The feedback loop between President Donald Trump and Fox News hosts has gone into overdrive in the last week, with the president and the hosts working themselves into an ever-greater fervor over Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that the FBI, under the Obama administration, spied on his presidential campaign.
Fox & Friends’ coverage of the issue Wednesday morning seems to have inspired the president to fire off a tweet-storm on the “Criminal Deep State” and allege a “SPY scandal the likes of which this country may never have seen before!”
While the connection between Fox News’ opinion hosts and the White House has long been noted, the extent to which Trump and the hosts appeared to be feeding off each other, with Trump following up the hosts’ comments with tweets and the hosts incorporating Trump’s language into their own, struck some observers as extraordinary.
David Gomez, a former FBI agent who is now a professor at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, said that the rhetoric produced by Trump and Fox News has real-world implications for agents, who may be worn down by being cast so prominently in a negative light.
“It’s like they’re feeding off of each other in terms of the inflammatory language,” Gomez said. “It’s troubling to me and it should be troubling to the American people that they can say something and the president mimics it, or the president says something and they mimic it, because you get that amplification effect.”
That effect seems to be what Trump and his new attorney, Rudy Giuliani, are hoping for in using all their rhetorical force to drive home the claim – for which they’ve produced no evidence – that the FBI had a “spy” in the Trump campaign. Trump’s and Giuliani’s efforts to link the claim to the Obama administration, as if the alleged informant were planted for political reasons, is also unconfirmed. Finally, FBI agents note that there are proper and legal procedures for the use of informants – as Giuliani, a former U.S. attorney, understands – that are neither new nor scandalous.
“It seems like he’s gone to an entirely new stage of accusations, abetted by his allies at Fox,” said Bill Grueskin, formerly a senior editor at The Wall Street Journal and now a professor at Columbia School of Journalism professor. “We’ve gone from saying there’s no collusion, i.e. investigators haven’t found any evidence of anything, to actually accusing the deep state of concocting a conspiracy to get the president in trouble.”
Fox News did not respond to request for comment.
The extent of the barrage spoke both to Trump’s determination to muddy the waters surrounding the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election, and to the extent to which Fox is his strategic weapon of choice.
At points on Wednesday, it seemed as though the network and president were in direct conversation. At the top of the 9 o’clock hour of “America’s Newsroom” Wednesday morning, news host Bill Hemmer opened, “President Trump fired up at this hour for what he says could be one of the biggest political scandals he says in history. The White House pushing to get answers whether or not the FBI had a spy in the Trump campaign and they are branding it ‘Spygate.’”
Well, one person had branded the affair ‘spygate,’ and that was Trump himself, in a tweet two hours earlier. Just 12 minutes before that, Trump had tweeted a quote from Fox News commentator Andrew Napolitano, made earlier that morning on Fox & Friends First. “It’s clear that they had eyes and ears all over the Trump campaign,” Napolitano said of the FBI at the tail-end of the 5 a.m. show.
Fox’s primetime hosts have also focused on the issue. During the 8 p.m. hour on Tuesday night, for instance, primetime Fox News host Tucker Carlson opened his show by discussing, “maybe the greatest scandal in modern political history, the FBI spying on the 2016 Trump campaign.”
At 9 p.m., host Sean Hannity, known to speak frequently with Trump, said, “If we as a country do not get to the bottom of this and expose everything about these deep-state actors spying on an opposition party during a presidential campaign, rigging one candidate’s email investigation, lying repeatedly to FISA court judges, we will lose the country. We will destroy the rule of law. We will shred our constitution completely.”
On Wednesday morning’s Fox & Friends, during which Trump launched his tweet-storm, spy-talk dominated the show. In the 6 a.m. hour, the word “spy” came up 14 times, during the 7 a.m. hour 13 times and 15 times during the 9 a.m. hour. Trump tweeted throughout, including one missive in which he inaccurately quoted former director of national intelligence James Clapper.