About a year ago, Fox News’ Juan Williams joked on the air 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.”
We’re occasionally reminded that he may not have been kidding. NBC News reported yesterday that Morgan Ortagus, a former Fox News contributor, will be the State Department’s new spokesperson, replacing Heather Nauert, a former Fox News anchor.
In fairness, it’s important to emphasize that Ortagus’ professional background extends well beyond her role as an on-air commentator.
Ortagus, a Naval Reserve officer, would bring significant experience in national security and foreign policy to the role…. Ortagus previously served as a public affairs officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development, an independent agency that takes direction from the State Department, according to a biography posted on the website of her consulting firm, GO Advisors. Her tenure included work in Iraq.
She also worked for the Treasury Department in the first term of the Obama administration as an intelligence analyst and as Treasury’s deputy U.S. attaché to Saudi Arabia, where her GO Advisors bio says she worked on countering illicit finance.
That said, Ortagus’ apparent new role in the Trump administration comes about seven weeks after the administration tapped Lea Gabrielle, a former Fox News reporter and former intelligence operative, to help lead the State Department’s Global Engagement Center.
And as regular readers know, they’ll both find plenty of other folks on Team Trump who’ve made the transition from the president’s television screen to his administration’s staff.
Not long after Nauert joined Team Trump, for example, the president turned to former Fox News executive Bill Shine to help oversee the White House’s communications office. A few months earlier, Trump tapped Fox News’ John Bolton to serve as White House national security advisor – in part because the president thought he was “good on television.”
Around the same time, the president chose Joe diGenova and his wife, Victoria Toensing, to serve on his legal defense team. Both crossed the White House’s radar because they were – let’s all say it together – Fox News personalities. (Their role on the legal defense team was short lived.)
As regular readers may recall, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told Rachel on the show last year, “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.
He’s something of an exception, though. In addition to the aforementioned Fox veterans, 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; and Fox News contributors such as Ben Carson and Elaine Chao are already in the president’s cabinet.
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 during the presidential transition period, “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.
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.