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Conservative media reacts to Trump verdict

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

As the verdict against former President Donald Trump rolled in yesterday with one guilty count after another, coverage of the news unfolded and, at times, unraveled on live television. NPR's David Folkenflik has been monitoring the trial and the coverage and says the TV screen has offered, well, something of a split screen. Hi, David.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Juana.

SUMMERS: So, David, let's start out with the dominant media player on the right, which is Fox News. What was that watching experience like for you?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, and you're right to want to look at Fox first because it's the most highly watched news station in the country and was again yesterday, and it's especially dominant for setting the tone for conservatives and Republicans. Recall what took place, right? You had prosecutors, using a fairly novel legal theory, going after the President of United States for what they say were felonies. This process played out in front of a judge, with a jury. There was what we consider to be due process. Now let's listen to Fox prime-time host Jesse Watters, who I think is pretty representative of the voices you heard on Fox and other media outlets here, talking about this trial in us-and-them terms.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JESSE WATTERS PRIMETIME")

JESSE WATTERS: We're wounded as a country. And we're not going to go down. We're going to get back up. We're going to regain our strength, and then we're going to vanquish the evil forces that are destroying this republic.

FOLKENFLIK: So clearly identifying with Trump a fight of good versus evil.

SUMMERS: And to be clear, Jesse Watters is an opinion host, right? So can you just help us understand how the rest of the coverage compared?

FOLKENFLIK: You know, the news coverage - you know, usually, I say the closer Fox is to a news event, the more responsible it is. But throughout, there were ways in which they were stacking the deck. You saw graphics for what they called New York versus Trump, showing pictures of Judge Juan Merchan and Trump, not the district attorney prosecuting him. The judge, of course, is presiding, not prosecuting. Even right after the verdict, the first minute or two after the verdict, a legal analyst for Fox straight-up called it illegitimate - no entertaining whether this involved Trump's legalities or that his own actions may have gotten them there, no examination of what we learned about this important figure from the trial and the magnitude of the moment.

SUMMERS: And, David, what are the consequences of that sort of approach?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it creates something of a 30-mile buffer for Trump. You know, with few exceptions in conservative media - think of the Daily Wire, Federalist, Breitbart, Gateway Pundit - you know, this insulates Trump from having to grapple among his base or people who are leaning conservative with revelations of the trial and repercussions of the verdict - little sense that Trump has agency here. They're told to see him as a victim of political persecution. They hear his fight is their own fight. You know that old Fox slogan - we report; you decide? It's MIA, missing in action, here.

SUMMERS: David, more broadly in the press - tell us a little bit about what you saw there.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, the press had to get around the restrictions. There were no cameras or microphones. So reporters and legal analysts inside, dozens in the overflow room, were watching live and tweeting and blogging the first draft of history, and the best just left alone all the opining. And secondly, Trump stepped in to fill that vacuum, creating an alternative court of public opinion throughout the trial by going out, blasting the judge and the prosecutors and, for that matter, President Joe Biden, without cause, throughout the trial as somehow being rigged against him.

SUMMERS: David, last thing - what should the public take away from all of this?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, again, it goes back to what we said at the start of a split screen. There are two realities playing out, not equal and not equally on offer but both being presented to the public. Trump's claims that the judge is corrupt and that this is part of a persecution by President Biden - it's, of course, state charges, not the Federal Justice Department - utterly offered without a scrap of proof. For others, at their best, they're journalists attempting to capture that this is the first time a former U.S. president become a convicted felon with all the complications that implies, a moment that needs no hyperbole to be historic.

SUMMERS: That's NPR's David Folkenflik. Thank you.

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.

David Folkenflik
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