Trump wrote on social media Thursday evening that he had been indicted over his mishandling of classified documents. The New York Times later reported that Trump “was charged with a total of seven counts, including willfully retaining national defense secrets in violation of the Espionage Act, making false statements and an obstruction of justice conspiracy, according to people familiar with the matter.”
Trump had taken government documents with him when he left office and refused to return them, leading to an August search of his Mar-a-Lago resort in which the FBI uncovered a trove of documents bearing classification markings, some at the “top secret” level. Special counsel Jack Smith has been investigating the former president’s conduct for months.
Trump is the first former president ever to face federal criminal charges and is expected to surrender in Miami, Florida, on Tuesday. The charges were not a surprise — even Trump’s own former attorney general Bill Barr hadrepeatedlyacknowledged that the former president’s own conduct put him in serious legal jeopardy.
But on Fox, host Jesse Watters announced the news by saying that “the president, former, calls it the boxes hoax” and suggesting that the indictment was an attempt to distract attention from the House GOP’s investigations of President Joe Biden.
The situation rapidly devolved from there. Over the following hours, Fox’s hosts and the menagerie of Trump cronies and sycophants the network put on the air unleashed unhinged demagoguery.
Trump lawyer Alina Habba called it evidence that we live in a “sick world” with “a two-tier system of justice,” citing the lack of legal punishment for Biden, his son Hunter, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton.
Former Trump aide Stephen Miller claimed that “history will record today as the day that we ceased to be a democratic republic and we became a people ruled by an unelected government bureaucracy.”
Former Trump acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker called it “a really sad day for our country” and “the stuff of banana republics.”
For right-wing activist Ned Ryun, it was “late-stage republic behavior. When you use the legal system as a weapon against political opponents, you’ve abandoned the rule of law.”
“What’s going on here is a disgusting disgrace. It is war on Trump, it is war on the Republican Party, and it is a war on the republic,” Fox host Mark Levin screamed. “You have crossed the Rubicon twice, which has never been done, and we will never forgive you — never, ever, and that’s the bottom line,” he added.
“It is a dark day in America,” concluded longtime Trump adviser and Fox host Sean Hannity. “There is no equal justice. There is no equal application of our laws.” He added, “Our system of justice has now been weaponized beyond belief and this country is in serious trouble."
Fox’s furious denunciations may have taken the issue off the table for Trump’s would-be presidential rivals. When Fox’s Harris Faulkner brought on Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), who is theoretically running for president against Trump, to discuss the indictment, she asked him, “The bottom line is, you’re a Republican, this was a Republican president, and look at what has happened. Your reaction?” Scott took the hint and issued a rambling response that avoided directly criticizing Trump.
Fox’s over-the-top response is familiar. While some have suggested that the network and its Murdoch owners have turned on the former president, Fox always rises to Trump’s defense at his moments of legal peril.
The network’s stars were similarly furious in March, when Trump was indicted on 34 charges of falsifying business records in a New York state court in connection with the $130,000 hush money payment made to an adult film actress in the closing days of the 2016 presidential campaign. They urged viewers to treat the charges as an attack on the U.S. Constitution, American democracy, the rule of law, and themselves, while denouncing the prosecutor and his purported “witch hunt.”
Likewise, when news first broke of the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago, the Trumpists at Fox denounced it as “the worst attack on this republic in modern history” and part of a “preemptive coup” to prevent Trump’s reelection, among other incendiary claims, with hosts urging viewers to believe that “the real target of this investigation is you.”
The throughline is that any legal attack on Trump is inherently corrupt and a signal that America has been lost — and that, if Trump is brought down, Fox’s viewers may be next.
Trump needs the powerful propaganda apparatus of Fox to keep his supporters in line and his primary opponents at bay, and the network’s hosts and executives are happy to oblige. But we’ve seen the disastrous consequences that can come from Fox’s overheated rhetoric in the former president’s service.
Reprinted with permission from Media Matters