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Reprinted with permission from DailyKos.

Will playing whack-a-mole help save the Trump presidency?

That’s what Fox News and Donald Trump defenders have been reduced to in recent weeks as the White House and its media allies scramble to try to find a coherent defense for his admitted campaign collusion with a foreign power. (This time, it’s attempted collusion with Ukraine.) More than a month into this unraveling story, Fox News is trying its best to protect Trump by attacking key players from within the administration who have come forward with damaging information during the impeachment inquiry. Going on the offensive and smearing honorable people is one of Fox News’ favorite pastimes: It’s the engine that fuels the whole propaganda enterprise. But this time it’s not going to work, simply because there are too many witnesses offering up too much damaging information for Fox News and the conservative media to combat.

To date, those officials have included the anonymous whistleblower, whose initial complaint sparked impeachment. They also include U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, and George P. Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, among others.

For Fox News, that’s a hit list that’s simply too long to corral and to take aim at.

In the end, Vindman by himself is not going to matter. Taylor’s not going to matter. Sondland’s not going to matter. Nor is Volker, or Kent.  Even the whistleblower isn’t going to matter. In the end, it’s going to be the collective that delivers the big blow to Trump. It’s going to be the kaleidoscope of administration officials who all tell the exact same story of Trump-sanctioned bribery, and holding up U.S. foreign aid to a foreign power in exchange for digging up dirt on Trump’s political opponents.

For now, the strategy appears to be to claim that up is down and black is white, and to insist all new damning revelations exonerate Trump. Or, in the case of reliable Trump apologist Sen. Lindsay Graham, he’s simply going to ignore all new information. “I’ve written off the whole process,” Graham told a reporter this week. It’s a deeply cultish way to deal with the emerging crisis.

Taking their cues from Fox News, the entire Trump defense is now based on wholesale lies and rattled conspiracy theories. They believe the Ukraine whistleblower is a “traitor.” And they believe Democrats are trying to pull off a “coup.” This is all part of Fox News’ larger problem since the Ukraine impeachment story broke more than a month ago: Nobody has a coherent defense for misdeeds that Trump has publicly admitted to.

Last week, the troubles multiplied when Sondland changed his story. A major Trump donor-turned-diplomat, Sondland had given Trump and his defenders a thin layer of political cover by claiming, both in texts and to Congress, that Trump had claimed there was “no quid pro quo” offered to Ukraine to prompt the probes. But when others inside the administration contradicted Sondland, raising the specter that he had lied to Congress, the ambassador quickly returned to Capitol Hill, refreshed his memory, and changed his story, conceding that foreign aide to Ukraine was contingent on the government helping out Trump. That kicked down the doors to the White House’s defense, and intensified the Fox News attacks on key witnesses and players. Sen. Graham soon showed up on Fox News claiming Sondland was in cahoots with Democrats.

Meanwhile, after initially being the target of right-wing media wrath in late September when the Ukraine scandal first broke, the whistleblower has since returned as a constant target of Fox News attacks, particularly as GOP partisans scurry around working to unmask his or her identity.

“We are now looking down the barrel of yet another national crisis, clearly orchestrated by the deep state,” Sean Hannity recently warned. “The conspiracy theory was also elevated across multiple other Fox personalities in the last two days, including Greg Gutfeld and Mark Levin,” Media Matters noted.

Late last month, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor also gave damning testimony to Congress, detailing the White House’s efforts to withhold military aid in exchange for Ukraine investigating Trump’s political rivals. On Fox Business, host Lou Dobbs asked, “What’s the big deal?” about Taylor’s testimony, while guest Sidney Powell agreed that Democrats “keep trying to make things up as they go” and claimed they are “absolutely grasping for straws.”

According to Media Matters, Fox contributor Dan Bongino dismissed Taylor’s testimony and falsely claimed that it revealed there was no quid pro quo, while Fox contributor Newt Gingrich said that he presumes “Taylor doesn’t like Trump’s style and … Taylor disagreed with Trump’s policies,” but “that doesn’t make it impeachable.”

Then last month we saw ugly attacks to smear Vindman, who testified that he objected to Trump’s shadow policy toward Ukraine. He also testified that the transcript to the infamous phone call Trump placed with the Ukraine leader wasn’t accurate, and that efforts to correct the transcript were ignored by the White House. “I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine,” Vindman said in his statement.

Fox News and others quickly focused on the fact that Vindman was born in Russia and migrated to America from Ukraine to raise doubts about his loyalty to the United States, with Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade stressing that Vindman “has an affinity to the Ukrainian people,” and that Vindman “tends to feel simpatico with the Ukraine.”

Character assassination is what Fox News does. The problem for Trump when it comes to the impeachment scandal is that Fox News has too many characters it needs to assassinate.

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

This post was written and reported through the Daily Kos freelance program.

IMAGE: Fox News host Sean Hannity (Media Matters graphic).

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Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

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