Fox host Jesse Watters took the network's war on Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation further into Crazy Dangerous with a claim that it may be “a coup.” But Fox host Howard Kurtz suggested criticism of Watters was merely partisan sniping.
New York magazine described what happened on Watters World on Saturday:
During Watters’ World, Jesse Watters railed against Peter Strzok, who was removed from the Mueller investigation after it was revealed that he had sent anti-Trump texts. Fox hosts have used the messages to contend that Mueller’s investigation was fatally flawed from the beginning, though Strozk also sent negative texts about Democrats (and the argument is silly on its face anyway).
“We may now have proof the investigation was weaponized to destroy his presidency for partisan political purposes and to disenfranchise millions of American voters,” Watters said. “Now, if that’s true, we have a coup on our hands in America.”
As Raw Story noted, there was quite a bit of backlash. Kevin Baron, executive editor of Defense One blasted Watters’ use of the word “coup” as “alarmingly irresponsible,” “baseless” and “dangerous.”
Coup?! I cover wars. Militaries. Actual coups. Where citizens violently rise up and kill each other for power over each other.— Kevin Baron (@DefenseBaron) December 17, 2017
This is alarmingly irresponsible language, even for Fox. Inflammatory. Baseless. Dangerous. https://t.co/1tGrKZGfTR
But Fox News deliberately amplified the "coup" message with a banner on the screen. As you can see in the video below, Fox kept its “A COUP IN AMERICA?” banner on the screen during all of Watters’ follow-up conversation with Kellyanne Conway on the subject, a span of more than three minutes.
CNN’s Brian Stelter explained why the “coup” terminology was almost certainly deliberate:
Cable news banners don’t just appear out of thin air. Producers brainstorm, fact-check, proof-read them. Hosts are sometimes involved too. Yes, mistakes slip through occasionally. But this doesn’t look like a mistake... pic.twitter.com/nZkbRyKxUE— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) December 17, 2017
The “coup” framing was also floated by Rush Limbaugh earlier this month. Nor was this the first time Watters has used the term. In July, in the wake of revelations about Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with Russians who had offered damaging information about Hillary Clinton, Watters said, “I think everybody needs to wake up and realize this family is a patriotic family and what's happening right now is a coup against the will of the American people.”
Nevertheless, on Fox News’ MediaBuzz show yesterday, host Howard Kurtz downplayed criticisms of Fox’s rhetoric as partisan politics. He read, rather than played, Watters' quote. Guest Jessica Tarlov, a Democrat and paid contributor, quickly moved the discussion away from Fox and Watters:
KURTZ: Critics on your side saying that Fox News or some Fox commentators, they really should say, are trying to discredit this investigation any way they can.
TARLOV: Yeah, and I think that’s an accurate criticism. And it’s not just people on my side of the aisle. There are a number of Republicans who feel very strongly that Bob Mueller should be able to proceed as he has been, with the full confidence of the government and certainly not the president of the United States of America slandering them non-stop.
Worse, Tarlov immediately segued into offering a point of agreement with criticism of the Mueller investigation, anti-Trump texts by some agents.
I believe Tarlov is a well-intentioned commentator, but her milquetoasty "bothsidesism" response just did two big favors for Watters and his cadre of like-minded Trump attack dogs: She gave the dangerous rhetoric a pass by minimizing it and she legitimized Fox’s disingenuous coverage so that the network can now say the issue was addressed.
Watch Fox demonstrate that it has no objection to Watters' rhetoric below, from the December 18, 2017 MediaBuzz, via NewsHound Richard.
.@KellyannePolls: "The fix was in against @realDonaldTrump from the beginning, and they were pro-Hillary... They can't possibly be seen as objective or transparent or even-handed or fair." pic.twitter.com/DZKKR0OOPo— Fox News (@FoxNews) December 17, 2017
Even FOX's Howard Kurtz calls out ridiculous propaganda from FOX News Trump flack Jesse Watters suggesting an Anti-Trump "Coup on Our Hands in America". pic.twitter.com/tKFmzF5g4K— Richard W. (@IceManNYR) December 17, 2017