Fox News Sunday continued hammering Donald Trump over his lies about his inauguration crowd size during its panel discussion today. Democrats Mo Elleithee and Juan Williams shredded him in ways you don’t often hear from Fox News Democrats. Even more noteworthy: there was virtually no pushback.
In my last post, I opined that Wallace’s criticisms of Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was a deliberate shot over the bow from Fox to Trump. A follow-up panel discussion only solidified my belief:
Wallace began by asking Fox News anchor Bret Baier about Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s attacks on the press over its (true) reporting on Trump’s inaugural crowd size (transcript excerpts via FoxNews.com):
WALLACE: Well, Bret, you and I both covered the White House for years. And when White House press secretaries call special briefings, especially late in the afternoon, especially late in the afternoon on a Saturday afternoon, it’s a big deal. It’s a big personnel announcement. It’s a big policy announcement. In your years covering, I can tell you not in mine, have you ever seen a White House press secretary coming in to excoriate the press for their reports on crowd size?
Baier diplomatically said, “It was very different” before quickly adding, “But people at home” say this “break the china” approach is “exactly what we want.” He also noted that Spicer almost certainly said what he had been instructed by Trump to say:
Williams did not hold back.
JUAN WILLIAMS: Sean Spicer’s a good solider. I think just as Bret said, he was sent out there, I think much the way that he was sent out at one of the news conferences in New York to deal with the Russian allegations.
But when I think back to press secretaries, from Larry Speakes, to Tony Snow, Dana Perino, John Earnest, Robert Gibbs, I’ve never seen anything like him. I mean that’s just—I mean I’m just being straight with you guys. It suggested to me the question, where do you go from here? If that was the opening bid, if that’s the way you feel, if the president is calling the press a bunch of dishonest human beings, and Spicer’s sent out to scream and performing in that manner, to say to the press, you have no cred—if you—I suspect this is about legitimacy. That they are very fearful and uptight about the idea that they are being delegitimized from day one.
[…] I think that this response is so out-of-the-box that it adds to questions about presidential behavior. Do they—are they acting like a White House that we’d seen before? Well, if they want to say, it’s unique, it’s different, they’re breaking the china, fine, but they’re also hurting their standing, I think, not only with a press, but with the American people.
Nobody challenged Williams. Instead, Wallace continued by reiterating his concerns about Trump’s visit to the CIA yesterday:
WALLACE: Well, there’s another aspect to what happened yesterday that, to me, is even more troubling, and that is that the president said several things that just weren’t true. First of all, at the CIA he said that all the reports of his rift with the intelligence community were a media invention. As I discussed with Reince Priebus, that’s not true. I mean he was the one who said it was disgraceful what the intelligence community did and compared it to Nazi Germany. And then through Spicer he said that this was the biggest audience ever to attend an inauguration. That’s also not true.
Elleithee responded to Wallace by delivering the coup de grâce:
ELLEITHEE: The president of the United States yesterday stood on hallowed ground, in front of a memorial wall of fallen CIA officers, and he looked at the American people and he lied. He lied more than once. He lied about something of substance, his relationship with the CIA and what he has said in the past, and he lied about the most trivial of things he possibly could lie about, crowd sizes at an inaugural.
We talked about the Spicer pieces. There’s—even more troubling than that, they shut down the National Park Service’s communications tool, its Twitter, because the national Park Service tweeted out the crowd size estimates. This should be of concern to everybody, not just to the press, but to everybody. If people already are feeling a lack of trust in our government, this is not going to make it better. This is a Nixonian (ph) politics in the Twitter area.
Wallace asked conservative guest Kimberley Strassel if Elleithee had gone “over-the-top.” She made noises about defending Trump but she never directly refuted Elleithee’s criticisms:
STRASSEL: Here’s what you have to understand though. Yes, people lack trust in institutions. And you want to know one of the major institutions they lack trust in? The media. So, you know, the president isn’t going to stop this. He feels that there’s no downside to this. This is a time-honored tradition, especially among Republican presidents, to talk about the media as a foil.
And the media did itself no benefits in the run-up to the election. I mean I’m not saying everyone around this table accepted, obviously.
And Donald Trump believes that, you know, if he goes to war with the media, and he likes to feud with people, who better than to feud with in the media because the public –
As a lower-third banner read, “asked,” “Will Trump White House pay a price for feud with the press?” Wallace pressed her on this. And, again, she did not directly defend Trump:
WALLACE: But—but do you agree with that? Do you really think he pays no price for what went on yesterday?
STRASSEL: I don’t know. I mean, again, you have to believe that the American public has more trust in the media than they do in the new president, and I’m not sure that’s a clear cut bet.
Wallace once again emphasized the “bad strategy” aspect:
WALLACE: And—and, Juan, you know, I—I wonder if—whether President Trump—far be it for me to tell him what to do or who’s right—but I think that he thinks because he won that he didn’t pay any price during the campaign. But you look back at some of the—the moment when he got into the fight with a gold star family, when he went after the Mexican-American judge, he did pay a price. Yes, he ended up winning the election in the end, some would say because Hillary Clinton was a—a—a bad candidate, but you can’t defy the laws of political gravity forever.
WILLIAMS: No. And what’s intriguing to me is, traditionally, an inaugural speech really is sort of a unifying effort by the victor saying come together America, I am your president, I am your leader. In giving the speech that he gave and the behavior that he’s displayed and his press secretary displayed on the very first day, I think it is a defiance. I think it’s first pumping. I think it’s very proud, OK, but there’s no sense in which, oh, my gosh, look at all those protesters in the street. Oh, my gosh, I acknowledge that there are some issues here and I want to bring us together. I just don’t see that.
Another noteworthy aspect of this discussion was that there was only one outright conservative vs. two outright liberal guests. There’s no doubt in my mind that Baier is a conservative but he’s a news anchor, not a pundit. That doesn’t stop other Fox anchors from freely airing their bias but Baier did not do that here.
I wrote in my previous post that I thought Wallace’s blatant suggestions that Trump is engaging in the wrong strategy were a deliberate message to him. The fact that this was another Fox News Sunday show without a Democratic guest only confirmed my opinion because if Fox wanted a “fair and balanced debate,” it would have hosted one. Instead, most of the message was delivered by Fox News personnel. Whether Trump will heed this message is another question.
Watch it below, from the January 22, 2017 Fox News Sunday.