Crazy Like a Fox

One of the more interesting things President Donald Trump is an extended interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, which chock full of Trump saying interesting things, was that “I’m not a fan of Fox. They’ve changed a lot since Roger Ailes.”
Which seemed an odd thing to say during his 92nd presidential interview with Fox, or 10 times more than the number of interviews he’s granted to any other network, but we’re not surprised he was nostalgic for the days of Ailes. The late Ailes was a media consultant for Republican presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush before becoming chairman and chief executive of Fox News and building it into a ratings powerhouse as a conservative alternative to the existing cable news networks. He was ousted in 2016 due to the high cost of settling with 23 women employee who had sued for sexual harassment, including two of Fox’s most prominent female reporters, then became a campaign advisor to Republican presidential nominee Trump, who was not offended by Ailes’ alleged behavior.
Fox News was largely unchanged by Ailes’ departure, remaining a conservative alternative to the other cable news outlets and apparently maintaining hostile workplace environment for women. Despite big ratings pundit Bill O’Reilly was shown the door when his sexual harassment lawsuits became to expensive to settle, and now there’s another round of lawsuits. This one involves former anchor Ed Henry, who was fired July 1 for “sexual misconduct in the workplace,” and now stands accused by longtime Fox Business News employee Jennifer Eckhart of a sadistic rape. The same lawsuit alleges she was fired for complaining about a “toxic work environment,” and also claims that other Fox employees, including star opinion show hosts Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, sexually harassed her.
This is Carlson’s second recent scandal, by the way, following the revelation his now-fired head writer had for years used a pseudonym to post outrageously racist and sexist post on white nationalist web sites.
None of this will likely trouble Trump’s mind, of course, but he has other issues with the network. The early morning primetime opinion hosts remain as slavishly devoted to Trump as ever, but the straight news reporters in the afternoon occasionally report things Trump would rather not hear, and have an annoying habit of interviewing Democratic politicians as well as Republicans, and their polling has long displeased the president. Wallace is a very tough interviewer, which Trump surely knew when he agreed to the interview, and all the ringside observers think Wallace won by points if not a technical knockout.
So now all the cable news networks are “fake news” except for the One America Network and the Sinclair Network, which are steadfastly sycophantic to the president but only reach a small percentage of America’s televisions. The good news for Trump is that if all the current polls prove true and he loses reelection by a wide margin he’ll have something to blame.

— Bud Norman

Tucker Carlson, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, and Their Asymmetrical War of Words

We don’t have cable and rarely watch television, but we’re well aware of Fox News host Tucker Carlson. He’s a bowtie-wearing know-it-all who frequently makes news by saying things that cause his advertisers to bolt, an we watch the clips. Carlson is back in the news because of a feud with Democratic Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, and so far he’s getting the worst of it.
The brouhaha began Carlson called Duckworth “a deeply silly and unimpressive person” who “hates America” for telling a television interviewer that there should be “a national dialogue” about such slave-holding founding fathers as President George Washington. Duckworth responded by “tweeting” that Carlson “should walk a mile in my legs and tell me whether or not I love America.” Carlson then responded by calling Duckworth a “coward,” “fraud,” and “moron.”
At that point Carlson had lost the argument, and we expect he’ll lose even more advertisers. Duckworth invited Carlson to walk a mile in her legs because both were amputated from the knee down after the Blackhawk helicopter she was co-piloting was shot down during a 2004 rescue mission in Iraq. That’s pretty convincing proof of her patriotism and courage, as far as we’re concerned, as is her service in the United States Congress as a Senator elected by the good on people of Illinois. Carlson never served in the military, and although we won’t question his patriotism we wonder what credentials he has.
Carlson has complained that he’s not allowed to criticize a veteran, but that’s balderdash. For all her bravery and sacrifice and resilience Duckworth is still a damn Democrat, and one is still free to criticize her positions on any issue. We’re unafraid to say we disagree with Duckworth on many issues, and will be happy to engage in a national dialogue about America’s history and argue that despite their shameful slave-holding both Washington and Thomas Jefferson should remain forever in the nation’s pantheon of heroes, but we have no standing to question Duckworth’s courage and patriotism and authenticity, and we don’t think she’s a moron. Carlson’s resort to ad hominem attacks and name-calling rather than making a substantive case against Duckworth’s opinion strike us as, well, cowardly.
Conservatives and Republicans used to honor military valor, but that changed on 2016 when presidential candidate Donald Trump sneered on camera that Sen. John McCain — who endured two years of torture in a North Vietnamese prison camp after being shot down on his 23rd combat mission, then another three year after refusing an offer of early release because it would require him to leave his men behind and hand the enemy a propaganda — “was only a hero because he captured. I like a guy who didn’t get captured, OK?” Trump won somehow won the nomination anyway, and wound up President Donald Trump, and since then even the most draft-dodging Republicans have been freed to question the patriotism such of decorated and high-ranking officers as Robert Mueller, James Comey, John Kelly, Alexander Vindman, and H.R. McMaster, among others.
Trump is currently at odds with his military’s leadership on a number of things, from honorifics to the Confederacy to its deployment against American citizens, and we think he’s losing that argument. He dearly loves to boast about his military, so he can’t come right out and say they’re all “deep state” traitors.
According to all the press speculation Duckworth is on the short list for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s vice presidential pick, and Carlson’s set with her has probably helped her move up that list. She’s not only half-Asian and female and a decorated veteran but a double-amputee, which checks off a lot of boxes. so we think she’d be a shrewd choice. Duckworth’s a damn Democrat with a lot of dumb ideas, but Trump doesn’t want to debate with her about that. He can say that she’s only a hero because she lost two legs, and that he likes someone who didn’t lose two legs, OK?, but that probably wouldn’t work this time around.

