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President Donald Trump, a Fox News superfan, has decided what the network’s management should do with Saturday night host Jeanine Pirro, who has been suspended for making Islamophobic comments about Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar. “Bring back @JudgeJeanine Pirro,” he tweeted on Sunday morning, arguing that the former judge has been targeted for silencing by “The Radical Left Democrats, working closely with their beloved partner, the Fake News Media.”
The president said that “Fox must stay strong and fight back with vigor” against calls for the network to dump Pirro and primetime host Tucker Carlson, who has lost even more corporate advertisers after the progressive advocacy group Media Matters for America promoted bigoted comments he made during shock jock radio show appearances between 2006 and 2011. “Stop working soooo hard on being politically correct, which will only bring you down, and continue to fight for our Country,” he said. “Be strong & prosper, be weak & die!”
Fox News was quick to condemn Pirro’s remarks but has not criticized Carlson’s comments, some of which were made when he was an MSNBC employee. A source familiar with the network’s strategy explained the divergent approach: “They love Tucker. They do not like Jeanine Pirro. They never have.”
The president’s fondness for Pirro has complicated Fox News’ decision-making process. “They were hesitant to take her off because she’s one of the president’s favorites,” the source said. (Pirro has long been close with the Trump family and has flown with them to the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in the past.)
Pirro’s future at the network is an open question. Her show, Justice w/ Judge Jeanine, did not appear as scheduled on March 16, and the network has not said whether it will air on Saturday, March 23. Her absence on Saturday was called an “internal scheduling matter.”
“Fox is in a real bind here, basically now getting into a proxy battle with the president,” said another source who knows the inner workings of Fox News well.
The network has a very difficult decision to make, according to former executive Ken LaCorte. “If Fox News fired an opinion host every time they offended someone, the studios would be empty,” he said. “When a host like Pirro says something patently stupid, the network needs to show it doesn’t want that kind of talk, but not overreact.”
The well-connected source suggested that the president’s clash with Fox could actually help insulate the network from persistent claims of sycophancy, as documented in a March 11 New Yorker exposé: “Specific personalities and controversies aside, I do think it would be wise for Fox to put some distance between itself and the administration.”
But, network management likely chafed at the president’s attacks on Sunday on news anchors Arthel Neville, Leland Vittert and Shepard Smith.
“They hate that, because that’s eyeballs that they’re going to start losing,” the source familiar with the network said. “I guarantee he drove some eyeballs away from Fox, just from tweeting that stuff.”
The president’s weekend tweets were somewhat reminiscent of his criticism of the network during the 2016 presidential campaign, when he viciously attacked then-host Megyn Kelly (“crazy,” “highly overrated”) and her “terrible show” for asking him a tough question during a debate.
But LaCorte, who spent 18 years at Fox News, doesn’t think the president has made a conscious decision to take on his former network. “I don’t see this as a calculated effort by the president to restart some feud with Fox,” he said. “He’s not shy about having opinions on anything.”
A Fox News spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on the president’s criticisms.
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