Trump-Fox relationship takes warmer turn with Hannity interview

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Donald Trump is slated to sit for an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity on Monday, a significant development in the increasingly complicated relationship between the former president and the country’s top-watched cable network.

Trump has for weeks relentlessly attacked Fox over its coverage of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is widely expected to challenge him for the GOP nomination in 2024.

At the same time, Fox remains locked in a high-profile defamation lawsuit stemming from its coverage of Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election.

While some pundits on Fox have suggested the GOP should move on from Trump and focus on boosting other candidates, the interview with Hannity signals steadfast support of the former president among one of the network’s most influential figures ahead of a GOP primary.

Trump’s planned appearance on Fox — which briefly experienced a dip in ratings following the 2020 election, though they have since rebounded — would be his first on the network since he announced his bid for the Republican nomination in 2024.

It also comes amid revelations through the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit against the network that Fox’s top leaders and hosts privately complained about Trump and his false statements about the election even as many voiced support for him on the air.

“We are very very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights. I truly can’t wait,” Tucker Carlson, one of Fox’s top-rated hosts, wrote in one widely publicized text message to an unidentified Fox employee on Jan. 4, 2021, according to one court filing.

“I hate him passionately,” Carlson wrote in another message.

Fox, which is defending itself in court on First Amendment grounds, has argued that the text messages and emails of its employees have been “cherry picked” by Dominion in an attempt to embarrass the network.

Carlson, for his part, offered a much rosier view of Trump during a radio interview given this week.

“Oh, let’s see. I spent four years defending his policies and I — I’m going to defend them again tonight,” Carlson said. “And actually, and I’m pretty straightforward, I’m, um, I love Trump. Like, as a person, I think Trump is funny and insightful.”

Hannity’s relationship with and support for Trump, who he has been friends with for years, has also been under scrutiny as part of the Dominion lawsuit.

In a message shortly after the 2020 election that was sent to former House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), a member of Fox’s board, Rupert Murdoch, the owner and co-chair of Fox Corp., said Hannity had been “privately disgusted” with Trump’s actions following his loss. Murdoch called the post-election period a “wake up call” for the longtime host, according to another court filing.

In a separate email to Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott, Murdoch worried that Hannity and fellow host Laura Ingraham “went too far” in endorsing Trump’s false claims.

“All very well for Sean to tell you he was in despair about Trump but what did he tell his viewers?” Murdoch wrote to Scott, according to the filing.

Trump’s last appearance on Fox was in the fall of 2022, before he announced another bid for the White House. It took place during a similar sit-down interview with Hannity, which the former president used to bash President Biden and Democrats.

The network has not carried Trump rallies live and made headlines in November for briefly cutting away from his presidential announcement event, decisions that have earned the network scorn from Trump’s staunchest defenders.

“Note to Fox News senior management: When Donald J. Trump talks, it’s newsworthy,” Trump ally Steve Bannon said during a fiery speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this month, seizing on the Dominion lawsuit in his remarks.

“Is there really that much going on at two in the afternoon on Fox News that you can’t cover him live,” Bannon said. “They don’t respect you, read the depositions. They have a fear, a loathing and a contempt for you.”

Parts of Murdoch’s media empire, which includes The Wall Street Journal and New York Post, have spent the last several months boosting DeSantis ahead of his expected presidential bid.

Trump attacked DeSantis this week for a wide-ranging interview he gave to Piers Morgan, who Murdoch hired last year to host a show on TalkTV and write regular columns in the Post.

“While I am fighting against Radical Left Lunatics, Persecutors, and unfair Prosecutors who want to destroy us all, Ron DeSanctimonious is not working for the people of Florida as he should be, he is too busy chatting with a Ratings Challenged TV Host from England, desperately trying to rescue his failing Campaign—But it’s my fault, I put him there!” Trump wrote this week in a Truth Social post.

Some hosts on Fox remain sharply critical of Trump and favorable toward DeSantis.

Fox host Neil Cavuto blasted Trump on Thursday for “lying” about DeSantis’s record, and the network recently featured an interview with the Florida governor during which he tossed a baseball back and forth with host Brian Kilmeade and mused about his personal life.

Experts and observers have predicted Trump and Murdoch could set aside public differences if doing so eventually becomes mutually beneficial.

Nielsen Media Research data shows Fox remains the top-watched cable news network, including in the two years since Trump left office, and its leading advertising executives said this week the company’s ad sales have not been affected by the Dominion lawsuit.

Still, major questions loom over the relationship between Trump and Fox in the coming months, like if more hosts on the network will provide Trump a platform to attack DeSantis carte blanche, and if Trump resumes repeating falsehoods about the 2020 election, what sort of pushback he will be met with.

“It’s about attention, money and ratings,” said Peter Loge, the director of George Washington University’s Project on Ethics in Political Communication.

“Donald Trump has built a career screaming and thrashing and making fun of people, all of whom go back to him because they would like some of that attention … one of the things that we’ve learned from the Dominion suit is Fox is concerned about its ratings going down once the Trump train left town. And they have bills to pay.”

UPDATED: 7:16 p.m.

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