Will Trump and Fox News turn from allies to enemies?

Mike Bebernes
·Editor
·7 min read

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

The mostly rosy relationship between President Trump and Fox News has been fruitful for both parties over the past several years. But Trump’s election loss to Joe Biden — and Trump's refusal to accept the results — has injected a new level of tension into the partnership and led some to believe that the two allies may soon become enemies.

Trump has been critical of Fox News in the past, but his attacks have become especially pointed since the election. He reportedly raged at Fox owner Rupert Murdoch over the network’s decision to call Arizona in Biden’s favor on election night. Trump has also publicly rebuked Fox News anchors who haven’t endorsed his unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud, and has urged supporters to watch Fox’s right-wing competitors Newsmax and One America News Network. Marchers chanted “Fox News sucks” during a pro-Trump rally in Washington, D.C., last Saturday.

The issue of how to handle Trump’s fraud claims has led to a distinct divide between Fox’s daytime news arm and its block of primetime opinion shows. The network's news anchors have mostly stuck to the facts about the various legal challenges. Star opinion hosts Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, on the other hand, have regularly trumpeted some of the president’s baseless accusations of vote manipulation.

Why there’s debate

Trump and Fox News had clear reasons to get along over the past four years. Fox, already the most watched network for more than a decade before Trump took office, got a boost in ratings and increased access to the levers of power in Washington. With Fox News, Trump had an incredibly influential media outlet in his corner. The mutual benefits of an amicable partnership may end when Trump leaves office, media analysts say.

Even after he departs the White House, Trump appears unlikely to abandon his view that the election was stolen from him. Fox, simply by covering the day-to-day operations of the Biden administration, will be tacitly refuting that stance. Recent reports suggest that Trump has eyed either starting his own network or buying one to compete with Fox News. If that happens, he will have both a personal and business interest in labeling Fox as “fake news.” At the same time, the network will have reason to try to delegitimize the former president.

Others are doubtful that Trump and Fox are headed toward a messy breakup. Though it thrived during the Trump presidency, Fox was always better suited for the oppositional role it played during the Obama administration, some argue. Adding Trump to its stable of dissenting voices would be an ideal way for Fox News to maximize that position, they say. It’s also possible that Trump may find competing with Fox too challenging or unfulfilling and look to mend fences to gain access to the network’s massive audience.

Perspectives

Fox News’ dominance of right-wing media could be broken if Trump takes his supporters elsewhere

“It is possible that the outgoing President could damage the Fox brand and peel away disillusioned viewers if he launches a media company of his own. It is possible that the right-wing media map, long controlled by Fox, is about to become balkanized.” — Brian Stelter, CNN

Fox will be just fine without Trump

“Look for FNC to establish itself as the main scrutinizer of Biden and his expected leftward-lurch initiatives on taxes, climate, health care and international diplomacy. In short, Fox News will still be Fox News.” — Jeffrey McCall, The Hill

Both sides have incentive to work together in the future

“Among the likely options: Rupert and [his son] Lachlan Murdoch shell out eight figures to keep Trump on their shows, and off those of their rivals. It would be cheap at the price. And it would help Fox deflect and rechannel the resentment of Trump’s hardest-core fans so it can enter the Biden era guns blazing.” — David Folkenflik, NPR

With Trump’s backing, competitors could cut into Fox’s conservative media dominance

“There’s no question Fox News is facing a new reality. Right-wing media sites have proliferated under Trump — an unusual phenomenon in itself, since partisan media sources generally grow more when their side is not in the White House — and operations like One America News and Newsmax could stand to benefit if Trump decides to partner with them once he’s no longer president.” — Ahiza García-Hodges, NBC News

Fox News needs to keep Trump happy at least until crucial Senate races are decided

“The goal, for both Fox and the Republicans, is to avoid alienating Trump — at least long enough to ensure that he doesn’t turn on the party before control of the Senate is settled in the two runoff elections in Georgia on January 5.” — Robert Mackey, Intercept

Fox and Trump were never as aligned as it may have seemed

“Not all marriages of convenience end up in divorce court, but when they do, it’s easy pickings to find the forensic evidence that doom awaited the relationship. And so it is this week, as President Donald Trump and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel all but finalized their own conscious uncoupling, that we can see that the two weren’t really falling apart as they were never really together.” — Jack Shafer, Politico

Fox’s biggest stars will never turn on Trump

“What we have here with [Lou] Dobbs, Carlson and Hannity is just a matter of broadcasting physics: When you’ve been marveling at the alleged accomplishments of the Trump White House for four years … and when Trump seems about to lose a free and fair election, there’s no choice but to question that free and fair election. To do otherwise would require questioning their meal ticket.” — Erik Wemple, Washington Post

Fox News is the only place that can provide Trump the platform he craves

“Trump needs Fox News more than Fox News needs Trump.” — Joel Mathis, The Week

The two sides will find reasons to maintain a cozy partnership

“So maybe Trump really will stop showing up on Fox and praising its talent on Twitter. Maybe he really will head to a would-be-rival TV network with minuscule ratings, or try to launch his own online service. Most likely, I think, he’ll end up as a recurring guest on Fox News, where he can keep doing what he does best — rant daily, without having to do anything else — and Murdoch can keep Trump’s fans on his network.” — Peter Kafka, Vox

Fox will be in an even better position after Trump leaves office

“The Trump presidency has been a gift to all news media. ... But if anything it has been better for the liberal rebels. MSNBC has seen its ratings almost treble since 2015. The New York Times, leader of the resistance in print, has seen subscriptions soar. Fox’s ratings under Mr Trump have been sky high, but its share of the total was greater in the Obama years. The outrage business works better when you’re not in power.” — Economist

Any effort to take on Fox News will fail

“It's all fine and good if the president wants to ‘destroy’ Fox News, but that’s easier said than done. Competing with Fox is a herculean task, let alone destroying it. Ask the producers at One America News or Newsmax. They’ve tried to out-Fox Fox for years, and they’ve failed.” — Eddie Scarry, Washington Examiner

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