The TV president, pundit staff and Fox echo chamber
New York (AFP)
Donald Trump is burnishing his status as America's ultimate TV president by peppering his administration with cable news pundits who play to his base and condense complex issues into soundbites.
This week, the former reality TV star stunned Washington by hiring John Bolton, the hawkish former UN ambassador and current Fox contributor who opposes the Iran nuclear deal and has advocated military action against North Korea, as national security advisor.
A week earlier, he made CNBC commentator Larry Kudlow and former investment bank economist, chief economic advisor, in place of former Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn.
"In the past, presidents have reached for the Harvard University faculty or academically-oriented think tanks. Trump uses cable television news," says Rich Hanley, associate professor journalism at Quinnipiac University.
"This is how he sees the world, this is his filter, so this is what he goes back to. He doesn't go to the Washington establishment, which rejected him before he got the nomination," agreed Mark Lowenthal, an intelligence expert who used to work at the CIA.
Looking and sounding good on television has been vital to US political success since John F. Kennedy in 1960. But Trump takes love of the medium to the next level.
"The qualifications that Trump seeks are the capacity to translate his impulses into sentences," said Hanley.
"The president likes me as a media communicator," Kudlow explained to CNBC. "He said, 'You're on the air,' and he said 'I'm looking at a picture of you,' and he said 'very handsome.' It's so Trump-ian."
This is a president who not only found fame on reality show "The Apprentice," but reportedly carves out "executive time" to watch TV and fires off tweets strikingly similar to commentary on Fox News, long considered the power behind his throne.
- Strategist TV -
Only on Friday, he threated to veto the budget and shut down the government after a Fox News host pilloried the deal as a "swamp budget." That host, Pete Hegseth, is reportedly on the shortlist to become the next secretary of veterans affairs.
"We enter the uncharted waters of having a president whose chief strategist is the television," writes Edward Burmila, assistant political science professor at Bradley University, in The Nation. "The new power behind the throne is Fox & Friends'."
"This trend is likely to continue," he told AFP. "Other than his immediate family, it's entirely possible that people on Fox News as regular guests or as network personalities really are the only people he trusts."
Trump's love of TV talent is legendary.
Who can forget the shortest-serving White House communications director in US history, Anthony Scaramucci, a former Fox Business host and CNBC contributor.
Last week, the White House promoted former Fox News anchor Heather Nauert from State Department spokeswoman to acting undersecretary following the sacking-by-twitter of her boss, Rex Tillerson.
Reality TV star Omarosa Manigault was an inaugural member of the Trump team, until she was fired and turned up on "Celebrity Big Brother."
Cabinet members Linda McMahon, head of the small business administration, was thrown around by wrestlers on television as CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry was a contestant on "Dancing with the Stars" in 2016.
- Good for ratings -
Then there are the Fox News personalities whose advice Trump solicits behind the scenes, such as Sean Hannity, who hosts the most watched show in cable news, and Jeanine Pirro, who once interviewed for the job of deputy attorney general.
"For the president, Fox News is agenda setting," said Dan Cassino, associate professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
"When Fox News talks about something, that makes the president talk about it. And the president talking about it means that everyone has to want to talk about it."
But it's not just content. The hiring and firing of staff -- a chaotic revolving door of staff -- delivers constant soap opera style cliffhangers.
"To keep the drama going, and by sowing such discord and chaos, he keeps the beast fed and he keeps himself in the news and he keeps himself at the forefront of the narrative... while maintaining contact with his base," said Hanley.
The Trump presidency has been good for ratings, not just for Fox but for perceived "opposition" channel MSNBC.
Fox News ended 2017 as the most-watched cable network for a second year with 1.5 million viewers, up eight percent, and MSNBC came third with 890,000, a reported growth of 48 percent.
And what of Fox in all this?
"It's an echo chamber and I think they understand that we have this tremendous influence on the president so let's use it," ventured Lowenthal.
© 2018 AFP