Trump Ruled Conservative Media As President. Will He Find His Next Job There?

tags: media, Donald Trump

Nicole Hemmer is an an associate research scholar at Columbia University and author of Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics. She is a co-founder of The Post's daily historical analysis section, Made by History.

President Trump is furious at Fox News — and addicted to it. Scan his Twitter feed, and you’ll find retweets of anti-Fox screeds alongside clips from his favorite Fox personalities, including Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham and Maria Bartiromo. That mixed messaging can also be found on the network itself: The news team’s insistence on reporting the reality of Trump’s loss keeps clashing with the opinion team’s insistence on fanning the delusion of a fraudulent election. Which leaves the president stuck: He can’t stand that the network has called the election for Joe Biden, but he needs Fox News’s most popular shows to amplify his conspiracy theories about the election.

At least, he needs them for now. Eventually, he will leave office. Which means that within a few months, Trump could be a full-time creature of the right-wing media ecosystem, rather than the apex predator of the conservative media world that he’s been as president. Four years ago, observers wondered whether Trump might start (or take over) a cable news network if he lost to Hillary Clinton. Instead, as president, he reshuffled right-wing media, bashing the existing powers — Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, National Review — in an effort to bend them to his will. The organizations that came around to support him enthusiastically (like Fox) kept thriving. The ones that didn’t (like the Weekly Standard) flailed.

Now the prospect of Trump trying to keep his brand going by merging it with conservative media — or just popping up on TV frequently, freed entirely from the need even to pretend he’s governing or doing anything except bingeing cable news — looms over the next few years of politics, both for the incoming Biden administration and for its Republican opposition.

Trump first entered the conservative media bloodstream through “Fox & Friends.” He became a regular on the morning show in 2011, appearing sometimes in person and sometimes by phone for rambling conversations about the day’s headlines (appearances he later suggested made his presidential bid possible). His appearances allowed him to emerge as one of the country’s leading proponents of the racist birther conspiracy theory aimed at President Barack Obama, which Trump regularly discussed in his weekly segments. While he dabbled in other conservative outlets — his appearances on the radio show of Breitbart’s Stephen K. Bannon led to a partnership between the two men that extended into Trump’s presidency — Fox News was his North Star.

Until, of course, he ran for president and started receiving critical attention from the network. That’s when Trump began flogging alternative news sources in earnest, including Breitbart, One America News and Newsmax, in an effort to get the network back in line. He started bashing Fox just as he bashed the GOP establishment. And it worked: After Trump won, Fox News remade its lineup, replacing Trump skeptics like Megyn Kelly, Greta Van Susteren and George Will with Trump enthusiasts like Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham (and Sean Hannity, who was already a prime-time fixture).


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