Soft landing with Hannity, but rumblings at Fox

Posted at 4:36 PM, Jul 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-12 16:36:38-04

NEW YORK (AP) -- Donald Trump Jr. found the soft landing space he expected with a Sean Hannity interview, but not everyone at the normally friendly Fox News Channel has dismissed reports of his meeting with a woman tied to Russian leaders who offered campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Some at the network weren't buying talking points that Tuesday's revelations were an overreaction from a hysterical media.

That was the frame of "Hannity" on Tuesday, where the host preceded his talk with the president's son by outlining stories critical to Democrats that he claimed were unjustly ignored by a mainstream media that has "zero credibility."

"For all of the members of the destroy-Trump media that has to tune in tonight, take out your pad and your paper," Hannity said. "You might learn something."

Hannity, who has described himself as an opinion host and not a journalist, walked Trump through a description of how last summer's meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya took place. His interview's enduring value may be in putting Trump on the record in saying the meeting offered little of value, that there were no follow-up emails or meetings, he didn't fill in his father about it, that he felt it didn't represent collusion and that he'd cooperate fully with a special prosecutor looking into the Trump team's dealings with Russia.

Hannity didn't ask about the propriety of meeting with an adversarial government, but did wonder if the Russians "put off any sirens in your head?"

Trump cut Hannity off when the Fox host started asking what he might have done if the meeting provided information that he felt was "illegal or compromising or collusion, to use the media's term," saying he would have brought that information to the authorities. Trump also interrupted Hannity and never fully answered, when his questioner followed up on Trump's suggestion he might have done some things differently in retrospect.

When Trump complained about how the story had slowly unfolded over the past four days in The New York Times, Hannity didn't take the opportunity to ask whether he could have sped up things by being more forthcoming.

Hannity predicted that others in the media would be critical of his interview, but said he'd asked Trump "every question I could think of."

His interview was preceded Tuesday by some sniping between personalities at Fox and CNN as well as an apparent attempt by Trump to tweak The New York Times.

CNN's Jake Tapper noted that his network sought an interview with the presidential son on the story, but that "he's only willing to talk on his father's favorite channel." CNN's media correspondent, Brian Stelter, tweeted that "the real journalists at Fox News must be disappointed that Don Jr. is talking to Hannity, not them."

Hannity quickly tweeted back that "at least Fox has real journalists!" and suggested with glee that CNN will likely be running excerpts of his interview all day on Wednesday.

Confronting a fourth straight day of The New York Times breaking news on the topic, Trump Jr. sought to undermine the newspaper, oddly by releasing information opponents would consider incriminating. The Times said it was preparing to release a story quoting from the emails on Tuesday and contacted the president's son for comment. The newspaper gave him a deadline of 11 a.m. ET - precisely the moment Trump Jr. instead tweeted a copy of the email chain himself. The Times moved its story immediately after the tweet.

In a statement about his son, President Trump praised his "transparency" in releasing the material.

But Fox News anchor Shepard Smith noted a few hours later, "transparency is something that normally happens prior to learn somebody else is about to document-dump you."

Tuesday's news prompted a change in tone at the normally Trump-friendly Fox. Before the Times had reported on the emails on Monday, Fox host Eric Bolling said that the story of his meeting last summer was "an insult to nothing-burgers." This is a Caesar's salad." His comment was a reference to White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus' dismissal of the story on a Sunday television appearance.

Several commentators on Fox suggested that it would be wrong to dismiss the story.

"We shouldn't get in front of our skis, either calling it a 'nothing burger' or collusion," said commentator Meghan McCain, on the Fox midday show "Outnumbered."

Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, just named Monday as a regular Fox contributor, said that where he doesn't think the story provided evidence of collusion, he said it was "deeply incompetent."

"When you get someone from a foreign government saying they want to be involved in an election, the reaction should be 'no, thank you,'" said Fleischer, making a "hands-off" gesture with his arms. He said, "I wouldn't have taken the meeting," and that it shows the difference between people experienced in politics and those who aren't.

Another organization in Rupert Murdoch's media empire, the New York Post, published a blistering editorial on Wednesday saying, "we see one truly solid takeaway from the story of the day: Donald Trump Jr. is an idiot."

On Fox, Smith noted how some people who had been claiming there had been no collusion were now arguing that there's nothing illegal about it. A longtime Fox contributor, Charles Krauthammer, said the meeting showed "incompetence" on the part of Trump's team and that they should have gone to the FBI when offered potentially damaging information by Russia.

"They got swindled," he said.