On Oct. 9, the day after the FBI announced arrests in the case, 3 percent of all 15-second segments that aired on CNN mentioned the governor’s name, according to a GDELT analysis of Internet Archive closed-captioning data. On MSNBC, 2 percent of segments did, as well.
On Fox News, though, the subject didn’t get nearly as much coverage, with the governor’s name appearing only about once every nine minutes. On Fox Business, Whitmer was mentioned even less frequently.
Well, sure, you may be saying, why would a business network spend an extended amount of time talking about a political plot?
Well, consider that on 41 of the days from Aug. 1 to Oct. 12, Fox Business spent more time talking about antifa, a loose-knit left-wing group, than it did talking about Whitmer the day after the plot against her was revealed. It wasn’t alone in that. On eight days, over those two-plus months, Fox News talked more about antifa than it talked about Whitmer on Oct. 9.
On only one day did either Fox network mention boogaloo, the loose-knit right–wing movement aimed at fomenting civil war in the United States. There’s reason to think that some of those involved in the Whitmer plot were adherents of the boogaloo movement, but you apparently wouldn’t have heard that on Fox News.
This, of course, is how Fox News works. We’ve noted in the past that the network is loath to cover stories that conflict with any narrative that President Trump wants to promote, from his alleged romantic liaisons to Fox News polling, which shares popular opinions that would be unpopular at the White House. Perhaps as a result, there is no group more loyal to Trump than Republicans who watch Fox News.
The network’s willingness to carry Trump’s water, though, is nonetheless remarkable.
On Sept. 3, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany began a briefing by highlighting a recently released video showing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) having her hair styled at a salon in San Francisco. Pelosi wasn’t masked as she walked through the salon, potentially violating local statues and spurring McEnany to declare that the speaker “ought to apologize to the American people.”
On that same day, the subject was mentioned in 2 percent of Fox News’s segments and 1 percent of Fox Business’s. From the release of the video on Sept. 1, the subject was mentioned at least once on Fox News every day until Sept. 10 and every day until Sept. 13 on Fox Business.
On Oct. 8, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on a much larger violation of social distancing guidelines. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows had hosted a 70-person wedding for his daughter in Georgia in May. The event was an obvious violation of state and local regulations and posed a much bigger risk of spreading the virus.
Neither Fox network appears to have mentioned it at all.
It can be hard to extricate how Fox News viewers view the president or political issues from their self-selection of the network as a news source in the first place. In other words, to what extent does Fox News drive perceptions of issues, and to what extent do those who hold particular views end up watching Fox News?
Recent polling from the Pew Research Center gives an example of a way in which Fox News viewers are more likely to express views that align with Trump’s, prompting the above question.
The pollsters asked respondents whether they believed that voter fraud was a significant problem with mail-in ballots. About a quarter of respondents overall said it is a major problem — an incorrect response, given the dearth of evidence for rampant fraud with mail-in ballots. Among those for whom Fox News is their primary source of election news, more than half see fraud as a major problem, and more than 80 percent say it is at least a minor problem.
Is this because they watch Fox News? Or is it because they support and listen to the president (who makes this claim all the time) and that support spurs them to watch Fox News in the first place. One thing we can say: CNN was four times as likely as Fox News to use the words “unfounded” or “false” or “untrue” in the context of fraud.
The Pew data does suggest that Fox News viewers are less familiar with basic information about mail-in balloting. Several states conducted elections entirely by mail even before the coronavirus pandemic, something that only 1 in 5 of those who identify Fox News as their main source of election news knew when asked.
Fox News viewers are also far more likely to say that journalists “make up” election news, with more than two-thirds making that claim.
This, too, correlates to Trump’s rhetoric, reflecting his broadly baseless “fake news” claims, though, in this context, the position gets a bit ironic. Not that it’s surprising: One-fifth of those who identify Fox News as their primary source of election news say they put no trust in national news organizations.
What the data above reflects is the phenomenon that has powered Trump since 2015. His base expects Fox News to share their enthusiasm about the president and, in fact, are more likely to trust Trump than the network. This gives the network an incentive to tell its audience what it wants to hear, which is about the purported dangers of antifa and Pelosi’s visit to the hair salon.
The danger for Trump is that this group appears to be smaller than the group planning to vote for his opponent in November.