On Tuesday night, Rachel Maddow announced a scoop on her MSNBC show. But even as Maddow was slowly revealing what she had — two pages of Donald Trump’s 2005 1040 Form — her Fox News 9 p.m. competitor, Tucker Carlson, was using his show to scoff at and downplay Maddow’s revelations. This was an unusual display: Fox News rarely acknowledges that any other channel than Fox News exists, let alone gives a plug to an MSNBC show airing live at that moment. It suggests a couple of things: how much more competitive MSNBC has become in the ratings, and how invested Fox News is in maintaining the cozy relationship it has with the president.
Maddow’s information was that Trump paid $38 million in federal income taxes on reported income of $150 million, at a tax rate of 25 percent. Over on Fox, Carlson had correspondent Trace Gallagher summarize what Maddow was saying. “We’re kind of watching Rachel Maddow as she goes on here, Tucker,” said Gallagher. (I wonder how many Fox viewers switched over to MSNBC at that moment, to see for themselves?) Gallagher said Maddow “has so far revealed very little.” Carlson then yanked another Fox star, Kimberly Guilfoyle, into the proceedings to play a legal correspondent for events — as Carlson put it — “unfolding even as we speak.” Guilfoyle said, “I was listening in my other ear to Rachel Maddow,” and “I began, as an attorney, to question [Maddow’s scoop] right away, the legality of it… Clearly this is another political move to try and discredit the presidency of Donald Trump.” This was 15 minutes into Maddow’s and Carlson’s shows — Maddow hadn’t even begun to discuss the contents of the tax return until after her first commercial break, at 9:12 p.m. So Guilfoyle was working with, at best, a fraction of Maddow’s info before launching into an attack on MSNBC.
Carlson was prepared with counter-programming. His lead segment was labeled: “NBC or Russia: Who Really Meddled in the Election?” In it, he suggested that the release of the Billy Bush/Access: Hollywood tape was more of an attempt to undermine the election than any possible intrusion from Russia. It is in Carlson’s interests to discredit anything that might suggest something improper about Trump (which, by the way, Maddow’s tax-return news did not). It has already been announced that Carlson is scheduled to have an exclusive interview with Trump on his Wednesday night show, and Tucker undoubtedly didn’t want to be getting any angry calls from the White House before that airs.
If Carlson was skeptical of Maddow, his colleague Sean Hannity, at 10 p.m., went into full-blown hysteria over MSNBC and Maddow. In a ludicrous opening segment he tagged “NBC’s Corporate Jihad,” the host of Hannity yelped, “This is a Fox News alert! We have more evidence of Obama deep state, shadow-government, holdover saboteurs! They are breaking laws, all in an effort to delegitimize the newly elected president!” Oh my. With Hannity, the adjectives pile up like a multilayer cake.
Hannity babbled on: “Just a short time ago, one of the Trump-hating hosts over on NBC News, who is really one of the leaders of the alt-left, propaganda, destroy-Trump-at-all-costs media, well, she got her hands on President Trump’s, two pages of his 2005 tax return!” Sean jabbers so quickly, he doesn’t bother with proper grammar, that elitist, alt-left, Communistic dictator of language!
As I said, Maddow’s scoop, while heavily hyped, wasn’t all that major, and you can bet NBC’s lawyers had vetted the legality of Maddow’s news before she went on the air. But the fact that Fox was pouncing on her in real time lets you know Fox is more than a little concerned that a competitor it usually ignores with lordly indifference is making inroads on its prime-time kingdom.
Tucker Carlson Tonight and The Rachel Maddow Show air weeknights at 9 p.m. on Fox News and MSNBC respectively. Hannity airs weeknights at 10 p.m. on Fox News.
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