Fox News, once home to Trump, now often ignores him

The network is now often bypassing Mr Donald Trump in favour of showcasing other Republicans. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - It's been more than 100 days since Mr Donald Trump was interviewed on Fox News.

The network, which is owned by Mr Rupert Murdoch and boosted Mr Trump's ascension from real estate developer and reality television star to the White House, is now often bypassing him in favour of showcasing other Republicans.

In the former president's view, according to two people who have spoken to him recently, Fox's ignoring him is an affront far worse than running stories and commentary that he has complained are "too negative".

The network is effectively displacing him from his favourite spot: the centre of the news cycle.

On July 22, as Mr Trump was rallying supporters in Arizona and teasing the possibility of running for president in 2024, saying, "We may have to do it again", Fox News chose not to show the event - the same approach it has taken for nearly all of his rallies this year.

Instead, the network aired Ms Laura Ingraham's interview with a possible rival for the 2024 Republican nomination, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida. It was the first of two prime-time interviews Fox aired with Mr DeSantis in the span of five days; he appeared on Mr Tucker Carlson's show shortly after talking to Ms Ingraham.

When Mr Trump spoke to a gathering of conservatives in Washington this week, Fox did not air the speech live. It instead showed a few clips after he was done speaking. That same day, it did broadcast live - for 17 minutes - a speech by former Vice-President Mike Pence.

Mr Trump has complained recently to aides that even Mr Sean Hannity, his friend of 20 years, doesn't seem to be paying him much attention anymore, one person who spoke to him recalled.

Murdochs sour on Trump

The snubs are not coincidental, according to several people close to Mr Murdoch's Fox Corp. who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the company's operations. This month, The New York Post and The Wall Street Journal, both owned by Mr Murdoch, published blistering editorials about Mr Trump's actions concerning the Jan 6, 2021, riot on the Capitol.

The scepticism toward the former president extends to the highest levels of the company, according to two people with knowledge of the thinking of Mr Murdoch, the chairman, and his son Lachlan, the CEO.

It also reflects concerns that Republicans in Washington, including Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, have expressed to the Murdochs about the potential harm Mr Trump could cause to the party's chances in upcoming elections, especially its odds of taking control of the Senate.

The Murdochs' discomfort with Mr Trump stems from his refusal to accept his election loss, according to two people familiar with those conversations, and is generally in sync with the views of Republicans like Mr McConnell, who mostly supported the former president but long ago said the election was settled and condemned his efforts to overturn it.

One person familiar with the Murdochs' thinking said they remained insistent that Fox News had made the right call when its decision desk projected that Mr Joe Biden would win Arizona just after 11pm on the night of the election - a move that infuriated Mr Trump and short-circuited his attempt to prematurely declare victory.

This person said Mr Lachlan Murdoch privately described the decision desk's call, which came days before other networks concluded that Mr Trump had lost the state, as something only Fox "had the courage and science to do".

'Gone over to the dark side'

Mr Trump blasted Fox & Friends this week on his social media service, Truth Social, for being "terrible" and having "gone to the 'dark side'" after one of its hosts had mentioned that Mr DeSantis had beaten Mr Trump in two recent polls of a hypothetical 2024 Republican primary contest.

Then, offering no evidence, he blamed Mr Paul Ryan, the former Republican speaker of the House, with whom he often clashed. Mr Ryan sits on Fox Corp's board of directors.

The Post was often on Mr Trump's side in its editorials when he was president. But it occasionally went against him, like when Mr Trump refused to concede the election in 2020 and the paper's front-page headline blared: "Mr. President, STOP THE INSANITY."

Mr Donald Trump at a ‘Save America’ rally in support of Arizona GOP candidates on July 22, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

Mr Trump found a home on Fox News when the network's founder Roger Ailes gave him a weekly slot on Fox & Friends in 2011. Mr Trump used the platform to connect with the budding Tea Party movement as he thrashed establishment Republicans like Mr Ryan and spread a lie about the authenticity of President Barack Obama's birth certificate.

Initially, neither Mr Ailes nor Mr Murdoch thought of Mr Trump as a serious presidential candidate. Mr Ailes told colleagues at the time that he thought Mr Trump was using his 2016 campaign to get a better deal with NBC, which broadcast The Apprentice, according to Insurgency, this reporter's account of Mr Trump's rise in the Republican Party.

And, when Ms Ivanka Trump told Mr Murdoch over lunch in 2015 that her father intended to run, Mr Murdoch reportedly did not even look up from his soup, according to The Devil's Bargain, by Mr Joshua Green.

But as Mr Trump became bigger than any one news outlet - and bigger than even his own political party - he was able to turn the tables and rally his supporters against Fox or any other outlet he felt was too critical of him.

He regularly used Twitter to attack Fox personalities like Ms Megyn Kelly, Mr Charles Krauthammer and Mr Karl Rove.

Doubts over Trump louder now

The network could always be critical of him in its news coverage. But now the scepticism comes through louder - in asides from news anchors, in interviews with voters or in opinion articles for other Murdoch-owned properties.

Referring to the congressional investigation into the Jan 6 attack, Fox anchor Bret Baier said it had made Mr Trump "look horrific" by detailing how it had taken 187 minutes for him to be persuaded to say anything publicly about the riot.

One recent segment on featured interviews with Mr Trump supporters who were overwhelmingly unenthusiastic about a possible third campaign, saying that they thought "his time has passed" and that he was "a little too polarising".

Then they offered their thoughts on who should replace him on the ticket. Unanimously, they named Mr DeSantis.

"I spent 11 years at Fox, and I know nothing pre-taped hits a Fox screen that hasn't been signed off on and sanctioned at the very top levels of management," said Mr Eric Bolling, a former Fox host who is now with Newsmax. "Especially when it has to do with a presidential election."

There can be no denying that Fox News remains Fox News. Viewers in recent weeks have seen occasionally critical coverage of Mr Trump. But, unlike other news networks, Fox has chosen to air its own prime-time programming rather than the hearings of the committee investigating the Jan 6 attack.

Mr Carlson, Mr Hannity and Ms Ingraham dismiss the hearings as a "show trial".

"They are lying, and we are not going to help them do it," Mr Carlson has said. "What we will do instead is to try to tell you the truth."

The network has aired the Jan 6 committee hearings during the day, when far fewer viewers are tuning in. But other segments during the daytime and early evening play up violent crime in Democratic-run cities or Mr Biden's verbal and physical stumbles.

As the government announced that a key indicator of economic health declined last quarter, the headline Fox scrawled across the screen read, "Biden Denies Recession as US Enters Recession."

On April 13, Mr Trump called into Mr Hannity's show and ran through a list of crises he claimed would not be happening "had we won this election, which we did". He hasn't been interviewed on the network since.

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