Fox News has branded itself as “fair and balanced.” Compared to the mainstream media, Fox News has indeed provided some welcomed balance to coverage of the national news. However, Fox News has not lived up to its branding when it comes to its handling of Donald Trump. Several of its on-air personalities have expressed the kind of downright hostility to the Republican presidential nominee that one might expect to witness on leftist cable news bastions such as MSNBC.
Shepard Smith, the host of "Shepard Smith Reporting" as well as the managing editor of Fox News Channel's Breaking News Division, is cast as a Fox News “hard news” anchor. Yet he leads the station’s biased coverage against Trump. Indeed, Shepard Smith has taken it upon himself to attach the racist label to Trump. For instance, following Hillary Clinton’s speech in August attempting to link Trump to the white nationalist alt-right movement, Smith became a part of her race baiting attack machine.
“He trades in racism, doesn’t he?” Shepard Smith asked rhetorically, referring to Trump. That is not hard news. It is an unfounded attack designed to discredit Trump falsely as a racist.
Smith's attack on Trump is part and parcel of the news anchor's penchant for engaging in the race-baiting game, which he has proven quite proficient in playing. Smith, for example, chastised former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal last July for saying that “all lives mattered” in response to the killing of three police officers in Baton Rouge. “Governor,” Smith said to Jindal, “you know, you know that that phrase you just used is is (sic) one that’s seen by many as, as derogatory, right? I, I just wonder why it is that you use that phrase when there’s a certain segment of the population that believes it’s a real dig on ’em.”
Not long ago, Smith twisted his reporting on Trump’s recent reversal on the racially charged birther issue. Smith did not limit himself to stating Trump’s past record in continuing to push the issue even after President Obama produced his long-form birth certificate. Instead, Smith acted as if he were a Hillary Clinton surrogate in stating categorically that there was “no evidence to support the claim” that Hillary Clinton’s team had “started the theory that President Obama wasn't born in America.” In case anybody missed his point, Smith added for emphasis, “Zero, it never happened.” Except it did happen, according to former McClatchy Washington Bureau Chief James Asher. Asher claimed that top Hillary Clinton aide and confidante Sid Blumenthal had “told me in person” during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary campaign that Obama was born in Kenya. At that time, Asher was an investigative editor and in charge of Africa coverage.
“During that meeting, Mr. Blumenthal and I met together in my office and he strongly urged me to investigate the exact place of President Obama’s birth, which he suggested was in Kenya,” Asher said. “We assigned a reporter to go to Kenya, and that reporter determined that the allegation was false. At the time of Mr. Blumenthal’s conversation with me, there had been a few news articles published in various outlets reporting on rumors about Obama’s birthplace. While Mr. Blumenthal offered no concrete proof of Obama’s Kenyan birth, I felt that, as journalists, we had a responsibility to determine whether or not those rumors were true. They were not.”
So much for Shepard Smith’s “Zero, it never happened” proclamation.
Jenna Lee, co-host of "Happening Now," qualified her attack on Trump’s claim that Hillary Clinton’s campaign had started the birther issue by conceding that there "may have been some supporters of her, unofficially linked to her who had mentioned it.” But she then dismissed that possibility as irrelevant because “it's difficult to attribute that to her [Hillary].” Sid Blumenthal was not just some random supporter or volunteer, unknown to Hillary Clinton herself. He was very tight with both Clintons, and remained Hillary’s informal outside adviser even while she was Secretary of State. It is inconceivable that Blumenthal's whisper campaign against Obama was kept secret from her. Clinton certainly did not publicly denounce the rumors her henchman and others supporting her campaign were spreading.
Chris Wallace, the anchor of FOX News Sunday, who will be the moderator for the third presidential debate, used an interview with Donald Trump to hurl a false accusation at him, which the left-wing funded Media Matters posted: "You have condoned violence in rally after rally." To try to prove his point, Wallace played snippets of rallies without providing proper context.
