Experts say the back-scratching relationship between President Trump and Fox News is unlike anything in the history of American media.
Trump just keeps proving them right.
On Sunday he defended two of Fox’s right-wing opinion shows and criticized three of the network’s news anchors. Most notably of all, he used Twitter to send a long message to Fox executives, urging them to “stay true to the people that got you there.”
It was like Trump was saying to his favorite television network, “keep having my back and I’ll have yours.”
During a busy day of tweets he also insulted CNN; complained about late-night shows; and mused about a government investigation of the comedy show “Saturday Night Live.” The sheer volume of tweets — suggesting a St. Patrick’s Day full of TV watching — was a testament to Fox’s influence within the White House.
Most of the media outlets and personalities involved just shrugged off the president’s missives. Fox News and its parent company declined to comment.
By now it’s not news that Trump likes to promote Fox News and disparage its rivals. At times his social media accounts read like giant advertisements for Fox’s right-wing view of the world. But he has clear favorites within the Fox world — friends like Sean Hannity, Pete Hegseth and Saturday night host Jeanine Pirro.
When Pirro questioned Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s patriotism last weekend, Fox condemned the host’s comments — and, according to a source familiar with the matter, privately suspended her.
The suspension, no matter how short-lived, was an unusual step for Fox to take. And Trump evidently noticed that she was absent on Saturday — because he tweeted “bring back @JudgeJeanine Pirro” on Sunday morning.
Trump said Democrats and the media were trying “to SILENCE a majority of our Country.” This was an apparent allusion to a recent campaign by a liberal group, Media Matters, to call out Tucker Carlson and pressure Fox’s advertisers.
“They have all out campaigns against @FoxNews hosts who are doing too well,” the president wrote, sounding like a concerned fan.
“Fox must stay strong and fight back with vigor,” he wrote. “Stop working soooo hard on being politically correct, which will only bring you down, and continue to fight for our Country.”
His messages seemed to be aimed at people like Fox patriarch Rupert Murdoch and Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott. But he did not tag anyone specific in his tweets.
He offered free business advice, claiming that “the losers” — presumably other channels — “all want what you have, don’t give it to them. Be strong & prosper, be weak & die! Stay true to the people that got you there.”
Trump concluded by telling Fox to “keep fighting for Tucker, and fight hard for @JudgeJeanine.”
Perhaps not coincidentally, Carlson and Pirro are two of the president’s biggest boosters on Fox News. Both hosts are also known for their harsh attacks against Democrats.
“Your competitors are jealous - they all want what you’ve got - NUMBER ONE,” Trump wrote. “Don’t hand it to them on a silver platter. They can’t beat you, you can only beat yourselves!”
Nearly half an hour passed between the first tweet to Fox and the last.
Some of his other posts on Sunday seemed to be inspired by segments on Fox. In the afternoon, he said that two of Fox’s weekend news anchors, Arthel Neville and Leland Vittert, and one of the network’s main weekday news anchors, Shepard Smith, belonged on CNN, not Fox.
In Trump-speak, of course, that’s a big insult.
Neville co-anchored the noon Eastern hour on Fox on Sunday alongside longtime co-anchor Eric Shawn. Vittert co-anchored the 1 p.m. hour alongside Laura Ingle. It wasn’t immediately clear what either anchor did to draw the president’s ire.
One of Neville’s segments was about the possibly imminent release of Robert Mueller’s report. Another segment was about North Korea threatening to exit nuclear talks and restart missile testing — just run-of-the-mill news.
One of Vittert’s segments was about the recent closure of a GM plant in Lordstown, Ohio. Trump tweeted about it later in the hour.
In one respect, Trump’s criticism of Fox’s news side anchors reiterated a point that Fox often makes in its own marketing. The network likens itself to a newspaper, with news up front and opinion pieces in the back. Fox’s many critics take issue with this characterization, saying the entire network pushes right-wing narratives. But Trump, in his own way, is distinguishing between the two divisions and saying he prefers the opinion division.
Later in the afternoon, the president retweeted a fan who told him that “when those three” news anchors “show up, I turn @FoxNews OFF!”
And he retweeted a story that said Fox was “censoring” Pirro’s show.
Trump has occasionally criticized Fox in the past, but it rarely lasts long. His support for Fox’s talk shows is well-established and would be very hard to shake.
In the meantime, one of Fox’s correspondents responded to the president’s barb by supporting Neville and Vittert. “They’re both incredible journalists, constantly engaged and inquisitive,” Jeff Paul wrote. “I’m proud to call them colleagues…as I am proud to work with @ShepNewsTeam each week.”