Fox News hosted a town hall event in Iowa with Donald Trump on Thursday night, allowing the president to repeat his well-worn grievances and lies. But remarkably, the pre-taped hour-long prime-time special hosted by Sean Hannity excluded any mention of Trump’s conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
The first installment of the broadcast came just two weeks after CNN broadcast a chaotic, lie-laden town hall with the former president that has been harshly criticised by journalists within and outside the network.
Here are our main takeaways from the night.
Fox News pre-taped the event, allowing it edit out lies that could provoke further lawsuits
And notably the hour-long special didn’t include a single reference to Trump’s election conspiracy theories.
Fox has good reason to tread carefully. The network recently agreed to a $787.5m settlement with Dominion Voting Systems over its broadcasting of Trump’s election lies, and it is still facing a defamation lawsuit from another voting technology company, Smartmatic.
The network plans to air more footage from the town hall on Friday evening, but Thursday’s broadcast steered Trump away from the 2020 election, instead directing him to discuss Joe Biden’s mental acuity, the border wall, and a host of other topics that reliably rile up Fox views and Trump’s base.
The night stood in stark contrast to the CNN event, during which Trump repeatedly, baselessly claimed that the 2020 election was rigged against him, and that “millions” of votes were stolen from him. On that night, Trump also disparaged the author E Jean Carroll, prompting her to seek “very substantial” additional damages soon after he was found liable in a civil case for sexually abusing her.
On Thursday, Trump’s very strong tendency to compound his own legal troubles by repeating lies and conspiracy theories that have already landed him in trouble were tamped by Hannity’s gentle questioning and redirection – and perhaps some strategic editing.
The night showed just how much Fox News and Trump still depend on each other
Fox helped launch the former president’s political career, readily backing and promoting his most extreme views. For years, Trump would call in to the rightwing news channel seemingly whenever he wanted to. But the relationship appears to have frayed over the past year. The network began to host Trump less often, while the former president disparaged hosts who proffered even mild critiques.
Then the Dominion lawsuit aired out Fox executives’ and hosts’ private disdain and mockery of Trump and his allies, even as the network continued to air interviews with them.
Still, with Trump still leading among Republican candidates, Fox has continued to offer him more coverage than any other major network, even as some hosts hedge their bets on his rival, Florida governor Ron DeSantis. Trump, meanwhile, needs Fox – the only network that is likely to offer him largely unchecked access to a nationwide audience of supporters. Smaller rightwing networks like Newsmax still have nowhere close to as much reach.
As Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), said earlier this year: “It’s a toxic relationship” – but evidently, or necessarily, a committed one.
While Fox may have edited out any defamation, they left in several lies and exaggeration
Trump town halls have overwhelmed and exhausted factcheckers for years. Thursday night’s carefully structured and edited broadcast wasn’t an exception – Trump certainly embellished personal grievances and accomplishments.
The former president repeated outlandish claims about abortions, including the allegation that doctors want to continue “killing” babies after they are born and lamented that the military wasn’t learning to fight because of “wokeness”. Some of the lies were a bit B-side – he deflected discussion of the investigation into his handling of national security materials and obstruction of justice approaches with niche allegations that Biden stored documents in Washington DC’s Chinatown.
Still, the pace of Trump’s falsifications, and his tendency to run away with a conspiracy theory had largely been tamed by the event’s producers and editors.
The Fox News host was one of Trump’s first and strongest champions and advisers – but his relationship with the former president was tested after he testified under oath that he never believed Trump’s 2020 election falsehoods.
At the town hall in Clive, Iowa, Hannity served Trump a series of softball questions, gently directing him to speak to his strengths. The event began with Hannity asking about Joe Biden’s mental and physical fitness to serve, and replaying footage of the president taking a tumble at an event earlier in the day. When Trump referred to his own stumble down a ramp, Hannity helpfully chirped: “You were coming down a ramp didn’t have a rail. You had dress shoes on like you have now, which are very slippery.”
He raised the newly publicized recordings of Trump discussing classified documents, but accepted the former president’s response: “I did everything right.”
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