During his first interview as president of the United States, Donald Trump was challenged by ABC News’ David Muir about his baseless claim that up to five million illegal votes were cast in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump could muster no actual evidence to support the oft-debunked voter fraud allegation he’s repeatedly made since November. So instead, he cited opinions espoused by Fox News hosts and shared by the network’s “very smart” viewers.
“Let me just tell you, you know what’s important, millions of people agree with me when I say that if you would’ve looked on one of the other networks and all of the people that were calling in they’re saying, ‘We agree with Mr. Trump. We agree.’ They’re very smart people,” Trump said.
Later during the interview, Muir pressed Trump on whether it was appropriate for him to spend most of his first speech to the CIA whining about media cover of his inauguration crowd size. Trump defended his approach by citing the coverage of the speech on Fox News. He mentioned Sean Hannity by his first name.
“That speech was a home run. That speech, if you look at Fox, OK, I’ll mention you — we see what Fox said. They said it was one of the great speeches,” Trump said. “They showed the people applauding and screaming and — and they were all CIA. There was — somebody was asking Sean — ‘Well, were they Trump people that were put’ — we don’t have Trump people. They were CIA people.”
Trump went on to criticize other networks’ coverage of the speech compared to Fox News.
“That speech was a good speech,” Trump said. “And you and a couple of other networks tried to downplay that speech. And it was very, very unfortunate that you did.”
Trump’s close relationship with Fox News is helping to essentially transform the news outlet into state-sponsored media.
The day before the ABC News interview aired, for example, Trump inaccurately congratulated Fox News “for being number one in inauguration ratings.” (CNN actually had at least as many viewers.)
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 25, 2017
Trump also now uses Fox News for policy inspiration. One of many controversial proposals Trump rolled out this week — that he may “send the Feds!” to combat the “carnage” in Chicago — appears to have been proposed directly in response to a segment on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News show.
— Michael Calderone (@mlcalderone) January 25, 2017
And on Thursday morning, Trump took to Twitter and called Chelsea Manning an “ungrateful traitor” right after Fox News aired a segment calling her the same thing.
— Michael Calderone (@mlcalderone) January 26, 2017
It’s not surprising that Fox News has emerged as Trump’s favorite cable news network. As ThinkProgress detailed months before the election, Hannity has a long history of serving as a Trump propagandist. O’Reilly also regularly provides Trump with fawning coverage. And one of the most Trump-critical voices on Fox, Megyn Kelly, recently left for NBC shortly after accusing Fox News chairman Roger Ailes of sexual harassment.
Fox News has been criticized for not covering the massive women’s marches that happened across the country last weekend in response to Trump’s inauguration. Its Twitter feed often provides stenography of Trump’s quotes and tweets. In turn, Trump provides praise.
And now, the president uses the reaction of Fox News viewers — a group that as a group harbors views skewed far to the right in comparison with viewers of other networks — to justify claims he couldn’t support otherwise.