CNN Declares War on Fox News

CNN, never a friend of its competitor Fox News, now appears to have declared open war on the country’s #1 cable news channel (Fox) and its star host, the cable news ratings leader Sean Hannity. The latest salvo came on Sunday December 17, 2017 on CNN’s weekly media analysis program, Reliable Sources.

CNN sniping at Fox News is nothing new. The enmity between the two cable news giants goes back years. Recently, with opposition to President Trump turning white hot and talk of impeachment or obstruction of justice in the air, CNN has been aiming more of its fire at Fox News, the only mainstream media source that reports fairly about the president. Four weeks ago, Brian Stelter, the host of Reliable Sources, aimed a stinging broadside at Sean Hannity in a one-sided segment featuring Hannity’s leading adversary, Angelo Carusone, the one-time young Republican who now presides over the radical left anti-conservative advocacy group Media Matters for America (MMFA).

The Target: Sean Hannity

Since last spring, MMFA has been actively spearheading an effort to get viewers to boycott Hannity’s advertisers in an attempt to have him taken off the air. A similar advertiser boycott strategy last spring contributed to the demise of Fox News’ then #1 host, Bill O’Reilly, after he and his employer were accused of paying off women in the workplace who had accused him of sexual harassment. O’Reilly has consistently denied the allegations, none of which has ever made it to a court of law. No allegations of any kind of impropriety have ever been leveled against Hannity and, to date, MMFA’s efforts to get him canned have not been successful.

But now, MMFA has enlisted a prominent and enthusiastic ally – the Cable News Network – in its efforts to take down Hannity and to destroy the reputation of Fox News. Founded in 1980 as the first cable television channel devoted to reporting breaking news 24/7, CNN has always tilted somewhat left of center. In recent years, the channel, which broadcasts internationally as well as domestically, has morphed into a Deep State propaganda mouthpiece with a special antipathy towards President Donald J. Trump.

Brian Stelter introduces CNN’s Reliable Sources December 17, 2017

The overwhelming anti-Trump bias of CNN has been confirmed in recent studies by respected non-partisan groups. For example, the Shorenstein Center at Harvard University found that CNN’s reporting on the Trump administration during its first three months was 93 percent negative. The Shorenstein report (May 18, 2017) said “CNN and NBC’s coverage was the most unrelenting – negative stories about Trump outpaced positive ones by 13-to-1 on the two networks.” Meanwhile, the Fox News Channel, which CNN derides as lacking legitimacy, has provided relatively balanced coverage of Trump. Shorenstein: “Fox was the only outlet where Trump’s overall coverage nearly crept into positive territory. . . Fox’s coverage was 34 percentage points less negative than the average for the other six outlets.”

Only ten days ago, CNN ran with a demonstrably fake news account as its lead story both online and on television for eight hours before it was corrected. It was quickly seen as a stand-out failure and a textbook example of the fake news phenomenon that resulted in wide coverage and even some criticism from several other MSM news outlets.

A preview of Stelter’s Sunday December 17 Reliable Sources critique of Fox News came the night before, when CNN dot com published a 1,500 word article by Stelter, “How Fox News and President Trump create an anti-Mueller 'feedback loop.'” Stelter is proposing a theory that Fox News’ “right wing” hosts, Hannity in particular, are the ideological tail wagging the Trump Administration dog:

An anti-Robert Mueller, anti-FBI fervor is intensifying among Trump supporters – partly thanks to a campaign by Fox News and other conservative media sources.

The right-wing commentary and President Trump's criticism of the FBI are part of a vicious circle. The TV hosts encourage Trump, then Trump supplies sound bites for their shows, and then the hosts are even more emboldened. [emphasis added.]

With [Special Counsel Robert] Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election reaching closer to Trump's inner circle, Fox hosts like Sean Hannity continue to demand Mueller's firing. Every night, Hannity tells millions of viewers that Mueller's probe is a corrupt plot to take down Trump and reverse the outcome of the election. Trump is a big fan of Hannity's show, and the two men speak on a regular basis.

Stelter insists that not only the Trump Administration but Republican members of Congress are also taking cues on strategy from Fox News and Hannity:

Some Republican lawmakers have also spoken out forcefully against the FBI. When Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was questioned on Capitol Hill earlier this week, Hannity played highlights and said, "You've heard it here first. We've been doing this now for months."

It’s apparent that MMFA, part of the David Brock empire of far left advocacy groups that have raised the practice of political hardball to an insidious new level, is a primary source for CNN. This fact is acknowledged in Stelter’s December 16 article:

Media Matters for America, a liberal media monitoring group that has urged an ad boycott of Hannity's show, recently estimated that “Hannity and his guests have questioned Mueller's legitimacy or called for Mueller to remove himself or be fired 79 times since the special counsel was appointed.”

