Hope Hicks, President Donald Trump’s longtime confidante and the former White House communications director, is returning to the West Wing after a 16-month stint as a top communications staffer at Fox Corp., Fox News’ parent company. The move puts on full display the president’s dangerous and unprecedented relationship with the network that serves as his personal megaphone.
Trump is a Fox News superfan — I documented him live-tweeting along with the network’s programming more than 650 times in 2019 alone. Like any Fox partisan, he revels in the sycophantic coverage of his administration — and the vicious attacks on his political foes — that the network’s personalities provide.
Trump is a Fox News superfan — I documented him live-tweeting along with the network’s programming more than 650 times in 2019 alone.
But unlike other people who start their weekdays with the “Fox & Friends” gang, end them with Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, and spend their weekends with Pete Hegseth, Jesse Watters and Jeanine Pirro, Trump is the president. And he turns to the folks from his television set not just for the "news," but also for advice on how to manage the extraordinary challenges that come with his position. A disturbing fusion between the Trump administration and Fox News has been the result.
The problems here are obvious and plentiful. Fox personalities may be skilled at whipping up hysteria among their audiences, but they certainly shouldn't be providing advice to the president. Legislative priorities and federal contracts should not be up for grabs based on whose on-air commentary is most flattering.
Hicks has a long history in Trump’s orbit, having worked for his business empire and then his presidential campaign before beginning her first rotation in the White House. But for many of Hicks’ administration colleagues, Fox News appearances served as their initial interview with the president.
At least 19 current and former members of the Trump administration previously worked for Fox. Cabinet secretaries such as Ben Carson and Elaine Chao; top White House communications advisers including Bill Shine and Mercedes Schlapp; national security aides such as John Bolton and K.T. McFarland; and U.S. ambassadors like Richard Grenell all had jobs at the president’s favorite network first. And when Trump needed to assemble a legal team for his Senate impeachment trial, he naturally turned to Fox regulars, hiring four lawyers who had combined at least 365 weekday appearances on the network over the previous year.
When Trump isn’t taking advice from the former Fox guests he’s brought into his administration, he is turning to the star hosts who remain on the network’s payroll. This veritable Fox News Cabinet has unmatched sway. Hannity speaks to the president so regularly that some in the White House have termed him the shadow chief of staff. Carlson’s advice reportedly averted planned U.S. missile strikes last year and shaped the U.S. response to Iran in January. Pirro advised Trump on how to handle the Justice Department in a 2018 Oval Office meeting. Hegseth, a co-host of “Fox & Friends’” weekend edition, convinced the president to offer clemency to several U.S. service members accused or convicted of war crimes. And xenophobic Fox Business host Lou Dobbs has been conferenced in to White House meetings to provide his views on tax policy and trade.
When Trump isn’t taking advice from the former Fox guests he’s brought into his administration, he is turning to the star hosts who remain on the network’s payroll.
And even when its members aren’t advising Trump privately, this Fox News Cabinet and their colleagues are trying to use the network’s platform to influence him. Trump’s Fox obsession is no secret. Because everyone knows that the president is remarkably impressionable and may be watching Fox at any time, the network’s paid personalities and guests regularly attempt to use the platform to pitch the president directly. These efforts are not subtle: People look directly into Fox’s cameras, address him personally and tell him what to do. And they have an impact. When Trump appeared to be waffling on requiring border wall funding as the federal government headed toward a possible shutdown, Fox personalities such as Steve Doocy and Tomi Lahren and conservative radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh demanded he force the shutdown. And he did.
Sometimes, the outsize influence of Fox’s talent leads to conflicts with Trump’s official staff — conflicts the Fox employees tend to win. Bolton spent a decade at Fox before becoming Trump’s national security adviser, getting the gig in no small part because he praised the president’s actions on his favorite programs. But after Carlson started denouncing Bolton’s advice on air last year — and reportedly began telling the president he was a leaker — Bolton was ousted. Likewise, Dobbs’ on-air attacks on Trump’s second secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, reportedly played a key role in forcing her April 2019 resignation.
The revolving door between Fox and the Trump administration swings both ways. Several administration hands have joined Hicks in decamping for cozy posts at the right-wing network. For Sarah Sanders, the former White House press secretary turned Fox contributor, the transition was simple: She still spends her time shamelessly pushing Trump’s talking points on Fox, but now her (presumably fatter) paycheck comes from a different source. In fact, Sanders spends more time shilling for Trump on the network than her successor does, even though Stephanie Grisham’s public-facing responsibilities seem to consist of little else. (Sanders has made 33 appearances on Fox News weekday programming since she joined the network in August while Grisham has done 24, according to Media Matters data.)
Again, none of this is good — for Trump’s White House or the American people. And a purported news network should not be allowing its hosts to moonlight as advisers to the very White House it covers. But that’s what happens when the president and his propaganda apparatus merge.