The Media Today

The media today: Fox News’s intensifying anti-Mueller rhetoric raises concerns

December 18, 2017

Despite protestations to the contrary, President Trump is an avid watcher of cable television. Need evidence? Just this morning, he referenced his favorite show, Fox & Friends, in two tweets. What Trump is seeing, on opinion programming across several shows on his preferred network, has raised concerns about the future of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

ICYMI: A death in the CJR family

Fox News’s anti-Mueller rhetoric reached a fever pitch over the weekend, with a banner during Jesse Watters’s Saturday interview with Kellyanne Conway, reading “A COUP IN AMERICA?” Jeanine Pirro referred to Mueller and those investigating ties between the Trump team and Russian officials as “a criminal cabal” who should be taken out “in cuffs.” The campaign to discredit Mueller’s wide-ranging investigation as politically-motivated picked up steam after the Justice Department released anti-Trump text messages that an agent overseeing the investigation had sent to a colleague, and a lawyer representing Trump’s transition team claimed that the special counsel had wrongfully obtained thousands of emails from transition officials.

Analyzing the feedback loop between Fox News and the White House, CNN’s Brian Stelter writes, “the right-wing commentary and President Trump’s criticism of the FBI are part of a vicious circle. The TV hosts encourage Trump, then Trump supplies sound bites for their shows, and then the hosts are even more emboldened.” Trump’s interaction with Fox News isn’t limited to viewing and tweeting. He speaks regularly with Rupert Murdoch and Sean Hannity, and he’s hosted Pirro at the White House.

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ICYMI: NY Journalist handcuffed to railing over his head

After criticizing the investigation earlier in the weekend, Trump on Sunday tried to calm fears that he would attempt an end run around the investigation. “No, I’m not,” he said in response to the question of whether he intended to fire Mueller. For now, at least, cooler heads seem to have prevailed, but the escalating rhetoric that caused the question to even be considered is troubling.

Below, more on Mueller’s investigation and the campaign to discredit it.

  • Worth watching: On CNN’s Reliable Sources, Kurt Bardella, Hadas Gold, and David Folkenflik joined Brian Stelter to discuss the conservative media attacks on Mueller’s investigation. The clip includes a disturbing compilation of attacks on Mueller and the FBI from Fox hosts.
  • Trouble brewing: The New York Times’s Michael S. Schmidt reports that the image of cooperation between the White House and Mueller is starting to fracture.
  • Speaking out: On Sunday, Former Attorney General Eric Holder tweeted: “ABSOLUTE RED LINE: the firing of Bob Mueller or crippling the special counsel’s office. If removed or meaningfully tampered with, there must be mass, popular, peaceful support of both. The American people must be seen and heard – they will ultimately be determinative.”
  • Coming this week?: CNN reports that Trump’s lawyers are set to meet with Mueller and members of his team as soon as this week.


Other notable stories

  • After nearly 40 years as “the grande dame of documentary,” Sheila Nevins is leaving HBO. Nevins made her announcement in a conversation with The New York Times’s Maureen Dowd.
  • WNYC, New York’s flagship public radio station, is facing a leadership crisis after several longtime hosts were accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior. CJR’s Meg Dalton says that a public board meeting meant to clear the air left supporters disappointed and skeptical.
  • The Daily Caller’s Amber Athey reports that in 1999, NBC “made a separation-related payment to one of Chris Matthews employees after the woman complained about sexual harassment.”
  • In Italy, the #MeToo movement is finding limited media interest, reports The New York Times’s Jason Horowitz.
  • Politico’s Elana Schor and Rachael Bade report that paranoia has gripped the halls of Congress over rumors that a major story about sexual harassment in government is imminent. “Members and aides are now perpetually bracing for the next allegation to drop,” they write.
  • The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan says Meryl Streep’s portrayal of former Post publisher Katharine Graham comes at a timely moment for women in the industry.
  • Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch presents his choices for the best and worst of sports media in 2017.
Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.