When they are speaking in public, Fox News personalities will tell their audience that Donald Trump is brilliant and articulate. “He can talk fluently on every single topic with no preparation,” insisted Sean Hannity last night.
In private, they know perfectly well that Trump rambles incoherently. CNN has obtained more texts sent to Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, in the days surrounding the insurrection. They find Fox News talent working as unpaid Trump staffers — Hannity asked Meadows for talking points, and replied “Yes sir” when given them — while also conveying their clear understand that Trump needs hand-holding to make it through an interview.
Maria Bartiromo, in particular, asked Meadows to “Pls make sure he doesn’t go off on tangents” during a planned interview. She also supplied him with a list of questions and, in one instance, the answer:
Hi the public wants to know he will fight this. They want to hear a path to victory. & he’s in control,” Bartiromo texted at 9:21 a.m. “1Q You’ve said MANY TIMES THIS ELECTION IS RIGGED… And the facts are on your side. Let’s start there. What are the facts? Characterize what took place here. Then I will drill down on the fraud including the statistical impossibilities of Biden magic (federalist). Pls make sure he doesn’t go off on tangents. We want to know he is strong he is a fighter & he will win. This is no longer about him. This is about ????. I will ask him about big tech & media influencing ejection as well Toward end I’ll get to GA runoffs & then vaccines.
The question that contains the answer is, “Then I will drill down on the fraud including the statistical impossibilities of Biden magic (federalist).” Bartiromo is referring charges on the right that Joe Biden’s victory was some kind of statistical anomaly, and “(federalist)” likely refers to an article published by the Federalist, a right-wing publication, a few days earlier, headlined “5 More Ways Joe Biden Magically Outperformed Election Norms.”
The article’s reasoning is extremely poor, but what is most interesting about the exchange is not that Bartiromo believed the article’s bizarre claims, but that she felt the need to feed Trump a source to answer her queries about supposed election fraud.
CNN also has more details on Sean Hannity’s utter disdain for journalistic norms. One of the texts quotes him telling Meadows about how Hannity made a campaign ad for Trump. (“I was screaming about no ads from Labor Day on,” he texted on December 8. “I made my own they never ran it.”) Michael Bender reported this last year. Hannity denied it, no doubt failing to predict that the texts in which he boasted about it would become public.
The texts also show Hannity apparently planning to go into business with White House officials if he were to leave Fox News. After telling Meadows he had been “at war” with the network over the fact that its news division reported accurately on Biden’s win, he sketched out some alternative career ideas:
Also if this doesn’t end the way we want, you me and Jay are doing 3 things together. 1- Directing legal strategies vs Biden 2- NC Real estate 3- Other business I talked to Rudy. Thx for helping him.
Planning to go into business with the people you “cover” is also not considered an ethical journalistic practice.
Obviously, Fox News viewers don’t tune in because they’re wondering who Bartiromo and Hannity are going to vote for. But there are still norms that apply to opinion journalists, even if they’re different than the ones straight-news journalists follow.
And the purpose of these norms is so that viewers can have some assurance that opinion journalists are telling them what they really think. They should not be telling the outside world that Donald Trump is highly cogent while begging his staff to keep him from rambling, and feeding him questions to help make him appear more informed than he actually is. Viewers should also have confidence that if a host is praising political figures on television, it is entirely because he genuinely admires their work, and not even partially because he thinks they can make some money together.