A former US Ambassador to Russia says President Donald Trump has “no guts” when it comes to confronting Vladimir Putin on election meddling. But Thomas Pickering says for Trump, the substance of the summit is less important than the show. (July 16)
For the past year and a half, even when President Donald Trump said he was being treated unfairly by mainstream news sources, he could rely on the support of conservative media outlets — until Helsinki.
Even Trump’s most ardent supporters in the media including Fox News Channel and The Wall Street Journal were critical of his siding with Russian President Vladimir over the issue of interference in the 2016 presidential election.
It remains to be seen whether Trump’s attempts Tuesday to walk back his comments made in Helsinki can repair the damage. The president Tuesday said he accepted the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russians interfered with the 2016 election — with a qualifier.
Professing “full faith and support for America’s great intelligence agencies,” Trump told reporters at the White House, “it could be other people also” involved in the hacking of Democrats and pushing fake news during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Just a day ago while standing next to Putin during a joint press conference in Helsinki, Trump questioned the U.S. intelligence community’s finding and said that the U.S. carries as much blame as Russia for tattered relations between the two superpowers. “I think that the United States has been foolish,” Trump said. “I think we’ve all been foolish.”
The result predictably led to criticism from news hosts and expert guests on CNN and MSNBC, but that flowed over to Fox News, too. “There is an avalanche of you-know-what rolling downhill at warp speed toward @realDonaldTrump over this summit,” tweeted Fox’s chief White House correspondent John Roberts. “Republicans—even the DNI (Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats ) are throwing bucketsful at him.”
In an editorial, The Wall Street Journal declared the Helsinki summit’s press conference “a personal and national embarrassment.”
Other outlets usually considered Trump apologists including The Washington Times and The Drudge Report came down critically on the president, too.
The shift in sentiment could signal a new trouble spot for Trump as he attempts to move beyond the Helsinki summit. “We’re starting to see right-wing journalists criticize Trump in ways they haven’t before because even they can’t swallow defending the indefensible,” said Mark Feldstein, a broadcast journalism professor at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Conservative journalists find themselves in the “same bind the Republican Party is in,” he says. “They either have to tie themselves to Trump, with all the unpredictability, demagoguery and extremism that brings, or risk alienating his very loyal base.”
And it could lead to increased tensions with the media. Just as The Washington Post, The New York Times and other outlets last year began calling out presidential lies, “I think there’s a similar line that has been crossed here,” says Kyle Pope, editor-in-chief of the Columbia Journalism Review.
Now, “there is a journalistic conversation around ‘Something is wrong here and we need to get serious about addressing it.’ That was the general media conversation, but then you saw even some of the conservative media picking up the same thing,” Pope said.
The criticism continued Tuesday on Fox and Friends, a morning show that Trump watches and has appeared on. Co-host Steve Doocy, who just last month interviewed Trump live on the West Lawn, said the president’s submission to Trump “has got a lot of people … criticizing him for not being bold.”
Fox and Friends Weekend co-host Abby Huntsman, also on the show, joined in saying “it was that one moment that you had to stand up for your own country, and stand up for your intelligence community. And as we’ve said this morning – he did not do that.”
Similarly, on Fox Business Network, Maria Bartiromo sided with the Journal’s editorial and called Helsinki “probably the low point of the presidency so far.”
Still, some on the opinion side for Fox News and Fox Business remained stalwart with Trump. Sean Hannity, who interviewed Trump Monday night told him, “you were very strong at the end of that press conference.”
Also Monday night, Lou Dobbs on Fox Business called the president’s critics “morons” and said the media’s carping is “stupid stuff, this is beyond the pale, as far as I’m concerned.”
Fox’s opinion personalities “were very much in favor (of Trump), explaining and defending the president in a way that nobody else, not even the administration, was able to do yesterday,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of political science at Farleigh Dickinson University and author of “Fox News & American Politics: How One Channel Shapes American Politics & Society.”
The media responses to the Helsinki summit recalled that of last year’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Cassino said, except much of conservative media is not defending Trump in this case. When Fox and Friends criticizes the president, “that is a real signal,” he said. “We know that (Trump) watches, so the president is getting messages.”
Trump has been able to change the narrative and he gets another opportunity Tuesday when he appears in a primetime interview on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight at 8 p.m. ET.
His discussion with Carlson will come as Trump needs to mend fissures in his support, says Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University in Arlington, Va.
“Until yesterday there has always been a supportive media to counter the more common negative narrative regarding the president’s leadership and his believability and that has been an important bulwark of Trump’s support,” he said. “I don’t think the president can sustain support all by himself. He can only take that Twitter account and other social media to counter messages so far without anyone else to back him up.”
Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.
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