If there was one thing which made the 2016 Presidential campaign different from all previous campaigns, it was the degree to which the news media not only chose sides but promoted one candidate or the other in very biased and unbalanced ways.
This was particularly true with Fox, whose coverage of the Trump campaign seemed at times to be produced by the campaign itself. Not only did the various Fox spielers like Hannity and Carlson make a point of talking about Trump in the most positive, almost sycophantic ways, but I don’t recall a single day during the campaign in which Trump wasn’t the subject of interviews multiple times.
Except Trump wasn’t interviewed the way we usually think interviews should be played. He was never asked a difficult question, he was never corrected when he said something that was totally and completely outrageously wrong, even when he repeated an obviously false statement again and again.
Not only did Trump serve up pat answers to the most softball questions that have ever been asked of anyone in public life, but he often gave the same prepared answer to the same question as if he was reading from a script, which he often was.
Using Fox as his media operation not only saved Trump a lot of money during the 2016 campaign, but the Trump/Fox love fest continued during Trump’s White House years as well. In fact, I often thought that the various Fox news personalities like Hannity and Carlson were competing not against CNN and MS-NBC, but against each other to see who could promote Trump in the most positive way.
If there was one Fox spieler who was stronger than anyone else in running up the Trump flagpole, however, it wasn’t one of the guys. It was Maria Bartiromo, whose business reportage gave her plenty of time to promote Trump, both during his Administration, as well as during the 2020 campaign. In fact, of all the Fox loudmouths, Bartiromo was probably Trump’s strongest supporter during the Covid crisis, often sounding as if the Pandemic was nothing more than a CNN-inspired sham.
All of a sudden, things seemed to have changed. This past Sunday, Bartiromo had Trump on her morning show and asked him what he would do differently if he was back in the White House in 2025. And Trump, who never misses an opportunity to launch the most insulting, personal attacks on anyone who has said anything critical of him, launched into a screed about how he needed to hire better people because he didn’t know the people that well and some of them, like Bill Barr and James Comey were just ‘incompetent’ or worse.
At which point, Bartiromo cut Trump off in mid-sentence and shot back: ‘You didn’t drain the swamp!” Then she repeated her statement for emphasis, and it was the first time in eight years that I ever heard Trump being attacked and his commentary rejected out of hand.
Of course, Trump immediately denied Bartiromo’s criticism and claimed that he had, in fact, drained the swamp. But the damage was done. Trump no longer has carte blanche to say whatever he wants to say on Fox without fear of being challenged or being told that he is simply wrong.
All of a sudden, Trump has lost control of the alt-right media machine that he created in 2015 and used with great effectiveness to pretend he was behaving like the Chief Executive until the Pandemic came along and did him in.
Now that the Covid virus has become just another germ floating around and infecting a few human hosts here and there, Trump no doubt thinks he can go back to using the media as a free bullhorn until he returns to the bully pulpit for real.
Except what Bartiromo’s verbal slice of the Trump bologna represents is the fact that even the alt-right media, never mind the fake mainstream media, isn’t about to let Trump define the terms of the 2024 Presidential race.
Trump’s widening gap in the GOP primary contests may propel him to the nomination, but all of a sudden, the head-to-head against Joe shows Trump slightly behind. And if Bartiromo’s refusal to buy Trump’s bullshit is an indication that maybe even the alt-right media is sick of his daily rants, in the 2024 election he’ll go down the tubes.
Did Trump actually think he could declare himself able to make a negotiate with Putin and Zelensky to end the Ukraine war and not sound like a complete and utter fool? After all, the leaders of Russia and Ukraine are both ‘good friends’ of Trump, and that’s all you need to make a deal, right?
But the truth is that Trump knows that foolish or not, as long as he can get free time every day on Fox, he’s way ahead of what Joe will have to pay to run his ads on CNN.
So, what has to happen now is that the alt-right media has to figure out how keep their ratings up without hearing from Trump.