On another occasion, Wallace hammered Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus regarding the discredited New York Times story entitled “Crossing the Line: Trump’s Private Conduct with Women.” Wallace took the New York Times article at face value and rebuked Priebus for not being sufficiently bothered by whether Trump “made unwanted advances, whether he humiliated women in the workplace.”
Politicus, which has its own left-wing biases, posted an excerpt from the Fox News Sunday transcript and commented: “One has to wonder if Fox News is out to sabotage Trump because the conservative network lit a match and put Reince Priebus on the hot seat.”
This month, Wallace picked up on Shepard Smith’s racially charged theme, asking Ben Carson this insulting question: “Do you worry that you’re being used as a prop for black voters and that supporting Donald Trump will end up hurting your credibility in the black community?”
To be sure, Fox News is not entirely negative in its coverage on Trump. Sean Hannity is very much in Trump’s corner. Bill O’Reilly has generally been fair in his coverage. They are left alone, no doubt, due in large part to the huge ratings and advertising revenue they bring. Other opinion commentators appearing on various Fox News shows are split in the views they have expressed regarding Trump. Even so, however, the regular members of Bret Baier’s “Special Report” daily panel who normally voice conservative points of view, including Jonah Goldberg, George Will, Steve Hayes and Charles Krauthammer, have often joined their more liberal counterparts such as Juan Williams in going after Trump.
Why has Fox News become increasingly prone to airing left-wing talking points against Trump, uttered by the likes of Shepard Smith and Chris Wallace, and packaged as “hard news”?
Megyn Kelly’s spat with Trump, which was triggered by her debate question regarding Trump’s treatment of women, is well known. The controversy went on for months, until Kelly decided to offer an olive branch to Trump and sat down with him for a relatively bland face-to-face interview. While Trump’s war of words with Fox News may have originated with the Kelly imbroglio, the negative comments about Trump we have been hearing on Fox News have deeper roots.
According to a New York article, Rupert Murdoch, whose parent company owns Fox News, “was not a fan of Trump’s and especially did not like his stance on immigration.” Murdoch tweeted that Trump is “wrong” on Mexican immigrants. In another tweet, Murdoch asked: “When is Donald Trump going to stop embarrassing his friends, let alone the whole country?” Murdoch had originally wanted Mike Bloomberg to run for president as an alternative “billionaire candidate” to Trump. He was still tweeting encouragement about a possible Bloomberg run as recently as January of this year. When Trump competitor Ben Carson became a favorite of Murdoch’s during the Republican primary campaign season, Murdoch compared Carson and Trump's political approaches this way: “America land of hope versus fear.”
Murdoch was thus not pleased with the fact that Roger Ailes, the former Fox News Chairman and friend of Donald Trump, had encouraged positive coverage of Trump in the early days of the GOP candidate's campaign.
“According to Fox sources, Murdoch blamed Ailes for laying the groundwork for Trump’s candidacy,” the New York article reported. Murdoch reportedly directed Ailes to have the Fox moderators of the first televised Republican primary debate in August 2015, Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier, and Chris Wallace, go after Trump especially hard with tough questions. And so they did, especially Kelly. Ailes was not pleased with the outcome, but his hands were tied by his boss’s wishes.
Nearly a year later, Ailes was forced out of his position on account of allegations of sexual harassment. Ailes resigned on July 21st. Murdoch took over Ailes’ position, at least temporarily, as the general election was beginning to heat up. With Ailes out of the way and Murdoch in charge of the Fox News network, coverage of Trump took a more negative turn.
Viewers across the political spectrum have certainly noticed this negative trajectory in Fox News' coverage of Trump. It is reasonable to ask that opinions about the presidential candidates be confined to opinion shows only. If a self-styled “hard news” anchor like Shepard Smith wants to traffic in left-wing talking points against Donald Trump, perhaps he should stop pretending he is an objective journalist and consider moving over to MSNBC where he would fit right in.