Think of two bubbles. One is the alternative universe presented by Fox News in which darkness reigns and every single word or action taken against the right wing and its president is perceived as an attack or smear that’s inherently part of a titanic conspiracy aimed at wrecking your life.I have visited that weird Fox bubble on occasion, walked the halls of what feels more like an Orwellian Ministry of Truth than a newsroom. Reality is cast to the side.
The other bubble is the White House itself, these days a fortress of ignorance and babble against the forces of reason, compassion and grace. I have visited there, too, and in a past administration did a little writing in its rooms and halls. Even in the best of times, there is a feeing of isolation, a preternatural silence that sets the building apart, creating an impression that decisions are made in a rarefied atmosphere that can, from time to time, distort reality.
Now these two bubbles are as one. Fox and 1600 Pennsylvania have merged, now virtually indistinguishable from each other, and inside that newly created, gigantic toxic bubble sits a manchild oozing irrational exuberance as sycophants tell him he’s the greatest thing since Genghis Khan strode the Earth.
The president gets his information from Fox, makes his decisions and tweets accordingly, repeating network talking points minutes after he has heard them, no matter how goofy. In turn, the personalities of Fox have become presidential advisers; former judge and Fox host Jeanine Pirro and attorney, conspiracy theorist and Fox regular Joe diGenova, who was on Trump’s legal team for about a week before conflicts of interest forced him out, remain on the president’s speed dial.
What’s more, Trump “cherishes” Lou Dobbs over at Fox Business, according to The Daily Beast, places him on speakerphone for meetings in the Oval Office and makes sure “he is involved in some of the administration’s more sensitive discussions.” And an insider tells The Washington Post that Fox superstar Sean Hannity is so omnipresent at the White House, “he basically has a desk in the place.”
Conversely, the president and his minions repeatedly go on Fox programs to bluster and dissemble. In the last week and a half, Trump himself has phoned into his favorite show “Fox and Friends” for a thirty-minute, Grandpa Simpsons-style rant – and threatens to do it again soon. And former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, the latest addition to Trump’s squad of nerve-wracked legal eagles, has appeared on Fox almost as much as those commercials for catheters.
Ostensibly, Giuliani’s mission has been to defend his boss against the Stormy Daniels and Russia scandals, and whatever else may soon rear its head when it comes to Michael Cohen, money laundering and other alleged high crimes and misdemeanors. Yet his comments don’t seem to be helping the president’s cause; quite the contrary. This headline from The Onion says it all, “Mueller Poses As Fox News Host To Coax Rudy Giuliani Into Giving Him Testimony On Trump.”
It seems whenever Rudy opens his mouth, his own foot flies into it and not just on Fox but wherever he appears, presenting rumors as facts, facts as rumors, contradicting obvious truths and when cornered, falling back on ignorance as his defense.
This past Friday, Trump said of his pal Rudy’s statements, “Virtually everything said has been said incorrectly.” Or as Rudy put it on CNN Sunday, he’s still reading in and “I am focused on the law more than the facts right now.”
Call it implausible deniability. Personally, I wouldn’t let this guy represent me in traffic court. Rudy’s like that old vaudeville sketch, “Pay the Two Dollars,” in which a lawyer’s self-important foolishness gets his client deeper and deeper into trouble and debt.
The problem is that the symbiotic relationship between Fox and the White House creates a feedback loop that doubles over onto itself again and again: you say it to me and I say it back to you and you repeat it to me and suddenly it’s true. But it’s not.
We saw this happen in 2012 when the Fox universe convinced itself that Mitt Romney would be the next president, only to have the country respond with Barack Obama’s reelection. Since then, the problem has exponentially compounded itself. Just one of the latest examples: wingnut Dan Bongino on wingnut Mark Levin’s Fox telecast Sunday night announcing, "Mueller's sole purpose right now is to run a smoke screen while investigating Donald Trump to protect Hillary and Obama and their empires." Sure, sure, more conspiracy—that’s the ticket.
Meanwhile, as we are thus distracted, the world outside this Fox/Trump bio-dome figuratively is crumbling like one of those extinction-level disaster movies where skyscrapers slip and slide into the oceans and the only survivors are Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, his immediate family, and a little girl holding a bedraggled kitten she pulled from the rubble named Lucky. Whether it’s Syria or Iran, the continuing crisis in Puerto Rico, cabinet corruption, raging environmental deregulation or the opioid epidemic, the gross mismanagement continues from the top down, simultaneously inept yet scarily successful in its ability to deconstruct what’s left of government and democracy. Giuliani says he’s focused on the law, but increasingly there is none.
Not that there is never a ray of hope from within that bubble. A sense of despair and frustration among some who work for this administration seems to keep growing and that may lead to change—even rank careerists can show a glimmer of conscience and sometimes self-interest and the interests of the republic actually may align. And last week, the ubiquitous Fox host Neil Cavuto took on Trump, declaring, “I guess you’ve been too busy draining the swamp to stop and smell the stink you’re creating. That’s your doing. That’s your stink. Mr. President, that’s your swamp.”
The lies go on, yet the bubble quivers as midterms approach and the Mueller probe presses on, a needle of truth-seeking potentially poised to pierce that membrane of mendacity.
Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, a past senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos and former president of the Writers Guild of America East. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship