A plot against Trump or a key moment in American democracy? Between conservative Fox News and its left-wing neighbor MSNBC, the two most watched American news channels offer two radically different readings of the political trial of Donald Trump
“A political murder”, “a party defamation campaign”, “a low blow”. On Tuesday night and after a historic first day of trial, Fox News star host Sean Hannity criticized Trump’s trial since the beginning of his monologue.
Since the last months of the 2016 presidential campaign, and with some rare exceptions, the Fox News leaders have consistently aligned themselves with Donald Trump in front of the Democrats and other traditional media, whom he accuses of seeking the impeachment of the Republican president.
For Sean Hannity, the impeachment process that began on Tuesday is just the climax of “an unbroken series of attacks and accusations” against the US president for three years.
The Democrats “ask for the impeachment from two days after the elections”, looking for a reason, whatever.
For his colleague Tucker Carlson, the other superstar of the chain of tycoon Rupert Murdoch, he has never tried to protect the institutions, but to “paralyze the president’s policy. It was also the goal of Russian deception,” he said Tuesday regarding the Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into the interference of Moscow in the 2016 presidential elections.
Meanwhile, on MSNBC, which has become the counterpoint of Fox News for three years, the tone is more sober, but the guests described the historic day in a totally different way.
According to former Democrat Claire McCaskill, the team accused of presenting the charge at the trial “presented irrefutable evidence.”
“The Democrats have been very effective,” adds columnist Michael Steele who, however, is a Republican.
The two views on the political situation are irreconcilable.
What is the impact?
“The television information landscape largely reflects the polarization of the political landscape in U.S right now, and these channels are trying to capture their most loyal viewers, ”said Jeff McCall, a communications professor at DePauw University in Indiana.
“This is one of the differences with the impeachment trial of (Bill) Clinton (in 1999). At that time, partisan media were barely emerging, but they didn’t have the maturity they have today,” said Kathryn Cramer Brownell, an academic at Purdue University and specialist in the links between media and politics.
“There has been an increase in power in recent decades and now we are seeing an intensification of the partisan landscape and the way people react to the news,” he adds.
As evidenced by the audience, the public visibly appreciates this role play.
Sean Hannity regularly brushes the 4 million viewers, against 3.3 million on average last year.
MSNBC Queen Rachel Maddow, who fights every night against her Fox News rival between 9:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., has already crossed this threshold several times in January, almost tripling her average 2016 audience.
CNN, which since the election of Donald Trump seeks to be a sort of referee, aims for a more nuanced treatment. But it has half the audience of MSNBC and a little more than a third of the Fox News audience.
“CNN is totally in the media line of Trump resistance, but is simply doing a bad job,” said Jeff McCall, for whom the historical chain “is no more balanced than the others.”
The question of the influence on the electorate of this information-oriented approach is raised.
“Of course, the people watching these channels are only a minority,” admits Kathryn Cramer Brownell, “but with Fox News, among them there are Republican party executives, and that weighs on them.”
“The influence of news channels goes beyond the nine million people who watch their television every night,” says Jeff McCall, “but I’m not convinced that this has any impact on the political trial, except to confirm the opinions of the spectators ”.