Right-wing media largely defended President Trump on Wednesday after a rough transcript released by the White House showed that he pushed the president of Ukraine in a phone call to open an investigation into former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
Several personalities and guests on Fox News, the cable network that employs a number of hosts and personalities who have a close relationship with the Trump White House, repeatedly said the call log didn’t show an explicit promise of military aide to Ukraine in exchange for an investigation into Biden and his son, or a “quid pro quo.”
Effectively, the personalities and guests were suggesting the transcript either cleared Trump of wrongdoing, or didn’t provide enough evidence for Democrats to move forward with impeachment.
“To me, bottom line, no smoking gun,” said Fox Business host Stuart Varney.
The Fox News website featured mostly Trump-friendly headlines, while simultaneously criticizing other news organizations for their coverage.
The July 25 phone call Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has touched off a political firestorm, pushing Democrats to announce on Tuesday a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump. The call record released by the White House on Wednesday showed Trump repeatedly pushed for Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son.
The fixation from Fox and other right-wing media on the “quid pro quo” aspect aligned with the talking points sent to Trump allies. Those talking points from the White House said the rough transcript “shows there was no quid pro quo.”
Breitbart, the website which was once headed by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, featured a series of headlines that undermined what the call record released had shown.
Instead of focusing on Trump pushing Ukraine to investigate a political foe, Breitbart’s headline read, “Another Deep State Coup Blows Up!” An accompanying headline quoted Trump saying he “got them by surprise!”
The Gateway Pundit, a right-wing website prone to peddling conspiracy theories, featured a headline that claimed the release of the transcript threw “cold water” on the idea of impeachment. Another headline on the website claimed the whistleblower’s complaint, which brought the issue to light, was based on “bogus accusations.”
It’s not surprising that right-wing media organizations came to Trump’s defense. Throughout his presidency, these outlets have shown a willingness to protect his administration.
More traditional conservative news websites, like National Review and Washington Examiner, featured a mix of commentary, including some which were sharply critical of Trump.
The National Review’s David French, for instance, published a piece in which he said he was “puzzled” that “Trump’s defenders online are claiming any kind of vindication over the contents of this transcript.”
A noticeable outlier in the right-wing media universe was the Drudge Report. The influential website, operated by recluse Matt Drudge, who was at one point extremely supportive of the president, spotlighted commentary critical of Trump.
One piece of commentary linked to was George Conway, the lawyer critical of Trump who is husband to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. Conway predicted Senate Republicans will ultimately turn on Trump. The Drudge Report also featured a link to commentary from Judge Andrew Napolitano which argued Trump had admitted to a crime.
This is not the first time that Drudge, who has a bit of an independent streak, has highlighted news critical of the administration.