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Friday, August 18, 2017

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

President Donald Trump loves rallies, but he can’t hold a rally every day. Sometimes he has to turn to Fox & Friends.

Amid a series of moves closing off access to the administration for journalists — including recent major changes to the frequency and format of official press briefings —  the president and first lady Melania Trump are taping an exclusive interview today with Fox News’ Ainsley Earhardt, his first televised, in-person interview in six weeks. (The interview is set to air Friday.) This move makes perfect sense for Trump, who is mired in countless major scandals and can expect to avoid being grilled about any of them on Fox & Friends, known more for its family-barbecue brand of casual, coded racism and xenophobia than for actual journalism.

The interview also speaks to a larger trend in the president’s approach to the press, as he increasingly elevates and prioritizes loyal conservative sycophants over actual news outlets. After tomorrow’s Fox & Friends interview, Trump will have given as many interviews to Fox & Friends (three) during his presidency as he has to ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN combined.

Since his inauguration, Trump has given 10 televised interviews in total to Fox News (and one to Fox Business), one each to CBS, ABC, NBC, MSNBC, and the Christian Broadcasting Network, and none to CNN.

Trump’s decision to grant another sit-down interview to his friends at Fox & Friends comes 40 days after his last one-on-one interview with Fox’s Jeanine Pirro, who also asked him predictable softball questions. It is an ideal move for a president who wants to appear as if he’s granting media access without being accessible to any members of the media who might actually ask him a critical question. (The last time he allowed that to happen, he stepped on a James Comey-shaped rake courtesy of NBC’s Lester Holt.)

Trump’s retreat to his friends at Fox is happening in the midst of his administration’s unprecedented war on the press at large. On the same day the president and first lady are sitting down with Earhardt, elsewhere in the White House, deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders conducted yet another bizarre and pointless press briefing that barred video recordings. The frequency of the White House press briefings and gaggles — recorded or otherwise — has been sharply declining in recent months. The Washington Post’s Callum Borchers calculated that the total White House press briefing time for June will shrink to about a third of what it was in March.

Trump also lags far behind his predecessors in holding solo presidential press conferences. So far, Trump has held just one press conference, in which he called CNN’s Jim Acosta “fake news”; at this point in previous administrations, President Barack Obama had held six, President George W. Bush had held three, and President Bill Clinton had held seven solo press conferences.

Fox News (and Fox & Friends, in particular) is predictably the runaway favorite when Trump is compelled to branch out from public interaction via Twitter and rallies. As Politico’s Joanna Weiss wrote last month:

Trump’s cozy relationship with “Fox & Friends” has become one of the great curiosities of his unusual presidency. A well-known cable TV devotee, Trump has found inspiration for his Twitter timeline in various programs—but none so much as Fox News Channel’s 6-9 a.m. talk show.

[…]

It’s not hard to understand the show’s appeal. While the rest of the media frets and wails over Trump’s policies and sounds the alarm over his tweets, “Fox & Friends” remains unrelentingly positive. It’s pitched to the frequency of the Trump base, but it also feels intentionally designed for Trump himself—a three-hour, high-definition ego fix. For a president who no longer regularly receives adulation from screaming crowds at mega rallies, “Fox & Friends” offers daily affirmation that he is successful and adored, that his America is winning after all.

On Twitter, his preferred mode of communication with the public, the president has repeatedly lavished Fox & Friends with praise since taking office. Trump routinely appeared on the show throughout his campaign, often calling in just to talk or complain about whatever was bothering him, including on Election Day. For years beforehand, he even had a weekly call-in segment on the show to share this thoughts about the news of the day.

The warm and familiar embrace of Fox & Friends is where Trump turns for unconditional support in furthering an alternate reality where his presidency is historically successful and his critics are merely unfair or needlessly mean. Perhaps that’s why Ivanka Trump is also now frequenting the show — her own one-on-one interview with Earhardt was pushed back to accommodate her father’s, but it will air on Monday.

Rob Savillo contributed original research to this post.