NEW YORK (AP) — Fox News Channel is not content simply to televise President Donald Trump at a campaign-style rally. The network is compelled to point it out when its rivals don’t.
Fox’s onscreen message during Trump’s speech on Wednesday night is the latest example of how formerly little-noticed news judgment decisions can become political issues in themselves.
Fox carried the entirety of Trump’s address to a crowd in Minnesota, pre-empting most of Tucker Carlson’s prime-time show. MSNBC stuck with its regular lineup, streaming Trump’s speech online and airing clips from it later news coverage. CNN also showed its regular lineup as producers monitored the speech for news.
During the speech, Fox aired an onscreen message that said: “Trump rally live only on Fox News, other networks ignore presidential rally.”
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For Fox viewers who constantly hear that the “mainstream media” dislikes the president, the message could drive home the notion that only Fox has their backs. Yet it could also reinforce a statement for which Carlson received criticism last week, when he told his viewers that stories on other news outlets were not to be believed.
It’s an example of Fox appealing explicitly to viewers who support the president, said Tom Bettag, a veteran network news producer who now teaches journalism at the University of Maryland.
“I’m not sure that it plays to the average person, who would be inclined to say ‘don’t tell me what to watch, don’t tell me what to think. I can make up my own mind,'” Bettag said. “But I don’t think they’re trying to appeal to a general audience.”
MSNBC and CNN declined to comment on Thursday. A Fox representative noted that the president’s address was particularly newsworthy on the same day the president reversed course on a policy of separating families that cross the border illegally, and just after his summit with North Korea. When Barack Obama was president, interest groups would occasionally criticize Fox for giving less airtime to his events than his rivals did.
News organizations have also received criticism from Trump opponents for giving the president too much airtime, or reporting things that he says that are demonstrably false. Cable news networks reliably televise White House press secretary Sarah Sanders’ daily briefings live, even as they become contentious and some critics say shed little light on the news.
Bettag said he didn’t believe Fox’s rivals would be persuaded to televise events that they otherwise might not have for fear of those decisions becoming fodder for critics.
“Being attacked by Fox is a little bit like being attacked by Trump,” he said. “Being told by Fox that your news organization is terrible, that’s not the worst thing in the world for the 80 percent of people who are not Fox viewers.”