Fox News’ Juan Williams joked on the air last week that he sees Donald Trump’s White House as a reality-television program – and if you want to make it onto the show, you have to be in a Fox News green room “because apparently that’s the staging area.”
Perhaps Williams wasn’t kidding.
Less than an hour after President Trump named John R. Bolton as his new national security adviser on Thursday, Mr. Bolton made an appearance in the venue where many Americans, including Mr. Trump, have come to know him over the past decade: Fox News.
“I think I still am a Fox News contributor,” Mr. Bolton, laughing, told the host Martha MacCallum at the start of a previously scheduled interview.
“No,” Ms. MacCallum clarified. “You’re not.”
You can’t blame him for being a bit confused.
Trump’s new White House national security advisor was, up until yesterday afternoon, a Fox News personality. Indeed, Bolton appears to have been offered his new job at least in part because the president thinks he’s “good on television.”
Joe diGenova, the new member of the president’s legal defense team, is also a Fox News personality, and he was joined on the team yesterday by his wife, Victoria Toensing, who is – let’s all say it together – a Fox News personality. (Trump has also reportedly turned to Jeanine Pirro, a Fox News host, for legal guidance.)
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told Rachel on the show last night, “I’m concerned the president’s world is confined now to watching Fox News… Aside from his insular existence in the Oval Office, Fox is his whole world.”
Well, not his whole world: Trump hired television host Larry Kudlow to be the head of the White House National Economic Council – and Kudlow worked for CNBC.
The larger point, of course, is that the president’s TV remote remains the most important tool in the United States.
Following up on our coverage from a couple of weeks ago, one of the staples of this presidency is that Trump is moved by what he sees on his TV screen. This is especially true on personnel decisions.
Fox News’ Heather Nauert is now a key official at the State Department (who was recently promoted). Fox News’ K.T. McFarland was Trump’s deputy national security advisor. Fox News’ Monica Crowley was chosen to work at the National Security Council before a controversy forced her departure. Fox News’ Jonathan Wachtel was named the spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the United Nations. Fox News contributors such as Ben Carson and Elaine Chao are already in the president’s cabinet, and now CNBC’s Larry Kudlow will be the top economic voice in the White House.
Even Jay Sekulow, a top member of Trump’s legal defense team, has no relevant experience working on the issues he’s tackling now, but he has maintained a very high profile in recent years on conservative media, which very likely helped get him his current gig.
The Washington Post joked last year, “The Trump revolution won’t just be televised. It will be led by television talking heads.” It’s even truer now than it was then.
What’s more, it’s not just personnel. The president met with Veterans Affairs Sec. David Shulkin recently, and when their conversation turned to pending V.A. health care legislation, Trump reportedly called a Fox News personality, Pete Hegseth, “to get his opinion” of the bill. (Hegseth may soon replace Shulkin.)
When proponents of steel tariffs launched a lobbying campaign, they ran TV ads where they thought Trump might see them. When Kristian Saucier wanted a presidential pardon, he went on Fox News to ask for one – and received one soon after. When White House aides wanted to convey to Trump that the indictments of 13 Russian operatives was not good news, they went to cable news in order to shape the president’s understanding of the developments.
Foreign diplomats have urged their governments’ leaders to appear on American television “as a means of making their case to Trump.”
Following up on an item from last year, I should emphasize that as a rule, I’m not at all inclined to criticize those who watch a lot of cable news. It just so happens that I work for a cable-news television show and get paid by a cable-news network.
That said, it’s also fair to say that while we’ve had media-conscious presidents in American history, we’re never seen someone with the kind of obsession Trump has. To get a job on Team Trump, go on TV. To get a message to the president, go on TV. To influence the direction of the White House, go on TV.
This isn’t how the executive branch of a global superpower is supposed to work.