'The West Wing' at 20: C. J. Cregg and News Nostalgia

The opinion shows of Fox, in other words, reveled in their cartoonish cruelties. But the network’s self-styled purveyors of straight news engaged in the Trump-centrism, as well. The anchor Bret Baier, the first Fox host to weigh in on the hearings after they concluded, selected as the event’s key moment not the new information that emerged from it—the previously undisclosed phone call that, as my colleague Russell Berman put it, could add to the Democrats’ case that Trump “put his own interests above the nation’s”—but instead a scene of theater: the Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe asking Taylor and Kent, of Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, “Where is the impeachable offense in that call? Are either of you here today to assert there was an impeachable offense in that call?”

The query was met with silence by the witnesses—not because they were conceding that the call lacked that offense, but rather because the question was absurd: It is not their job to make such a determination. The optics, however, were apparently too good to pass up. Here was a Republican lawmaker yelling at career bureaucrats who met the indignation with mute confusion. Fox’s clip cut itself off before the words that followed the men’s silence—chief among them, Taylor explaining that, in fact, the work of deciding what might be impeachable falls not to him, but to Congress. But no matter. Fox would go on to recycle its selectively edited clip throughout the day and evening.

There was more. The anchor Martha McCallum used her time assessing the day’s hearings to argue that Trump had not been extorting the leader of a U.S. ally, but rather engaging in creative, Art of the Deal–style diplomacy. “Is it the president pushing for a little bit more before he gets anything out of this Ukraine relationship?” she asked, eventually answering her own question: “He started, really, with a clean slate. And this was the new opportunity to do that with Ukraine.”

Just Trump being Trump. Just Fox being Fox. The news channel, at its founding, announced itself as a beacon of informational independence; the network, it said, would serve as an antidote to the unchecked power of the “liberal media.” It would be straight-shooting. It would be free-thinking. We report; you decide. But there is a fine line, it turns out, between contrarianism and capitulation. There is a Bergerian element to Fox’s relationship with the man who is by turns its audience and its assignment editor: Donald Trump watches Fox News, and Fox News watches itself being watched. Fox News helped put Trump into power. Its coverage of his impeachment hearings is a reminder of how insistently it will work to keep him there.

Near the end of the day’s congressional testimonies, a new graphic appeared on Fox’s screen. “SOON: TRUMP SPEAKS,” it said. The trio of words was teasing a news conference the American president would be holding with the Turkish leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. There was an aptness to the convergence of the hearing and the meeting. Here were two leaders who find autocracy much more tempting than its alternatives—who consider strongman to represent not a threat, but an aspiration. And here were two presidents who believe that facts should conform to their will, backed by news outlets that have come to agree.

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