David Zurawik: <em>Fox & Friends</em>' recklessness is "even more dangerous" because of its feedback loop with Trump
BRIAN STELTER (HOST): Now if you buy into that premise, then surely you agree that Fox & Friends with great power, also has great responsibility. At this moment in time, when the president and his aides are regular guests as well as viewers, these conservative talk show hosts may or may not consider themselves reporters, but they have an obligation to be careful like reporters. To be correct. To be fair, if not balanced. That’s always true, but I think there’s even more pressure right now when we all know the president’s watching, and to be fair this is not just applicable to Fox & Friends, or just to Fox. The president watches this channel and MSNBC as well. I used to joke that there should have a prime-time show here that’s designed as a daily briefing, like, “Good evening, Mr. President, here’s what happened today.” But it’s not that funny. You’re communicating with the leader of the free world through this box, then you have power. And thus great responsibility. My question is, do the hosts of Fox & Friends think about that when they wake up in the morning?
David Zurawik is with me now, he is the media critic for The Baltimore Sun. He has thought a lot about this. David, what you have seen at Fox is a deeper embrace of the president, amid his falling approval ratings. You think this is a risky strategy though for the network in the long term?
DAVID ZURAWIK: I do. This is especially true at Fox & Friends and Hannity. And I’ll tell you what, the strategy, from a business standpoint, it kind of makes sense, we’re going to be the channel for everybody who voted for Donald Trump and is sticking with him. Because the more outrageous, the more erratic, the more strange this White House gets, the tougher the coverage on those channels that are doing real journalism is going to be. So if Fox — so if you want to keep believing that your vote was not a bad vote if you voted for him, that’s the channel to go to. But absolutely, the way he seems headed, this is going to end not just in embarrassment, but infamy. And if you’re the channel that goes down with that boat, it’s going to really hard to salvage anything for your brand. It’s a very risky strategy by Fox, it’s a cynical strategy. And I’ll tell you what, Brian, I couldn’t agree more with your editorial.
But I’ll tell you what Fox — in 2014, I went after Fox & Friends because they smeared Elijah Cummings, the congressman from Baltimore, from Maryland, who was a ranking member on the IRS committee, remember the whole controversy about whether the IRS had targeted conservative groups? On Fox & Friends, on Election Day, on tax day in 2014, they said explosive new revelation, and they essentially said that Cummings fingered this group to the IRS, urged the IRS to go after them, even though there was evidence that they had been investigating this Texas conservative group six months before. And when I wrote about that and when I called Fox up, their response was, it’s an opinion show. It’s not part of our hard journalism lineup. Which what is that? Bret Baier and Shep Smith, that’s all that’s left of hard journalism if you want to say that.
STELTER: They would add a few others, but I take your point, yeah.
ZURAWIK: But that’s their excuse, that’s their response to this, and Brian, it isn’t, even if you are not doing hard journalism, especially on a news channel, you have a tremendous responsibility because all of the shows help set the parameters of conversation in America, the civic conversation of American life.
STELTER: That’s right.
ZURAWIK: And when you are as reckless and in some ways, even I would say dishonest as these guys, you’re dangerous, and now that you have Trump and them doing this Twitter dance and feeding each other, it’s even more dangerous.