New York (CNN Business)The New York Times’ explosive report on President Trump’s taxes was, for most news outlets, a serious story worth significant coverage. For Fox News, it was an example of how the network works to protect Trump while trying to maintain its veneer as a news outlet.
It is well known that Fox News has a stable of right-wing opinion hosts who propagandize for Trump. That’s no secret. But for years, Fox News executives have insisted that the network also has a strong news division that reports stories in an objective manner.
“We’ve always said that we have strong opinion and strong news,” Fox News President Jay Wallace told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018, summarizing the network’s argument.
But the reality is that the network’s so-called “straight news” division also displays a pattern of presenting news from an undeniably pro-Trump perspective. This is especially evident when Trump faces blowback from explosive news reports, such as The Times’ blockbuster story about Trump’s taxes which indicated among other revelations that he only paid $750 in federal taxes in 2016 and 2017.
Fox News does this in two ways: First, it treats the blockbuster story as just another headline of the day, giving the story less visibility than reputable news organizations do. Second, when the network does cover the news, it frames the report in the most flattering light for the White House. Instead of covering the substance of the report, Fox News often focuses on Trump’s denial, amplifying the President’s attacks on the news organization that broke the story.
The Times’ bombshell about Trump’s taxes led to what has been a prime example of Fox News’ tactics at work. The story on Fox News’ website Sunday night focused on Trump’s denial of the report and it was barely visible on Fox News’ homepage for part of Monday morning. When the story did get bumped up to a more visible spot on the Fox News website later, the angle that Fox News ran with again focused on Trump attacking the report as “fake news.” That story sat for some time beneath a much larger headline —one that took aim at Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son, asking, “WHERE’S HUNTER?”
On-air, Fox News took a similar approach, largely focusing on Trump’s attack of The Times instead of the substance of the newspaper’s report.
“PRESIDENT TRUMP BLASTS NEW YORK TIMES REPORT ON HIS TAXES AS ‘FAKE NEWS,'” the text in the chyron on the lower-thirds of the screen declared in the 10 a.m. ET hour, when Fox News is supposedly in its news programming.
Anchor Sandra Smith played video of Trump’s attack on the story, and then emphasized that Trump was “blasting that New York Times report” and arguing that it was “totally made up.” Really hammering home the White House’s denial, later in the segment Smith played tape of White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany dismissing the article.
In another segment, Smith floated a softball to Trump campaign spokesperson Erin Perrine. “Response on The New York Times’ tax report on the President?” Smith asked. Perrine bashed the story and Smith never followed up or pressed her.
A Fox News spokesperson did not provide comment when asked why the network chooses to focus on Trump’s denial of blockbuster reports instead of the substance of them.
But this type of coverage of unflattering stories about the President has become the defining feature of Fox News’ so-called “straight news” division. Whether it was explosive stories related to Robert Mueller’s investigation, the impeachment inquiry, or any number of other controversies Trump has faced, it hasn’t just been Fox News’ opinion shows that have packaged the story as favorably as possible for the President.
Even when Fox News confirmed key aspects of a story in The Atlantic earlier this month that said Trump had disparaged military veterans, the network still largely led with Trump’s denial.
In that case, Fox News’ banner headline on its website quoted Trump saying, “IT’S A HOAX.” On-air, the chyrons on the lower-thirds of the screen focused on Trump’s denial, and one of the network’s anchors even cast doubt on the report during an interview with Biden surrogate Pete Buttigieg.
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