On Sunday morning, Stelter’s critique of Fox News took up the first 15 minutes of his Reliable Sources program. (Complete video embedded at the end of this article.) From CNN’s transcript of the broadcast:

BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Robert Mueller is investigating Russia's attack on the American election. But now, he is under attack. And this new assault is not coming from Moscow. It's coming from Fox News headquarters right here in New York. And it's coming from the White House.

It's an anti-Mueller, anti-FBI feedback loop, claiming that Mueller's probe is hopelessly biased and downright corrupt. Let's cue Fox.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE [Rachel Campos Duffy, substitute co-host, Fox & Friends Weekend]: I think what we have here is potentially one of the biggest scandals in American history where we're seeing, you know, our justice system being used to really change the outcome of an election.


STELTER: That's from “Fox & Friends” just today. Now, let's cue Trump aide Kellyanne Conway last night.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The fix was in against Donald Trump from the beginning. And they were pro-Hillary.


STELTER: This is the feedback loop in action. I want you to see it over and over again. Fox, Trump, his aides, GOP lawmakers, all of them, they're taking a legitimate issue, which is the discovery of a Mueller team member who expressed his hatred of Trump in text messages, and then they're blowing it up, trying to discredit the entire probe.

CNN’s in-house attorney, Jeffrey Toobin, has been making the case, including in Stelter’s December 16 article, that the only people concerned about the integrity and fairness of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and the FBI’s controversial activities re: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are viewers of Fox News. From the Reliable Sources December 17 transcript, with Stelter speaking:

KGB comparisons have been made on Hannity's show, too. There's been talk about "banana republics" and "third world countries." Jeanine Pirro, a Trump ally who has a weekend show on Fox, has even urged arrests of FBI officials.

“There is a cleansing needed in our FBI and Department of Justice,” Pirro said last weekend. “It needs to be cleansed of individuals who should not just be fired, but who need to be taken out in handcuffs.”

It's the kind of rhetoric that Trump hears on a regular basis. He claims that Fox News is the only major network news source that's not “fake.”

Analysts say he sometimes parrots what he hears on Fox. “It's a shame what happened with the FBI,” Trump told reporters on Friday. “It is very sad when you look at those documents,” he said, an apparent reference to the text messages [sent by FBI agent Peter Strzok to his girlfriend FBI attorney Lisa Page.]

“You have a lot of angry people that are seeing it. It's a very sad thing to watch,” Trump added.

CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin reacted this way: "You know who 'a lot of people' are? 'A lot of people' are the people who watch Fox News. Other than that, a lot of people are actually not upset about this investigation. That's shown over and over again in the polls."

Later in the Sunday broadcast, Stelter amplified his spin:

Last night – I can't believe this – Fox is asking if the FBI has engaged in a coup. This morning, the [Fox News Channel on screen] banner said the investigators are in the hot seat.

This isn't just an alternate reality. This is a reversal of reality. Obviously, it's Trump world that is on the hot seat. Four Trump associates have been charged with crimes. Two of the four have pled guilty. Mueller is investigating a massive fire. And everyone can see and smell the smoke.

But this, instead, is what the president is hearing.


JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST: The only thing that remains is whether we have the fortitude to not just fire these people immediately but to take them out in cuffs.


STELTER: That is Jeanine Pirro, one of Trump's informal advisers, not just calling for firings but arrests.

Look, I don't say this lightly, but these FOTs, these friends of Trumps, they are – they're talking like propagandists. This sounds like propaganda and it sounds dangerous.

Pirro is demanding a cleansing of the FBI. Sean Hannity is calling Mueller the head of the snake. Other Fox hosts are calling the FBI corrupt and out of control. Rush Limbaugh is describing it as a coup and guests on these programs are comparing the FBI to the KGB.

The conservative media choir is telling Trump that Mueller is out to get you, trying to reverse the outcome of the election. It doesn't get any more dangerous than that.

L. to R. Brian Stelter, Kurt Bardella, Hadas Gold, David Folkenflik

For his panel of experts, Stelter introduced Kurt Bardella, a “former spokesman” for Breitbart and a disgruntled one-time Republican operative who has now flipped to the Democratic Party; David Folkenflik, National Public Radio media correspondent (enough said); and Hadas Gold, a CNN reporter since last September who worked for POLITICO for 5 ½ years before that. Bardella, by the way, who has quite a backstory in D.C. politics, resigned from Breitbart in March 2016 to protest the publication’s handling of its reporter Michelle Fields’ allegations of battery against Donald Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.

