Fox News has frequently toed the line between news network and all-out propaganda. On Friday, it effectively crossed it, reaching a new low in its coverage of the president and his administration.
The conservative network typically spends its time propping up President Trump’s agenda, who in turn favors Fox News’ right-wing tilt, lavishing its anchors and reporters with heavy praise and giving them exclusive access that other networks struggle to obtain. While Fox News often returns the favor in the form of positive coverage, lately, it’s been demonstrating a willingness to act as the unofficial media arm of the White House.
That much was evident on Friday morning when, during a last-minute interview with the president, taped the night before at a rally in Billings, Montana, Fox & Friends weekend host Pete Hegseth appeared ask a series of questions effectively written by the Trump campaign itself.
The interview took place on the floor of the Rimrock Auto Arena and was carried over the speaker system so attendees could listen in.
“Folks here may have seen an anonymous column written in The New York Times, and I think this audience would say that an attack on you is an attack on the people that voted for you,” Hegseth said, referring to an op-ed published earlier in the week by an unnamed Trump administration official, who claimed to be part of an internal “resistance” to the president’s more “misguided” policies.
The audience booed loudly.
“Are you any closer to knowing who did it and what should be done if you find out who did it?” Hegseth asked.
“The Times should have never have done that, because really what they’ve done is, virtually, you know it’s treason, you could call it a lot of things,” Trump responded, to wild jeers from the crowd.
“To think that you have somebody — in all of the Cabinet, so many people as you know, they came forward, they’re writing editorials, they’re all saying, you know, it’s gotta be at a fairly low level,” he continued. “Because so many people today — I was, it was just coming out — and I see all the people that are saying such great things… we have a lot of love in the administration. And the White House is truly, as you would say, a ‘well-oiled machine.’ It is working so well.”
Trump then suggested all books written about his administration were “lies” that had been “discredited,” adding that the column specifically may have been written by a “deep state” figure who had “been there a long time.”
“It’s very unfair to our country, and to the millions of people that voted, really, for us,” he said. “They voted for us.”
Hegseth did not push back on Trump’s use of the phrase “deep state,” a popular conspiracy among far-right, anti-Semitic, white nationalist groups that claims a number of progressive figures have worked their way into government positions and are plotting to overthrow the administration from the inside.
(Fox News later published an article on Trump’s use of the phrase Friday morning, unbylined and devoid of any actual fact-checks.)
The conservative host then asked Trump about the ongoing NFL “take a knee” demonstrations, started by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016 to protest police brutality and racial injustice. Kaepernick, who remains an unsigned free agent, recently made headlines as the face of a new Nike 30th anniversary ad campaign, which debuted Monday. The ad features Kaepernick’s photo with the words, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
“Mr. President, tonight is the first NFL game. They don’t have as many viewers as they used to,” Hegseth said Thursday night. “From Colin Kaepernick, to the NFL, to now Nike, who’s going to win this cultural showdown of standing for the anthem?”
Trump, latching onto the obvious propaganda laid out before him, responded in kind. “We are. We are going to win,” he said. “…I don’t know why [the NFL] is not enforcing [its national anthem policy, which forces players to stand rather than kneel]…. I don’t like what Nike did. I don’t think it’s appropriate what they did. I honor the flag, I honor our national anthem. Most of the people in this country feel the same way.”
Once again, the crowd cheered wildly.
The Washington Post’s Philip Bump noted Friday that the remainder of the interview, with its softball questions on everything from Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) to the southern border wall, appeared to be staged in coordination with — and perhaps as part of — Trump’s campaign rally that night. Whatever news angle Hegseth was going for was completely lost, whether intentionally or otherwise, in the pro-Trump propaganda.
And if the Q&A on border wall funding, talk of loyalty, and Kaepernick-bashing weren’t enough to convince viewers what they were watching was state-run television, Hegseth — previously rumored to be under consideration for the top Veterans Affairs job — capped off the night by giving the president full rein to bash Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into obstruction and collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
“Rudy Giuliani just told the AP that you will not be answering any questions written or in person to the so-called special counsel, can you confirm that?” Hegseth said.
“Look, there was no collusion,” Trump said. “There was no collusion with Russia, I love this country.”
Heseth, once again did not push back, choosing instead to smile and laugh.