Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.
President Donald Trump received at least $413 million in todayâs dollars from his fatherâs businesses through a series of massive and at times fraudulent tax-dodging inheritance schemes — in sharp contrast to the image he has painted of himself as a self-made billionaire. Thatâs the takeaway fromÂ The New York Timesâ devastatingÂ 18-monthÂ investigation, based on a trove of more than 100,000 pages of documents related to the Trump familyâs real estate empire, that was published online yesterday andÂ splashed across eight pagesÂ of todayâs paper.
Unless, of course, you work at Fox News, the right-wing network that spins an alternate reality for Trumpâs core supporters.
Several commentators at the Trump-friendly network have explained away theÂ Timesâ damning reporting, arguing that the story was a hatchet job from a biased outlet that shows no wrongdoing and in fact proves the president both savvy and virtuous. And those were the commentators who actually bothered to tell their viewers the story existed. Most Fox programs between 3 p.m. yesterday and 9 a.m. this morning — including its entire prime-time lineup — completely ignored the report. Only Shep Smith, whose reporting frequently contradicts the commentary of others at his network,Â discussedÂ what he termed an “exhaustiveâ story inÂ detailÂ without dismissing it during that period.
Neil Cavuto, who hosts the show immediately following Smithâs, used his platform to explain why theÂ TimesÂ report actually wasnât a big deal — merely evidence of the presidentâs financial and public relations acumen. TheÂ Your WorldÂ host downplayed the report as merely describing âa little bit of creative accounting,â andÂ concluded, âI donât know if thereâs a there there, outside of the fact that the president benefited from having a rich father and a good marketing skill.â He laterÂ addedÂ that the Trumpsâ tax schemes were not âdeemed ultimately illegalâ by the Internal Revenue Service, concluding that the Trumps âwere just pretty clever and outdodgedâ the IRS.
Beyond arguing that Trump had done nothing wrong, CavutoÂ warnedÂ his audience that the story could telegraph that special counsel Robert Muellerâs ongoing probe could end up targeting the presidentâs âbusiness dealings running a privately held company,â which heÂ arguedÂ would mean that the investigation had âveer[ed] wildly off course.â
At no point did Cavuto, whoÂ overseesÂ the networkâs coverage of business news, delve into either theÂ details of the tax schemesÂ revealed in theÂ TimesÂ articleÂ or theÂ sheer breadth of the newspaperâs reporting.
For the rest of the day, the network all but ignored the story. It didnât come up on the afternoon panel showÂ The Five.Â Special Report, Foxâs flagship evening news broadcast, devotedÂ all of 30 secondsÂ to it. Martha MacCallum, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham did not mention the story at all on their programs. If your only source of news is Foxâs prime-time lineup, you do not know that the reportÂ exists. The story garnered news briefs onÂ Shannon Breamâs 11 p.m. programÂ and onÂ Fox & Friends FirstÂ before dawn the next morning.
By the timeÂ Fox & FriendsÂ rolled around Wednesday morning, the presidentâs favorite morning show hosts had settled on a response. They were quick to dismiss theÂ TimesÂ article as a nothingburger that cruelly targeted the presidentâs father.
âDo you want to know personal risk? This is personal risk. Fifty years of his businesses is now in the front page ofÂ The New York Times,â Brian KilmeadeÂ saidÂ during the programâs first hour, holding up a copy of the paper. For Kilmeade, the article demonstrated not that Trump had engaged in decades of shady behavior, but that âthere’s no financial benefit for Donald Trump running for president.â Steve Doocy replied by mocking theÂ TimesÂ for âessentiallyâ calling the Trumps âa crime family,â while Ainsley Earhardt chimed in to criticize the paper for âbashing his dad who’s been dead for a very long time.â
Two hours later, theÂ Fox & FriendsÂ hostsÂ briefly returned to the storyÂ in order to stoke their audienceâs grievances about the media. Kilmeade said the story is in line with what he termed efforts by journalists to ârun the president downâ on his ties to Russia and his racist comments, concluding, âThey’re doing everything they can to try to pry Donald Trump loose from his voters.â âBut you know what?âÂ Doocy responded. âTheyâve tried that from day one. And here we are, close to coming up close to two years, … heâs still there.â
Foxâs effort to hide the rampant criminality exposed by theÂ TimesÂ demonstrates that the right-wing media bubble remains intact, with millions of voters learning about politics through loyal pro-Trump propagandists who are devoted to delegitimizing or ignoring any information that undermines his presidency.
Header image by Melissa Joskow / Media Matters