Day 774: Trump ranks Fox News media members’ loyalty, thinks he’s the ‘& Friends’ on Fox & Friends

Donald Trump’s proclivity for watching TV for hours before, during and after work is well known. The symbiotic relationship between Fox News and Trump is readily apparent too. Trump says flattering things about Fox — for instance, Monday he quoted or cited the network four times on Twitter alone — and Fox in turn provides friendly media coverage.

A disastrous international meeting for Trump? Fox spins it as shrewdness and a win.

A rambling Trump speech that has fundamental misunderstandings policy? Fox spins it as Trump having an outsider mentality and seeing the world differently.

Yet Barack Obama wore a tan suit to a press conference, took his jacket off in the Oval Office and put mustard on a hamburger and Fox spun each as a national scandal.

The closeness of the relationship between Trump and Fox has never been as delved as deeply as it was by The New Yorker in a piece published Monday.

For instance, it’s been obvious that Trump watches and live tweets Fox & Friends many mornings by comparing the substance and timestamp of each. However, he also ranks the reporters for loyalty and views himself as one of the “friends” of Fox & Friends.

Axios recently reported that sixty per cent of Trump’s day is spent in unstructured “executive time,” much of it filled by television. Charlie Black, a longtime Republican lobbyist in Washington, whose former firm, Black, Manafort & Stone, advised Trump in the eighties and nineties, told me, “Trump gets up and watches ‘Fox & Friends’ and thinks these are his friends. He thinks anything on Fox is friendly. But the problem is he gets unvetted ideas.” Trump has told confidants that he has ranked the loyalty of many reporters, on a scale of 1 to 10. Bret Baier, Fox News’ chief political anchor, is a 6; Hannity a solid 10. Steve Doocy, the co-host of “Fox & Friends,” is so adoring that Trump gives him a 12.

Fox News isn’t unbiased news if their primary audience member — who they have a vested interested in pleasing — is looking for fawning loyalty. In fact, they actively protect him and may have helped swing the 2016 election in his favor by killing the Stormy Daniels payoff story.

When Shine assumed command at Fox, the 2016 campaign was nearing its end, and Trump and Clinton were all but tied. That fall, a FoxNews.com reporter had a story that put the network’s journalistic integrity to the test. Diana Falzone, who often covered the entertainment industry, had obtained proof that Trump had engaged in a sexual relationship in 2006 with a pornographic film actress calling herself Stormy Daniels. Falzone had worked on the story since March, and by October she had confirmed it with Daniels through her manager at the time, Gina Rodriguez, and with Daniels’s former husband, Mike Moz, who described multiple calls from Trump. Falzone had also amassed e-mails between Daniels’s attorney and Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, detailing a proposed cash settlement, accompanied by a nondisclosure agreement. Falzone had even seen the contract.

But Falzone’s story didn’t run — it kept being passed off from one editor to the next. After getting one noncommittal answer after another from her editors, Falzone at last heard from LaCorte, who was then the head of FoxNews.com. Falzone told colleagues that LaCorte said to her, “Good reporting, kiddo. But Rupert wants Donald Trump to win. So just let it go.” LaCorte denies telling Falzone this, but one of Falzone’s colleagues confirms having heard her account at the time.

Despite the discouragement, Falzone kept investigating, and discovered that the National Enquirer, in partnership with Trump, had made a “catch and kill” deal with Daniels — buying the exclusive rights to her story in order to bury it. Falzone pitched this story to Fox, too, but it went nowhere. News of Trump’s payoffs to silence Daniels, and Cohen’s criminal attempts to conceal them as legal fees, remained unknown to the public until the Wall Street Journal broke the story, a year after Trump became President.

What does Fox get in return?

Plenty.

Telecommunications is a highly regulated industry, and under Trump the government has consistently furthered Murdoch’s business interests, to the detriment of his rivals. Hundt, the former F.C.C. chairman, told me that “there have been three moves that have taken place in the regulatory and antitrust world” involving telecommunications “that are extremely unusual, and the only way to explain them is that they’re pro-Fox, pro-Fox, and pro-Fox.”

The Justice Department, meanwhile, went to court in an effort to stop A. T. & T.’s acquisition of Time Warner, which owns CNN.

Trump also claimed that he was “not going to get involved,” and the Justice Department has repeatedly assured the public that he hasn’t done so.

However, in the late summer of 2017, a few months before the Justice Department filed suit, Trump ordered Gary Cohn, then the director of the National Economic Council, to pressure the Justice Department to intervene. According to a well-informed source, Trump called Cohn into the Oval Office along with John Kelly, who had just become the chief of staff, and said in exasperation to Kelly, “I’ve been telling Cohn to get this lawsuit filed and nothing’s happened! I’ve mentioned it fifty times. And nothing’s happened. I want to make sure it’s filed. I want that deal blocked!”

Cohn knew it was highly improper for Trump to get involved with DOJ affairs so he did nothing. But that doesn’t mean Trump can’t wield influence in plenty of other ways.

The messages and actions from Trump and Fox over the past two-plus years have been crystal clear: you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.

774 days in, 688 to go

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