Fox News and President Donald Trump have been together for a long time, but like a lot of seemingly happy couples, they’re not immune to relationship turmoil.
The discontent has been brewing for a while, at least on Trump’s part. And he has made it clear he was ready to pick up the propaganda equivalent of Tinder and start scrolling for a new love.
Fox “is no longer the same … looking for a new outlet!” the president tweeted in mid-May, after host Neil Cavuto had the nerve to knock the president’s glorification of the potentially dangerous drug hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 preventive. Days later he complained that “@FoxNews is doing nothing to help Republicans, and me, get reelected on November 3rd.”
That’s downright ungrateful given the network’s faithfulness in promoting the president’s agenda. A Pew survey found that of those whose main source of election news is Fox, 86 percent said they felt warmly toward Trump — a figure even higher than Republicans overall.
Then, into this roiling discontent strolls an attractive newcomer: the San-Francisco-based cable outlet, One America News Network.
True, its audience is small. But Trump has touted it on social media, and its White House correspondent, Chanel Rion, has been given special treatment at media briefings.
It’s no wonder given the reliably sycophantic softballs she pitches.
But this week, Trump signaled just how intrigued he is by OANN. He used his Twitter and Facebook accounts to magnify an evidence-free conspiracy theory floated in the outlet’s “news report” — a generous term under the circumstances.
The theory: That 75-year-old protester Martin Gugino, who was put in the hospital after being shoved to the ground by two Buffalo police officers last week, had been trying to “scan” and “blackout” their police equipment. (The officers have been charged with felony assault.)
Trump credited his new crush:
“Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur. 75-year-old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications to blackout the equipment. @OANN I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?” the president tweeted.
Trump drew bipartisan criticism this week because the theory is so truly bonkers — and because he blasted it out on the same day as the funeral for George Floyd, whose death at the hands of Minneapolis police last month has sparked weeks of protest and invigorated a civil rights movement.
Although Gugino has used social media to bash the police, this portrayal strikes those who know him as pure fantasy.
“Oh, that’s ridiculous — they are just plain making things up,” Victoria Ross, who heads the Western New York Peace Center, and who has known Gugino for years, told the Buffalo News.
The “reporter” on the OANN piece, Kristian Rouz, is a Russian national who also works for the Russian propaganda outfit Sputnik; and the cable outlet has said that it based its report on a post in the Conservative Treehouse, a hoax-happy blog.
If Rouz’s voice sounded familiar, it may be because you managed to catch Rouz floating the notion that the coronavirus was a plot for “population control” by George Soros, Bill Gates, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Bill and Hillary Clinton and China.
Say what you will about how low Fox News’s reporting and commentary can sink — and I have — but it seldom stoops this low. The network does make an effort, most of the time, to adhere to some sort of standards, citing where reporting came from and even trying to draw a line between reporting and opinion. (Granted, it was famously forced to retract its damaging and deeply flawed adherence to a conspiracy theory about Seth Rich, a former Democratic National Committee employee, absurdly attempting to tie his 2016 death to Hillary Clinton.)
OANN, which launched on July 4, 2013, has a tiny viewership compared to the major networks, and would be utterly obscure if not for Trump’s megaphone.
After making something of a mark in the early days of the 2016 presidential campaign by committing to broadcasting Trump’s campaign speeches live and in full, OANN has stayed the course. It even unapologetically described itself last year as “one of his greatest supporters.”
But even within the ranks of this reliable Trump cheerleading squad, the latest incident has caused embarrassment.
“I’m seeing how much response this is all getting on Twitter right now, and it’s freaking awful,” one OANN staffer said, according to the Washington Examiner. “I’m worried the next news director I send my reel out to will only see ‘OAN’ on my résumé and throw it in the trash.”
I’d call that a perfectly legitimate worry.
But for Trump — whose recent efforts to tie MSNBC host Joe Scarborough to a staffer’s accidental death suggest his increasing desperation to change the subject — the outlet’s lack of standards is far from disqualifying.
It’s a compelling part of the attraction.