Without Roger Ailes, a leaderless Fox News kowtows to their number one fan, Donald Trump, allowing him to dictate the very programming he subsequently watches and tweets about. A recent article in Vanity Fair described this phenomenon as a “circular feedback loop,” where Trump can control the narrative of his favorite, and probably only, news source. Essentially, Fox & Friends has become a “safe space for Trump.”
In the post-Roger Ailes era, the network doesn’t have a programming Svengali to develop new story lines. “There’s absolutely no direction,” one Fox host told me. Without Ailes’s daily talking points to guide them, producers are freer than ever before to program their shows, and the surest path to ratings success is airing stories that appeal to Trump’s most fervent supporters. Fox may be Trump’s safe space, but Trump is Fox’s safe space, too. It’s a circular feedback loop.
One Fox executive told Vanity Fair, “he’s sort of viewed as this crazy person who calls all the time,” because the president “regularly” calls Fox hosts to discuss segments he likes or doesn’t like. And, without programming leadership, the hosts chase the president’s approval and the ratings that follow from his fanatical supporters. Vanity Fair explains that, while Trump doesn’t tell them what to talk about, his post-show phone calls and real-time tweets act as incentives for Fox hosts.
According to sources, Trump doesn’t explicitly dictate talking points the way Ailes did, but over time, the effect can be similar. “What he usually does is he’ll call after a show and say, ‘I really enjoyed that,’” a former Fox anchor told me. “The highest compliment is, ‘I really learned something.’ Then you know he got a new policy idea.” But knowing Trump always could be tuning in means the network is being programmed for an audience of one. “He has the same embattled view as a typical Fox viewer—that ‘the liberal elites hate me; they’re trying to bring me down,’” an executive said.
In fact, Trump’s infatuation with parroting Fox & Friends on his Twitter is well documented and goes as far as promoting books he just learned about that morning. This can become problematic when Trump tweets something that contradicts GOP strategy, like he did this morning when he tweeted, “CHIP should be part of a long term solution, not a 30 Day, or short term, extension!”
CHIP should be part of a long term solution, not a 30 Day, or short term, extension!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2018
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) described the tweet as “not good,” and told The Hill that “he couldn’t believe it,” before showing off the tweet he posted for damage control. According to Politico, “the president, with his tweet, increased the likelihood of a government shutdown with the push of a button.”
This comes just 7 days after Trump contradicted his own administration’s official position on FISA in a tweet at 7:33 A.M., suggesting that he was live-tweeting what he heard on Fox & Friends. According to Think Progress, the FISA tweet was “inspired by a Fox & Friends segment featuring Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano, who urged Trump not to support FISA reauthorization.”
“House votes on controversial FISA ACT today.” This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2018
Unfortunately for the GOP, the Trump-Fox News feedback loop seems a little off-message lately.
Fox’s uncompromising support of the president is partly a reaction to his viewership, and partly because of the ratings hit they apparently take every time they say something negative about Trump. According to Vanity Fair, Fox producers noticed a drop in viewership every time something bad was sad about Trump, so they shed the haters.
Fox has shed prominent Trump critics like Megyn Kelly, George Will, and Rich Lowry, while bulking up on pro-Trump voices such as Seb Gorka, Laura Ingraham, and Mark Levin.
Throw in the death of Ailes, and the directionless network fell into line behind the president, essentially becoming a propaganda wing of the White House. “It’s freaky to see him tweeting at Fox & Friends,” one staffer told Vanity Fair. “That doesn’t help us. We’re not state television.”
The most successful segments tend to be anti-Hillary Clinton. A Fox executive told Vanity Fair, “[Trump] has the same embattled view as a typical Fox viewer—that ‘the liberal elites hate me; they’re trying to bring me down.’” Stories about Fire and Fury, Russian collusion, and other ‘fake news’ don’t even enter the Fox News conversation, thus the president can enjoy his morning television with a network vying for his approval.