On a pivotal news day, with the redacted version of Robert Mueller’s report now publicly available, President Trump wants his base to be watching his pre-approved channels.
On Thursday morning Trump plugged both Fox News and OANN, a much smaller cable channel that positions itself to the right of Fox. He tweeted that people should watch Attorney General Bill Barr’s press conference on those two channels, even though all the major networks carried it live.
With the Mueller report full of troubling information about the president’s conduct, it seems that Trump wants his followers to hear the most pro-Trump version of events.
He won’t like everything he hears on Fox on Thursday. The channel’s Mueller report coverage is being led by news anchors like Bill Hemmer, Shannon Bream, Bret Baier, and Sandra Smith — not by Trump boosters like Sean Hannity.
Numerous media critics, however, have observed that Fox’s conservative bent permeates the newscasts as well as the talk shows.
In a recent speech, journalism professor and media critic Jay Rosen said that most of Trump’s supporters are in an “information loop” of their own.
“For this group, which mistrusts the mainstream press on principle, and as a matter of political identity, Trump has become the major source of information about Trump, along with Fox News, which has slowly been merging with the Trump government,” he said.
Hannity, for instance, issued a lengthy prebuttal to the Mueller report on Wednesday night. He defended the president against claims about obstruction of justice and said “the real investigation begins” now — promoting a widely held right-wing belief that the basis of the FBI probe into the Trump campaign was crooked.
“Investigate the investigators” is a frequent theme on “Fox & Friends” and other opinion shows on Fox. The president, in turn, promotes Fox’s segments about this, and repeats the talking points he hears from the channel.
On Thursday morning, in the run-up to the Mueller report’s release, Trump retweeted six posts in a row from Judicial Watch, a conservative activist group whose president, Tom Fitton, is a regular on Fox’s opinion shows.
Then Trump tweeted, “Attorney General William Barr’s Press Conference today at 9:30 AM ET. Watch on @FoxNews @OANN.”
For any other president, this would be awfully unusual. But for Trump, it is a continuation of a strategy to prop up his favorite news sources and denigrate all others.
Trump has also been critical of Fox lately, tweeting out complaints about some of the network’s news anchors and bemoaning a recent Bernie Sanders town hall.
But he also reliably tweets out positive quotes and videos from the network and its sister channel. Last week he posted a graphic from a Lou Dobbs segment on Fox Business Network that claimed a new poll had him at a 55% approval rating with the public.
The poll actually showed a 43% approval rating, in line with other polling. Dobbs issued a correction, but Trump left the incorrect information up on his Twitter page.
In the past month or so, Trump has also tweeted about OANN four times – after going two years without tagging the channel once. It may be that the president thinks he can play Fox and OANN off each other.
OANN, short for One America News Network, is an upstart cable channel with newscasts and right-wing talk shows. It launched in 2013. It is still relatively obscure, partly because it does not have full cable and satellite distribution.
Verizon and AT&T-owned platforms carry OANN, for example, but Comcast and Charter do not.
OANN does not subscribe to Nielsen ratings, which is usually a sign that a channel’s audience is quite small.
So the presidential plugs are significant for the channel.
“Our young people at One America News truly appreciate our President noticing and acknowledging their credible and honest reporting,” OANN CEO Robert Herring told Trump in a tweet on Wednesday.
As for the president’s recommendations about what to watch — they run counter to what media literacy experts advise.
“Advice for consumers of news of the Mueller report today: Turn to a range of reputable sources. Don’t jump to hasty conclusions. Try to separate fact from opinion,” News Literacy Project president Alan Miller tweeted Thursday morning.
Miller added: “Follow the story over time. Be wary of emotional appeals and misinformation. Share responsibly.”