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How conservative media are covering Donald Trump's 3rd indictment

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Where you turn for coverage of this latest indictment helps to shape your understanding of the story.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Now, for former President Trump, the conservative press has been both a pillar of his support, no matter the accusation, and an indicator of his popularity. And right now, he's very popular.

FADEL: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik has been watching and reading conservative media's coverage since the announcement of the indictment so he can break down what's being said for us. Hi, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So describe for me what you've been seeing and reading.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, in such moments, the general dynamic I find is that the closer you are to the announcement and the revelation of such event, like this indictment, the more accurate and straightforward that coverage tends to be. That soon fades. Last night, you know, on Fox News as it broke, political anchor Bret Baier had a pretty straight-ahead hour. It included comment from former Vice President Mike Pence's chief lawyer - very critical of Donald Trump.

That said, I looked at the breadth and width of a lot of stuff online. You know, you haven't seen much acknowledgment that these may be justifiably serious charges with a few outliers. Instead, what I think you've tended to see is a lot of deflection and an argument without evidence that President Biden has politicized the Justice Department and the courts. I'll read the headline from The Federalist - Biden delivers another blow against his primary political rival with latest Trump indictment.

FADEL: So is this some sort of deflection? I mean, describe how the deflection works.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, let's take an example. Fox News' newest 8 p.m. star is Jesse Watters. Here's just a snippet of what he had to say last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JESSE WATTERS: The timing of this indictment was coordinated to take the heat off Biden. This is the third time this has happened. You ready?

FOLKENFLIK: So, of course, President Biden's adult son, Hunter, is in court right now on tax and gun violation matters. A plea deal with this same federal Justice Department has fallen through. They're figuring out if they're going to go negotiate or go to prosecution. The younger Biden is also under the intense gaze of congressional Republicans over trading on his family's names for profit. And focused a lot on that last night - Sean Hannity pivoted harder than anybody I've seen on "Dancing With The Stars" to refocus his viewers' attention on Hunter Biden rather than the revelation of this latest indictment. And that was basically at the very top of his show last night.

FADEL: So it sounds like what you're describing is some whataboutism instead of covering this event. I mean, Fox has had its critical moments in the past. Bret Baier, the Fox anchor you mentioned earlier, recently gave Trump a grilling in his interview. But the network was strongly supportive of him during his presidency. And today there are so many other conservatives running against him. So why stick so closely to Trump even now?

FOLKENFLIK: Look, Leila, the best answer is probably the same one I gave you months ago for how Fox found itself in court paying nearly $800 million to settle a defamation suit over whether it embraced Trump's lies about the 2020 elections and the claims of fraud that led to January 6. They simply don't want to drive viewers away. Rupert Murdoch is the ultimate controlling owner of Fox News. He really wanted Ron DeSantis to replace Trump as the top of the Republican ticket. But DeSantis has faded, and for the moment, Trump not only has a firm hold on Republican voters generally, but on Fox viewers' loyalties.

And it's notable how persistent the support was for Trump up and down Fox's lineup of opinion hosts, as well as on Newsmax and OAN and elsewhere. If you think about these outlets - they don't want to alienate his voters. And this bites back that a lot of Fox's stars reached out to Trump administration officials to try to get the then-president to weigh in to stop what was happening on January 6 itself. So the talking points are surfacing that the scandal was not of Trump's behavior, but the politicization of this Justice Department - once more, an accusation made without evidence.

FADEL: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. David, thanks.

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

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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.