I Watched Fox News So You Don’t Have To | Commentary

An MSNBC and (sometimes) CNN viewer takes a walk on the wild side to see how the conservative network covered Donald Trump’s arraignment

fox news trump arraignment
Fox News Channel coverage of Donald Trump arraignment on Aug. 3, 2023.

Ben Svetkey

Benjamin Svetkey

Veteran entertainment journalist Benjamin Svetkey shoots the breeze, raises a brow and sometimes wags a finger in his ruminations on the latest Hollywood news and controversies.

I did something Thursday that I’m not proud of. Something I almost never do. Something that I’m pretty sure I’ll never do again.

I watched Fox News. 

I did it because I was curious how the other half lives — or at least how they consume news. As a frequent MSNBC viewer and sometimes CNN watcher, I occasionally find myself pondering if perhaps I need to broaden my perspective, step outside my comfort zone, and open my mind to other ways of seeing the world.

Boy, was that a mistake.

In particular, I was wondering how Fox News would cover Donald Trump’s arraignment. Or even if they’d cover it at all. For a minute there, it looked like they might skip the whole thing. In the morning, during a segment on something called “The Faulkner Focus” — a harrowing wake-up call of a newscast hosted by conservative author and motivational speaker Harris Faulkner — there was a chyron on the bottom of the screen that pretty much summed up the network’s attitude towards this most somber of moments in the history of American civics: “Trump Indictment Blocks Out Biden Scandals.” 

Harris Faulkner on "Faulkner Focus" Monday
Harris Faulkner (Fox News Channel)

Actually, as it happened, the so-called Biden scandals still managed to get more than their fair share of coverage on Fox News — at least on the shows I popped in and out throughout the day, like “The Story With Martha MacCallum,” “Your World With Neil Cavuto” and Fox’s afternoon panel show, “The Five” — even as the 45th president of the United States was being fingerprinted and charged in a courtroom in Washington D.C.

I deliberately chose to limit my spelunking into the dank caves of cable-news disinformation to the daytime hours, because that’s supposedly when Fox News is engaging in what it considers non-opinion journalism, as opposed to the nightly Nuremberg rallies whipped up by Sean Hannity and Jesse Waters (and, once upon a time, Tucker Carlson) in prime time. Of course, on Fox, there’s no such thing as non-opinion journalism. It’s all opinion, all the time. And that opinion, frankly, is often pretty bonkers.

There were basically three major talking points — sometimes shouting points — that dominated the day’s coverage on Fox. First, that Trump was merely exercising his First Amendment free speech rights when he deliberately and knowingly spread pernicious, insurrection-inciting lies about the 2020 election being rigged and then tried to strong-arm state officials and others — you know, like his vice president, Mike Pence — into overturning a perfectly lawful election that he lost by more than seven million votes. 

Second, that those pernicious lies may not have been lies after all. Incredibly, some on Fox, the network that not long ago wrote a check for three-quarters of a billion dollars to Dominion Voting Systems as a payout for broadcasting untrue election rigging conspiracy theories — are still peddling the notion that Trump was robbed of a second term. 

Greg Gutfeld
Greg Gutfeld (Fox News Channel)

“We don’t know if the election, by and large, in the 50 states, was corrupted or was not,” suggested “The Five’s” resident right-wing wag, Greg Gutfeld, all but winking — between his trademark smirks — at Trump’s election-denying base. “It’s unprovable. It can’t be proven either way.”

Actually, it kind of was proven — in dozens of court cases and by the under-oath testimony of countless former Trump officials, including his own attorney general, William Barr, who famously called those rigged election theories “bulls–t.”

But that didn’t stop Fox from pushing on with talking point No. 3: That the Trump indictment is entirely political, a doomed-to-fail plot by Democrats to interfere with Trump’s run for another term in 2024 by knocking him off the hustings with a series of bogus, ginned-up court cases. 

“The Democrats have believed that the more they file lawsuits against him or bring indictments that for sure, now… Republicans are going to walk away from President Trump,” opined former White House press secretary-turned-Fox News host Dana Perino on Neil Cavuto’s show. “I don’t know how many times they have to learn this lesson, but it doesn’t hurt him.”

dana perino fox news
Dana Perino (Fox News Channel)

Virtually nobody I saw on Fox Thursday seemed to take special counsel Jack Smith’s indictment of Trump as a terribly serious threat — the near-unanimous opinion, usually expressed with a bemused simper, was that it was little more than a nuisance suit that would surely fizzle out in court.

“Smith may have jumped the shark,” said one-time respected George Washington University law professor-turned-Fox News mouthpiece Jonathan Turley on Martha MacCallum’s show, calling Smith’s case “very sketchy” and predicting that “a lot of judges are going to be highly skeptical.”

Not shockingly at all, none of that same cool insouciance was on display whenever Hunter Biden’s name got mentioned, which it did frequently during the course of the day. To hear Fox tell it, the current president’s son’s old phone calls with business associates — during which then-vice president Joe Biden was allegedly put on the speaker — were the most dastardly crimes committed on American soil since the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. 

I’d quote Gutfeld here, but why bother — you can guess what he had to say about Hunter Biden.

I know that MSNBC has a political slant of its own. I know that CNN is a hot mess — its slant at the moment is more of a clueless, haphazard zigzag. But at least both of those news networks operate in a reality I recognize. Tuning back to them after spending a mind-bending day in Fox’s alternate universe felt like snapping out of bewildering, terrifying fever dream.

I promise I’ll never stray again.