When Trump Attacks Fox News, the Network Tends to Stay Silent

U.S. President Donald Trump - October 11, 2018- Getty-H 2019
Oliver Contreras - Pool/Getty Images

On Sunday, the president attacked the network's weekend news anchors and criticized the decision to hire Democrat Donna Brazile as a contributor. There was no response.

In 2019, President Donald Trump has taken to Twitter on an almost monthly basis to criticize Fox News, the television network he most commonly praises.

But, unlike CNN and The New York Times, which frequently push back when attacked publicly by the president, Fox News tends to stay silent — not issuing statements or rebutting tweets (though the network has recently abstained from the platform).

The same dynamic played out on Sunday, when the president wrote that "watching @FoxNews weekend anchors is worse than watching low ratings Fake News @CNN," called the anchors "terrible," and harangued the network for hiring Democratic strategist Donna Brazile as a contributor. 

The network did not respond, which did not surprise those who know it.

"What’s the upside for Fox getting into a tweet spat with the president, whom most of their viewers support?" asked former Fox News executive Ken LaCorte. "Sometimes the best move in life is to shut up."

LaCorte, who left the network in 2016 and now runs his own digital publication, guessed that his former employer didn't take the president's barbs too seriously — the right approach, he said.

Chris Ruddy, who runs the conservative television channel Newsmax and is friends with the president, took a similar stance. "My own view is that the president likes Fox News, but when he sees something he doesn’t appreciate, he hits back," he said. "He does that with everybody, and I don’t think he treats Fox differently."

Another Fox News veteran suggested that Trump's attacks on the network's journalists could be good for business, signaling to weary advertisers and viewers a commitment to objective journalism.

A Fox News spokesperson did not respond when asked about the network's lack of a response to Trump's tweets. (Brazile also did not respond when asked for her response to Trump's latest attack on her.)

CNN and the Times take a different approach, using their corporate Twitter accounts to respond directly to the president's insults. "We respond to correct the record. We supply facts to counter misinformation," a CNN spokesperson previously told THR. "If a tweet involves the Times, we review on a case-by-case basis and decide if a response is warranted," a newspaper spokesperson said.

On Sunday, the newspaper pushed back when Trump accused it on Twitter of "writing phony and exaggerated accounts of the Border Detention Centers." In response, the Times wrote, "We are confident in the accuracy of our reporting on the U.S. Border Patrol's detention centers."

One complicating factor is the sheer volume and frequency of the president's criticism, even of Fox News.

This year alone, Trump has attacked the network's polling operation (June 17), the network's decision to hold a town hall with Mayor Pete Buttigieg (May 19), the network's decision to host a Bernie Sanders town hall (April 16), the network's weekend news anchors and weekday anchor Shepard Smith (March 17), the network's handling of host Jeanine Pirro (March 17), and correspondents John Roberts and Gillian Turner (Jan. 27).

During the heat of the 2016 presidential campaign, however, the network took the unusual step of issuing a lengthy statement defending then-host Megyn Kelly against the president's attacks. "Donald Trump’s vitriolic attacks against Megyn Kelly and his extreme, sick obsession with her is beneath the dignity of a presidential candidate who wants to occupy the highest office in the land," the network said in March 2016.