How Conservative Media Is Defending Donald Trump

From The Poynter Report with Tom Jones:

We’re still feeling aftershocks from the FBI’s unprecedented search of the Mar-a-Lago residence of former President Donald Trump.

And those aftershocks are playing out in different ways depending on where you consume your news.

Most responsible news outlets are reporting the facts and potential implications. Much — not all, but much — of conservative media is in spin mode.

CNN’s Brian Stelter, on his Sunday morning “Reliable Sources” show, had this: “So if you choose to live in that Trump information universe, you are hearing one thing over and over and over again: that he is under attack and, thus, you are under attack.”

As Stelter noted, the following banners appeared across TV screens last week:

  • Fox News: “FBI snooped through Melania’s closet.”
  • Fox News: “FBI is filled with a bunch of creeps.”
  • Fox News: “Culture of FBI is rotten to the core.”
  • Newsmax: “FBI raid on Trump’s home displays abuse of power.”
  • Newsmax: “FBI raid of Mar-a-Lago should scare every American.”
  • Fox News: “Politicized FBI undermines faith in justice system.”
  • Fox News: “This FBI cannot be trusted.”
  • Fox News: “FBI now exists to eliminate Democrat Party rivals.”

Speaking on “Reliable Sources,” John Dean, the former White House counsel for Richard Nixon, said, “I think these people are going to have egg all over their face when this is over; while they may not ever admit it, even though they should.”

It’s one thing to see Trump going bonkers on his social media platform. But to see supposed “news” organizations searching for reasons to excuse or explain Trump’s actions is alarming, but ultimately not that surprising given the recent history of right-wing media.

The best point Stelter made was that everybody needs to be patient and see how this story plays out. The FBI exercised a legal search of Trump’s residence and removed the documents they believe Trump should not have taken. Now let’s see where their investigation goes from here. And, to be clear, we’re talking about potentially sensitive and intricate papers. Perhaps we can give investigators more than a couple of days to go through it all.

In other words, this is not so simple. This is not a TV show that can be wrapped up in an hour.

Meanwhile, it’s truly frightening to see some of the rhetoric coming from Trump supporters, chants of “Defund the FBI” and threats against the government. One of those threats even turned deadly when a man, who appears to have been a devoted Trump supporter, was shot dead in a standoff with police when he attacked an FBI office in Cincinnati with a nail gun.

Over the weekend, armed Trump supporters showed up outside an FBI office in Phoenix.

On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” CBS justice correspondent Jeff Pegues talked about a bulletin put out by Homeland Security regarding threats against the FBI. Pegues said, “This is, as you noted, one of the most chilling bulletins I have read. And I have read numerous bulletins dating back to the days of al Qaeda and ISIS. And so this is the domestic threat here. And, according to the bulletin, which I was just looking at, again, part of the concern are some of these drivers, public officials making statements in support of the search at Mar-a-Lago — or against, criticizing the search, criticizing the FBI. And so you have FBI officials right now concerned about the safety of their agents, employees in general, and then, as you noted, that dirty bomb reference. So there is a lot of concern around the country. And this is the kind of bulletin that will go out to all police agencies, so that they are intent on sharing information, because, frankly, you don’t really know where the threat is really going to come from.”

And much of the support for Trump is coming from GOP leaders. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote, “It’s Pavlovian now. Republicans don’t even hesitate before protecting Trump, even though he’s being investigated for possibly violating the Espionage Act.”

Dowd went on to write about Trump: “This egomaniac is desecrating our democracy, tearing the country apart for his own benefit. Fund-raising emails ranting about the F.B.I. search of Mar-a-Lago should be headlined: ‘Let’s Ruin America So We Can Make Some Money Off It!’ (Actually, Rupert Murdoch could use that as a chyron.)”

And as Dowd points out, whenever Trump is backed into a corner, he starts “whining that someone else should be in trouble, not him.”

Yet Trump has his backers, including prominent ones in the GOP. For example, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said, “I think every Republican believes that the FBI, when it comes to Trump and other organizations, have lost their mind.” Florida Sen. Rick Scott said, “This should scare the living daylights out of American citizens. The way our federal government has gone, it’s like what we thought about the Gestapo or people like that.”

Dowd writes, “Even after so many years of this poisonous folly, I remain amazed that the Republicans viciously smeared by Trump on his way up, like Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham, now back up his smears.”

The Sunday shows

Trump and the FBI search was a major topic on the Sunday morning news shows.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobucher said, “I thought in the old days the Republican Party used to stand with law enforcement. And I hope some of them do today because this kind of rhetoric is very dangerous to our country.”

Klobuchar also had this interesting tidbit: “As a senator, I know when I look at the classified documents, I’ve got to go in a special room. … I can’t even wear my Fitbit.”

Meanwhile, on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Ohio Republican Congressman Mike Turner said, “(Trump) has a lot of questions to answer. … No one is above the law. Donald Trump is not above the law and Attorney General Garland is not above the law either.”

Briana Keilar, who was hosting “State of the Union,” asked Turner a great question: “Do you take home documents marked ‘special access?’”

Turner gave a one-word answer: “No.”

Turner then followed up later by saying he would be “very surprised if (Trump) has actual documents that rise to the level of an immediate national security threat.”

Still, great work in that interview by Keilar.

Also on “State of the Union,” Arkansas Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said, “Well, if the GOP is going to be the party of supporting law enforcement, law enforcement includes the FBI. As a United States attorney, I work with the FBI, the DEA, the federal law enforcement agencies. Those folks on the ground do extraordinarily heroic efforts to enforce our rule of law, which is fundamental to the Republican Party and to our democracy. The FBI is part of that. And so, yes, we need to pull back on casting judgment on them. No doubt that they have — higher-ups in the FBI (have) made mistakes. They do it. I have defended cases as well. And I have seen wrong actions. But we cannot say that, whenever they went in and did that search, that they were not doing their job as law enforcement officers.”

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