You Can Barely Tell It’s the Same Trial in Cable Impeachment Coverage
“Descriptions like “very powerful” and “really stellar” on MSNBC and CNN. And “asinine” and “irrational” on Fox News.
Cable news coverage of the second impeachment trial of former President Donald J. Trump matched the political divide that played out between his supporters and critics on the Senate floor: The proceeding was either a substantive, often chilling deliberation on presidential malfeasance or a case of nothing-to-see-here.
On MSNBC, the star anchor Rachel Maddow described the security footage aired by Democratic House managers as “very powerful.” On CNN, the prime-time host Chris Cuomo warned that Mr. Trump’s violent supporters might be emboldened if he was acquitted. Both networks showed largely uninterrupted coverage of the trial and devoted hours of analysis to it at night.
On Fox News, Sean Hannity invited Donald Trump Jr. on his Tuesday prime-time program to rebut the arguments made by Democratic prosecutors. The son of the former president, a frequent guest on “Hannity,” called the House managers’ case “asinine,” adding that he “thought that these senators would maybe have something better to do.”
On Thursday afternoon, Newsmax cut away from the Senate floor for a discussion of the decision by Mark Cuban, the owner of the National Basketball Association’s Dallas Mavericks, to stop playing the national anthem before the team’s home games. At the same time, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and major broadcast networks were sticking with the trial.
Newsmax had a ratings surge in the weeks after Election Day because of programs that embraced Mr. Trump’s debunked claims of widespread election fraud. On Wednesday, the Newsmax anchor Chris Salcedo used violent language to describe the impeachment trial, calling it “a bipartisan betrayal of the American people and our Constitution.” Before cutting back to the trial, he added, “Let’s watch the dagger plunge even further into the backs of we the people and this country.”
The split-screen coverage signaled that the cultural and political tensions that were apparent in the deadly storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 had not abated since Mr. Trump’s exit from the national stage, at least among the leading cable news networks.
One America News Network, a niche conservative channel, went further than Newsmax in its embrace of Mr. Trump, broadcasting on Thursday a video tribute that was produced by Harrison Hill Smith, a contributor to the conspiracy site Infowars. Set to swelling music, and featuring a recitation of Rudyard Kipling’s inspirational poem “If,” it included slow-motion footage of Mr. Trump striding across rain-swept tarmacs, facing down reporters and raising a fist in the air.
The disparity in coverage was stark across the first three days of the trial, starting on Tuesday.
A CNN guest, George T. Conway III, an anti-Trump Republican who recently left the embattled anti-Trump group the Lincoln Project, told the anchor Anderson Cooper on Thursday that the impeachment team was doing a “tremendous job of advocacy, really stellar, A-plus by any stretch.”
On MSNBC, whose prime-time hosts are consistently critical of Mr. Trump, the host Chris Hayes on Wednesday praised the prosecutors’ use of “truly jaw-dropping video.” He said it had “masterfully” connected “Trump’s words and actions to the violence that shattered the seat of American democracy.”
As House managers presented their case on Thursday afternoon, David Schoen, one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, appeared on the Fox News show “America Reports With John Roberts & Sandra Smith.” He criticized the presentation as “an entertainment package” and labeled it “offensive.”
Chris Wallace, the “Fox News Sunday” anchor, said as a guest on Martha MacCallum’s Fox News show on Wednesday that the House managers had done “a very effective job.” The next day on Ms. MacCallum’s show, Hogan Gidley, a former deputy White House press secretary, called efforts by Democrats to equate a refusal to convict Mr. Trump with support for the Jan. 6 rioters “a dirty political trick and dangerous for the future of our country.”
Several guests on Fox News blasted Democrats’ efforts to win a conviction. “Most Republicans found the presentation by the House managers offensive and absurd,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said on Mr. Hannity’s show on Wednesday.
In his Thursday night monologue, the Fox News host Tucker Carlson said he could not fathom why Democrats were “so angry,” given that President Biden had won the election. “They are crazy-person mad, florid-faced, irrational, yelling and making threats,” he said. “It is bizarre.”
There was one point of agreement across the cable divide: the hosts’ take on the lawyers for the defense. Mr. Hannity described the legal team’s performance on Tuesday as “a little meandering” before his fellow Fox News host Laura Ingraham called it “terrible.”
On Wednesday, Ms. Maddow, of MSNBC, said a lawyer for Mr. Trump, Bruce L. Castor Jr., had delivered a “sort of Bart Simpson meets Foghorn Leghorn routine.” On Thursday, she apologized for her reference to cartoon characters, saying it was “uncalled-for,” only to reiterate that his Senate floor performance was “disastrous.”
A guest on Newsmax, Brian Darling, a former counsel to Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, presented a report card on the opening statements by both sides. The House managers received a C-plus. The Trump team got a D.“
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