There’s little question that Fox News is the single most significant, influential conservative media operation in the country. The network regularly dominates its basic cable competitors in the ratings, commanding legions of dedicated viewers for whom the Roger Ailes-founded channel is the end-all-be-all of trustworthy news, particularly and predominantly among Republicans, as a Pew Research Center study recently found. Given the network’s outsized influence in conservative circles, it’s not surprising that Anita Dunn, former President Barack Obama’s onetime communications director, once characterized Fox as often acting like “either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party” at large.
Recently, however, candidates running to represent that very party in the upcoming presidential election have increasingly begun criticizing the network, bringing the contentious symbiosis between GOP candidates and the outlet into sharp relief. While former President Donald Trump has long felt comfortable taking a swing at any Fox coverage he deems insufficiently deferential, he has been joined over the past few weeks by rival Nikki Haley and, before he abandoned his campaign, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, all of whom have gone out of their way to publicly attack the network, even as they court its viewers for their votes.
With the GOP race between Trump and Haley intensifying, even as Trump tightens his grip on the party and its future, how does Fox navigate these choppy primary waters, and why is it suddenly in everyone’s crosshairs?
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‘Really bad TV’For as much as Trump, Haley, and DeSantis have, to varying degrees of success, worked to differentiate themselves from one another throughout their respective campaigns, they have also been “united in a curious way” by their tri-part willingness to attack the “right-wing media megaphone that plays an outsized role in Republican politics,” Media Matters for America’s Matt Gertz reported ahead of last week’s New Hampshire primary.
Haley, in particular, has been newly vocal about what she sees as Fox’s lopsided support for Trump, pushing back on network host Brian Kilmeade’s insinuations last week that she should drop out by telling him she doesn’t “care how much you all want to coronate Donald Trump” at her expense.
NIKKI HALEY: I don’t care how much y’all want to coronate Donald TrumpBRIAN KILMEADE: I’m really wondering why you think we’re the enemy pic.twitter.com/1GGP0o0LMeJanuary 23, 2024
Before ending his campaign, DeSantis similarly attacked the network over its Trump coverage, blaming “Fox News people” for their deference to the GOP front-runner, and calling them Trump’s “praetorian guard” as his staff labeled the outlet the “opposing campaign,” “full-blown Trump TV” and the “Fox News PAC.”
Ultimately, Gertz concluded, DeSantis and Haley are “both correct” that the network has been biased toward Trump, highlighting Fox’s “difficult position” given Trump’s “willingness and ability to get Fox viewers to switch to its competitors.”
To that end, Trump has recently accused Fox of “pushing for a Haley GOP nomination,” according to Forbes. In a message on his Truth Social platform ahead of the New Hampshire primary, Trump blasted Fox as “one-sided” against him, first on behalf of DeSantis and then Haley, which is why the “Republican base no longer cares about [the network].” He similarly attacked Fox for interviewing New Hampshire’s Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, a Haley supporter, claiming that having “this loser on so much is really bad TV.”
‘Trying to win back Trump voters’Trump’s hyperbolic missives notwithstanding, Fox has made a deliberate effort to head off a repeat of the 2020 election coverage that prompted MAGA viewers to flee “in droves, heading to Newsmax & other conservative-leaning networks,” former Fox anchor and onetime Trump administration official Heather Nauert claimed on X. In particular, by “already calling the night for DJT” so early in the New Hampshire primaries, the network was “trying to win back Trump voters w/ glowing, over the top coverage.”
Ultimately, whether biased toward or against any current GOP candidate, one former Republican presidential nominee thinks the problem at Fox is “more deeply rooted” in the “institution” itself — one responsible for some of the “ugly rhetoric injected into the public discourse,” according to CNN’s Oliver Darcy, reviewing McKay Coppins’ biography of Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). In it, Romney is described as calling Fox a “serious problem” and an “enabler” for former host Lou Dobbs’ anti-immigrant screeds.
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