Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.
If your interview fits seamlessly as the warm-up act for a presidential pep rally, what you’re doing isn’t journalism, it’s propaganda.
No one would confuse Pete Hegseth, the Fox & Friends weekend co-host who interviewed President Donald Trump before Thursday night’s rally, in Billings, MT, for a journalist: He’s a dedicated Trump supporter with aspirations to join his cabinet. But in a very competitive field of bizarre Fox interviews during the Trump presidency, Hegseth’s may take the gold for propagandistic absurdity, with the Fox host agreeing to ask the president his questions on the arena’s stage in front of the raucous crowd of Trump supporters. The interview aired Friday on the network’s morning show.
At any other news network, questions would be raised about the journalistic ethics of a host participating in a presidential event whose purpose was the support of Republican candidates.
But Fox’s ongoing willingness to send obvious sycophants like Hegseth to interview the president by itself makes a mockery of the network’s pretense of journalistic credibility. And yesterday’s farce shows there is no limit to Fox’s willingness to collaborate with the Trump White House.
Pete Hegseth isn’t an interviewer, he’s a hype man. pic.twitter.com/jqPVV0OA52
— Matthew Gertz (@MattGertz) September 7, 2018
In some ways, Hegseth’s performance last night mimicked what he’s done in his prior sit-downs with the president: He asked broad questions, let Trump free-associate through them, and refused to follow up no matter how wildly the president diverted from the topic at hand.
But throughout the interview, Hegseth also played off the adoring crowd, putting himself on their side — and on Trump’s side. Asking about the New York Times op-ed written by an anonymous administration staffer that criticized Trump’s “amorality” and “erratic behavior,” Hegseth noted that the “audience would say an attack on you is an attack on the people who voted for you.” As the audience booed when Hegseth mentioned the NFL, he added, “They don’t have as many viewers as they used to have.”
The audience, meanwhile, made no distinction between the interview and any other part of the rally. They cheered the president, jeered his enemies, and chanted “build that wall” when Hegseth mentioned immigration policy.
The Fox & Friends squad seemed gleeful over the crowd feedback. “What’s it like accidentally triggering that ‘build the wall’ chant?” Steve Doocy asked Hegseth Friday morning. “It’s a live-action interview,” Hegseth replied. “You can’t really interview through a ‘build the wall’ chant. You’ve just got to kind of let it run its course.” Ainsley Earhardt chimed in that the audience’s responses were a signal that “the crowd, really, they understand the issues.”
“The energy when he walked out into this interview was like the energy when he walks out right at first at the beginning of his rallies,” Hegseth said at another point this morning while introducing a clip from the interview. “The crowd was fired up.”
The crowd was excited because the rally had begun. Hegseth — and Fox — were just part of the president’s show.
Header image by Melissa Joskow / Media Matters