As the fallout from Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer crested with the revelation that there were more people in the room than previously disclosed, two very different narratives were playing out on the president’s favorite news source.
On Friday morning, Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy posited that “the Russia story is starting to fall apart.” Later that afternoon, Shepard Smith, speaking to Chris Wallace, took a baseball bat to that approach:
“If there’s nothing there, and that’s what they tell us, they tell us there’s nothing to this and nothing came of it, there’s a nothingburger, it wasn’t even memorable, didn’t write it down, didn’t tell you about it, ‘cause it wasn’t anything so I didn’t even remember it, with a Russian interpreter in the room at Trump Tower. If all of that, why all these lies? Why is it lie after lie after lie? If you clean, come on clean, you know? My grandmother used to say ‘when first we practice to…Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.’ The deception, Chris, is mind-boggling. And there are still people who are out there who believe we’re making it up. And one day they’re gonna realize we’re not and look around and go: Where are we, and why are we getting told all these lies?”
The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake called it “a Walter Cronkite moment.” When the story of the Trump administration’s war with the media is written, it’s unlikely that Smith’s tirade with be credited, even apocryphally, with bringing about its end, but his exasperation—no little bit of it directed toward water carriers at his own network like Doocy, Sean Hannity, and Tucker Carlson—highlighted a stark divide at a network that has largely afforded the president a soft landing.
Concerns about the sometimes blurred boundary between news and opinion at Fox are nothing new. Straight news from Smith, Wallace, Bret Baier, and contributors like Catherine Herridge and Jennifer Griffin often contradict the GOP cheerleading led by Hannity, Carlson, and others. The Trump-friendly opinionators rake in big ratings by occupying the prime real estate of the evening hours, but a forceful stand by those on the news side is a welcomed development.
No outlet has a bigger footprint among Republican voters. A Pew study found that 40 percent of Americans who said they voted for Trump relied on Fox News as their main source of information during the campaign. If Smith and the other journalists at Fox are more vocal in their support of serious reporting, they deserve our support in turn.
Below, more on the divide at Fox.
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Pete Vernon is a CJR Delacorte Fellow. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.