Rather than quote the droning one-voice comments of the four people on the Reliable Sources set, interested readers with a high tolerance for frustration can consult CNN’s transcript or the video of the program.

A comment by NPR’s Folkenflik pretty much summarized the discussion:

And sometimes, the message seems to be coming from around the White House where I think often it's not – you are seeing these Fox hosts pushing forward messages they want the White House to hold on to, to grab hold of and to ride. And you're seeing – it's not just a synergy, it's just this constant, current floating all in the same direction.

There are no admission of facts against interests on these shows that you're talking about. And that, I think, is why it [that is, the Fox News Channel] is not news.

That’s the new meme: CNN is real news; it’s Fox News that is fake.

This spin has been tried before, including in 2009 when the administration of Barack Obama attacked Fox News as not news. On October 12, 2009, Fox News reported:

Calling Fox News “a wing of the Republican Party,” the Obama administration on Sunday escalated its war of words against the channel, even as observers questioned the wisdom of a White House war on a news organization. 

"What I think is fair to say about Fox – and certainly it's the way we view it – is that it really is more a wing of the Republican Party," said Anita Dunn, White House communications director, on CNN. "They take their talking points, put them on the air; take their opposition research, put them on the air. And that's fine. But let's not pretend they're a news network the way CNN is."

It should be remembered that Anita Dunn is the high-level Obama advisor who famously said in a speech at a high school graduation in 2009 that “two of my favorite political philosophers [are] Mao Tse Tung and Mother Teresa. . . the two people I turn to most often.”

Tamara Holder, CNN Reliable Sources December 17, 2017

Back to Sunday’s Reliable Sources: The entire show except for the last four minutes was devoted to Fox News, the proposed merger of 21st Century Fox and Disney, a detailed examination of the alleged climate of sexual harassment at Fox News, exclamations of shock about what Fox head Rupert Murdoch said in a new interview, and a report about the purported vulnerabilities of President Trump in the face of allegations that he harassed women in the past – a topic, in CNN’s view, not unrelated to Fox News.

In a live interview with Stelter, attorney Tamara Holder, a former contributor from the left at Fox News, detailed allegations against a Fox News executive who, she said, criminally harassed her. Holder was a Fox News contributor with a $300,000 a year salary. After being fired, because she reported the harassment, she said, she ultimately received a $2.5 million settlement from the company earlier this year. During her conversation with Stelter, Holder said she is so stressed from her experience at Fox News:

Like, I had to do an MDMA illegal [psychoactive drug] therapy to deal with my PTSD, because I couldn't function.

Drawing the lens back for a wider view of these various goings-on, the big picture here is that Fox News is an essential target in the full-spectrum assault that is clearly aimed at taking down the big fish – President Trump. Fox News is the only MSM outlet that manages to present anything close to fair and balanced coverage of the news involving the Trump administration. Additionally, its nightly prime time (8-11 P.M. E.T.) opinion shows are hosted by the only conservatives on cable television news, Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and Laura Ingraham. They present right of center viewpoints while giving ample time to left and progressive guests to make their case, without insulting and demeaning them as CNN does when it includes a conservative guest on its left wing-dominated panels.

So, what is the response of Fox News to these developments? So far, nothing on the record. However, an email on Sunday from “a high-ranking Fox official” offered these exclusive comments for this article:

CNN has been attacking FNC this way for years, and it continues to fail. CNN’s performance under [CNN president] Jeff Zucker has been an abysmal failure. The ratings speak for themselves. CNN is now a distant third in the cable news race, and HLN [CNN’s sister cable channel] still has no audience despite numerous Zucker revamps.

The President [Donald Trump], having identified and exposed CNN as “Fake News,” clearly cuts very deep and personal.

Another Fox employee with “first-hand knowledge of CNN’s internal HR issues” added:

It’s well known in the industry that CNN has its own share of [skeletons in the closet potentially subject to exposure by the runaway #Me Too campaign], and it’s only a matter of time before that dam bursts. There are many nervous top executives and on-air talent at CNN tonight.

It’s only a matter of time before Jeff Zucker gets a thorough examination of his role at NBC while Matt Lauer was [allegedly] abusing and harassing women. Once the CNN floodgates open, people will see one common denominator: Jeff Zucker.

The cable news wars are a battle of attrition. The conflict is becoming increasingly ugly. The stakes – especially as they intertwine now with the fate of the President of the United States – couldn’t be higher. As we have noted all year during this evolving coverage of cable news and national politics at the highest levels, please stay tuned for developments. There will assuredly be more.

Here is the complete episode of Reliable Sources:

Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran reporter and analyst of news on national politics, media, and popular culture. Follow Peter on Twitter @pchowka.

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