Fox is the one network that can be trusted and b) trust in Trump despite his demonstrated lack of concern for telling the truth allows both the network and Trump to succeed. But their success comes at a price. A big one. And one that we will continue to pay for years and years to come.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correctly refer to the Pew poll’s data on Republican news consumption.