Former White House chief of staff John Kelly got lots and lots of national media attention this week for expressing his support for Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s action in regards the Ukraine probe, actions that led to his removal from the White House by President Donald Trump a week ago.
But, something else Kelly said in that speech at Drew University in New Jersey was even more cutting. His subject? Fox News Channel.
“The media, in my view, and I feel very strongly about this, is not the enemy of the people,” Kelly said. “We need a free media. That said, you have to be careful about what you are watching and reading, because the media has taken sides. So if you only watch Fox News, because it’s reinforcing what you believe, you are not an informed citizen.”
Kelly knows of what he speaks. He spent almost two years as chief of staff in a White House that main-lines Fox News — and a President who treats anchors on the network as personal friends and quote-tweets passages from Fox guests who echo his sentiments on the issues of the day.
And it’s not just Trump or his White House who rely on Fox News to get their news. Asked in a recent Pew Research Center poll to name media companies in which they have trust, 65% of Republicans named Fox News. One in three named ABC. Not a single other news source was trusted by even 33% of self-identified Republicans in the Pew poll.
Then there’s this: A majority of Republicans (and Republican-leaning independents) don’t trust ANY media company even close to as much as they trust Fox News. The next three most-trusted media sourced among Republicans? CBS, NBC and — wait for it — the Sean Hannity radio show, all of which are trusted by 3 in 10 people. Eighteen of the 30 media sources that Pew asked about were trusted by less than 1 in 5 Republicans and Republican-leaners.
Combine those numbers with Fox News’s overwhelming viewership numbers among Republicans (60% get their election news from Fox; no other outlet gets above 30%), and the marked difference between its content and that of all the other mainstream media outlets, and you see a major reason for why we are where we are, politically speaking.
While the disconnect between Fox and the rest of the news business is pretty obvious, it’s still a powerful moment when someone like Kelly, a man who spent nearly two years as Trump’s most senior adviser, says it. Because what Kelly is saying, when you think about it, is that the conservative message machine at Fox, which Trump used to get elected and then to conduct a full takeover of the Republican Party, isn’t telling the truth — or at least isn’t telling all of the truth.
That’s a marked contrast from the nearly-unstinting praise Trump himself lavishes on his favorite Fox News personalities. Here’s one riff from a Trump campaign rally in Louisiana last fall:
“How about these fraudulent writers at The New York Times? They get Pulitzer Prize and they got it all wrong. They have to give back their Pulitzer Prize. But that’s a fix also, isn’t it? I’ve just won the Pulitzer Prize for talking about Trump and Russia, but they were all wrong now. Now, the people that were right, like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson, Judge Jeanine and Watters, my Watters.
“And frankly, the best show by far in the morning is Fox and Friends. Also got the best rater. And Lou Dobbs, how about Lou Dobbs? And Varney, he’s great. You know, Varney’s great and Maria Bartiromo. And you know what? And — and then many others, many others, many others. But they get it right.”
Will Kelly’s warning fall om deaf ears in this White House? Oh, you bet.
“When I terminated John Kelly, which I couldn’t do fast enough, he knew full well that he was way over his head,” tweeted Trump on Thursday night. “Being Chief of Staff just wasn’t for him. He came in with a bang, went out with a whimper, but like so many X’s, he misses the action & just can’t keep his mouth shut.”