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How Conservative Media Has Covered Biden's First Days As President


Donald Trump relied heavily on conservative media outlets for support during his candidacy and presidency. And they were rewarded with his attention, tweets, interviews, a boost in ratings and clicks. Of course, now they're confronted with a very different president. We've asked NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik to join us.

David, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: How have Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, other names we could mention covered the earliest days of the Biden administration?

FOLKENFLIK: So let's say that for the first, you know, hours, the first day of inauguration, it's respectful by and large, giving the new president's administration his due on places like Fox News. And then by the next day, you heard a lot of questions of unity. Could the president and his administration really have unity if his Democratic allies in Capitol Hill were pursuing an impeachment trial in the Senate against former President Trump? Could you have unity if the president, in fact, was pursuing his own priorities in Congress?

Thirty-six hours in, Fox News' Sean Hannity announces Biden's first week was a failure. And then he promises lurid and unspecified revelations involving the president's son, Hunter. Fox News anchor - that's news anchor - Bill Hemmer seemed outraged over what he portrayed basically as the betrayal of the working class by Joe Biden when the president banned oil and gas drilling on federal lands.

There were demands from the right, particularly Fox News and Newsmax and other places, that Biden denounce antifa protests in the Pacific Northwest this week that led to some destruction in places like Portland and Seattle. There was the stirring up of controversy over the appointment of a well-qualified transgender assistant health secretary.

And this is my favorite in some ways. Gateway Pundit, a conspiracy-laden right-wing site that President Trump invoked a number of times during his term in office - at 1:15 on Friday, it attacked the Biden administration for ignoring National Guard troops who were huddling in cold parking garages. Not 32 minutes later, Gateway Pundit posted a new piece attacking First Lady Jill Biden for engaging in a publicity stunt by personally going over to thank those very troops and to serve them home-baked chocolate chip cookies - all in all, what seemed like fairly small-stakes...

SIMON: Yeah.

FOLKENFLIK: ...Ways to try to gin up big outrage in their viewers and audiences.

SIMON: And what kind of attention is Kamala Harris earning? First Black and Asian American vice president, first woman to hold the job - how have some of the right-wing media been characterizing her?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, by Thursday, that is the first full day in office, fairly dismissively. In one case, a guest for Fox News's Jeanine Pirro, who had been an adviser and champion of the president on and off the air, that guest had compared Harris' status - as you say, first female, first Black, first Asian VP - with Trump's claim of being the first billionaire president. And you also saw Harris in some ways kind of folded into larger ways in which the right-wing media figures want to poke at questions of what they call identity politics. With busts of Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez in the White House, folks on Newsmax, the right-wing television network, were saying, well, this is just a sop to Blacks and to Latinos, as if Rosa Parks were not a hero for Americans of all races, as if Cesar Chavez, the great hero for Latinos and great union organizer, were not an example for all Americans as well.

SIMON: David, I don't have to tell you, many people had hoped that some of the media outlets you're talking about would use the moments of January 6 and this change in national life to maybe reassess their own coverage and own role they want to play in events from here on out. Have you seen any indication of that so far?

FOLKENFLIK: No. I'd say most of the evidence cuts in the other direction. You've seen Fox and others essentially try to make themselves the victims - victims of social media platforms that are targeting pro-Trump voices, even voices that have trafficked in lies and incitement, victims of the media, the ones that are calling for the kind of accountability you're mentioning. CNN's Jake Tapper's become a repeated target of Fox News' online coverage - never a sense that this is a news operation, this is a mission that requires a certain kind of reflection, a certain kind of responsibility and civic mission. What they're doing is trying to figure out what kind of public posture they can take to retain the greatest possible loyalty and audiences they can. And if anything, Fox News has expanded the role of conservative talk at the network and really compressed how much hard news reporting it's willing to offer its viewers.

SIMON: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik, thanks so much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
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