The raft of recent news surrounding President Trump’s “non-traditional” manner in the Oval Office has pundits of many stripes breathlessly talking about how close we might be getting to impeachment.
It’s obviously a huge deal, and some would have us believe that impeachment hearings are just around the corner. Except it’s not. Impeachment is really a political act and as of today, I assure you that no one in the Republican House Judiciary Committee is drafting any charges.
Our divided media landscape means that — like Newt Gingrich noted last Fall — we live in “two parallel universes.” Until right-of-center outlets — in particular Fox News — end the sometimes reflexive and unwavering support of the president, the White House may continue to be a “safe space” for Donald Trump.
It’s no secret that our country is divided along two distinct media diets. On one hand you have CNN, MSNBC, NPR, the New York Times, Washington Post and many other liberal mainstays, while on the other side there is Fox News, conservative talk radio, and a ton of conservative websites that drive the right of center narrative.
A recent search of TV Eyes — an industry-leading television transcript database — proves the different cable news narrative on the president’s future. Over the past 24 days, CNN and MSNBC have mentioned the words “impeach” or “impeachment” 76 and 84 times respectively. Fox News? 33 times, though the majority of times, these words were user to deride the media hysteria surrounding this story in the “mainstream media.”
One could argue that the derisive “mainstream media” has a much broader audience reaching more people, but one cannot deny that, despite a smaller total audience, the conservative voices have (maybe until recently?) developed a stronger and more stubborn base of support.
As President Trump has stumbled through various missteps and gaffes, there has been predictable outrage on the left. But elected officials representing the Grand Old Party position have publicly been fairly quiet. Yes there has been the occasional eye roll and some new concerning signs for Trump from more independent-minded Republicans, but as Paul Ryan commented after the Comey memo broke, these controversies have been viewed as a nuisance, distraction or “drama” — in the understated words of Mitch McConnell.
But here’s the dirty (not so at all) secret: Elected officials are often less motivated by civic duty and the very subjective “doing the right thing” and are far more motivated by getting re-elected. And right now, the GOP base of voters still appears very much in support of this president, despite the sturm and drang one sees daily on CNN and MSNBC.
Need more evidence? After the bombshell firing of former FBI Director James Comey, a NBC-WSJ poll found that 58% of Trump’s base supported that decision and 33% with no opinion. This means that 8% disapproved, which might be the same percentage of Trump supporters who view CNN and MSNBC.
Charlie Sykes explained this phenomenon in an op-ed that appeared last weekend in the New York Times, explaining the “Anti-Anti-Trump movement.” Paraphrasing here, but the gist is that the president’s base is far more interested in defending the White House against ANY political attack than making the effort to evaluate or criticize the president’s actions and behavior.
This is where Fox News comes in. Many GOP voters and even legislators exclusively get their news from Fox, which has continued a full-throated — not just defense — but attack against most Trump criticism. So until that shifts, its difficult to imagine any Republican officials feeling palpable pressure to go after a fellow Republican president.
While other cable news outlets start a drumbeat for investigative hearings and impeachment, Fox News continues to mention the term “impeachment” primarily as a means of mocking Trump’s critics. Fake news and leaks are the far more pressing issues in conservative media circles. Now many even focusing on why Comey didn’t disclose this alleged information earlier.
So until the political thought leaders who appear daily on Fox News — Charles Krauthammer, Brit Hume and Tucker Carlson etc.— start giving credence to anything that comes close to “high crimes and misdemeanors,” their audience will largely ignore the narrative being told on CNN, MSNBC and elsewhere. And unless that changes, specifically at Fox News, Republicans in Congress may continue feeling safe enough to let this “drama” pass.
Colby Hall is the Managing Editor of Mediaite.com. Follow him on Twitter here at @colbyhall.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.