— Bud Norman

The Calm Before the “Tweetstorm”

The news has been eerily slow that past few days, except for that horrific slaughter of 50 people in two New Zealand mosques over the weekend, and the continuing fallout from President Donald Trump’s response to the tragedy. Things have been so quiet that Trump found time to type out more than 50 “tweets” over the weekend, and of course that provided plenty for the pundits to pontificate about.
It was, we have to admit, a prolific and noteworthy outpouring. Trump “tweeted” a happy St. Patrick’s Day message to the country, but other than that it was mostly a barrage of potshots against enemies living and dead, some full-throated defenses of two besieged allies at Fox News, and several “re-Tweets” by some little-known supporters, including someone who identifies himself as “@LonewolfnDuke.”
The die-hard fans no no doubt loved every word, and could once again reassure themselves that “at least he fights,” but we’d like to think that a President of the United could find something better to do with his time on a slow news weekend.
Trump once again criticized the “Saturday Night Live” television program, even though it ran a re-run over the weekend, and once again threatened to have the Federal Communications Commission “look into” the televised satire of him. Once upon a time a sitting president threatening to use his office to punish his critics for the exercise of their First Amendment rights would have been a big deal, but these days it barely makes the middle paragraphs of a story about Trump’s latest “tweets.” There were also insulting “tweets” about special counsel investigator Robert Mueller, a union official working at General Motors, Democratic presidential candidate and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and even the late Republican Sen. John McCain.
The figurative dancing on the literal grave of McCain got a lot of attention, and rightly so as far we’re concerned. Trump ridiculed McCain for being last in his class at the Naval Academy, even though McCain was fifth-from-last and always man enough to joke about it, and Trump has threatened to sue any school he attended for revealing his class ranking. Trump also falsely accused McCain of leaking the damaging “Steele dossier” to the press, when McCain merely passed the information on to the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a responsible citizen should, and once again castigated McCain for voting against the repeal and replacement of “Obamacare,” even though Trump and the congressional Republicans hadn’t come up with any replacement. McCain died last August and thus can’t fight back, but McCain’s daughter is still around to fire back on network television that her father suffered five years of torture in a Vietnamese prison camp for his country while Trump was hitting all the New York City nightspots on his bone spurs, and speculate that Trump continues his bloodless war with the late McCain because he somehow knows he’ll never be such a great man, which sounds about right to us.
Trump also rallied to the defense of Fox News opinion hosts Tucker Carlson and “Judge” Jeanine Pirro, who have lately been under fire elsewhere in the media for some of their more daring opinions. In Carlson’s case it’s some decade-old off-the-cuff remarks to a shock radio jock called “Bubba the Love Sponge,” where Carlson defended a cult leader who was arranging very underage marriages between his followers, described Iraqis as “primitive monkeys” and all womankind as “very primitive,” which Carlson has refused to apologize for and sloughs off as being “naughty” on the radio a decade ago. In the case of Pirro she went on the air and said that Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar wearing the Muslim hijab suggested she she more loyal to Islam than the American constitution, which followed a big controversy about Omar saying American jews who supported Israel were disloyal the United States, and although it’s all very complicated even Fox News issued a statement disavowing her statement and pulling her from the schedule for at least one week.
Both shows have lately lost some big-name advertisers, but they retain an outspoken supporter in the White House. Trump “tweeted” his advice to Fox News to immediately restore Pirro to her Saturday time slot, and urged Carlson to “keep fighting.” We’d hate to see either show banished from the cables and airwaves for exercising their First Amendment rights, but we’d also hate to see the same thing happen to “Saturday Night Live,” which by the way has a talented woman who does an absolutely dead-on and devastating impression of “Judge Jeanine.”
Our guess is the country will somehow survive the satiric sketches of “Saturday Night” and the legacy of the late Sen. McCain, as well as the ill-tempered and authoritarian-sounding presidential “tweets” about them, but we can’t help worrying about what comes next from Mueller and O’Rourke and the sorts who gun down houses of worship in New Zealand and elsewhere, and we worry that the President of the United States seems worried about it as well.

— Bud Norman