If you actually watched former National Security Council official Fiona Hill’s testimony on Thursday, you heard a Russia expert decry Republicans’ embrace of Kremlin-propagated conspiracy theories. You also heard her explain why she was troubled to observe Rudy Giuliani and Gordon Sondland undermine the normal course of US foreign policy in Ukraine in pursuit of a “domestic political errand” for President Donald Trump — namely, leveraging the government there to do political favors for him.
But if you simply tuned in to Trump’s favorite Fox News host on Thursday night to learn about the hearing, you didn’t hear a single word of what Hill actually had to say. Instead, viewers of Sean Hannity’s show watched him dismiss Hill — who has appeared on Fox News as a foreign policy expert — as merely a “so-called Ukraine expert.” He then mocked her for not taking seriously the very same conspiracy theories she dismissed during her testimony as “fictional narrative[s] that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”
Sean Hannity dismisses Fiona Hill as “a so-called Ukraine” expert and attacks her for not buying the Fox News conspiracy theory that Ukraine colluded with dems in the 2016 election pic.twitter.com/sjhxVYHI0V
— Andrew Lawrence (@ndrew_lawrence) November 22, 2019
Hannity’s monologue following the last day of this week’s impeachment hearings provided a window into how Fox News’ primetime hosts work hand-in-glove with Republicans to portray the proceedings in the most favorable light for Trump. Instead of discussing the actual testimony offered by witnesses like Hill, Hannity showcased out-of-context clips of Republicans disparaging the accounts of those testifying, such as the following from Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH):
This clip from last night’s Hannity is a remarkable example of how Fox News selectively uses short, out of context clips from the impeachment hearings to frame the proceedings in the best possible light for Trump pic.twitter.com/0qmuvHBVWD
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 22, 2019
In fact, the only two snippets of testimony that Hannity showcased during his monologue were the above clip of Jordan downplaying witness testimony and another of Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) claiming that “Ukrainians did work against candidate Trump. Some, with the DNC.” What Hannity didn’t mention is that Hill addressed Wenstrup’s specific talking point during her testimony, saying, “There was little evidence of a top-down effort [to aid] Hillary Clinton by Ukraine … a distinction between the Russian effort that was personally directed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.”
While Hannity’s monologue was by no means a good-faith representation of what Hill had to say, Trump was such a big fan of it that he posted the entire thing on Twitter with no context added.
The chasm between what actually happened during the Hill hearing and Hannity’s monologue about it on Thursday evening illustrates how Fox News primetime hosts and Republican members of Congress construct an alternative reality for Fox News viewers — one in which Trump, in relentless pursuit of “draining the swamp,” is constantly besieged by deep-state bureaucrats and Democrats who are obsessed with taking him down.
The notion that Ukraine’s purported collusion with Democrats is the real 2016 scandal may sound ridiculous to most informed citizens, but the scary thing is that a lot of people are buying what Fox News is selling. The network just enjoyed its highest-rated week of the year, easily besting MSNBC and CNN. And Fox News (along with other right-wing outlets and Trump himself) is dominating the “impeachment” discussion on Facebook.
The top 10 “impeachment” @Facebook posts over the past 24 hours in terms of # of interactions come from:
1. Donald J Trump
2. Fox News
3. Fox News
4. Donald J Trump
5. Fox News
6. Daily Wire
7. Daily Wire
8. Fox News
9. Donald J. Trump
10. Fox News https://t.co/bLyPf9xheN
— Will Ragland (@citizenwillis) November 21, 2019
On Wednesday, Ryan Broderick wrote for BuzzFeed about how Republicans were using their questioning time during the impeachment hearings not to interrogate witnesses but “to create moments that can be flipped into Fox News segments, shared as bite-size Facebook posts, or dropped into 4chan threads.”
As if on cue, on Thursday, Intelligence Community Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-CA) completely ignored Hill’s testimony and instead asked her a string of gotcha questions meant to highlight her ignorance of right-wing conspiracy theories — the very thing Hannity highlighted on his show hours later.
While it’s a regular topic of discussion during Fox News primetime, there is no evidence to support the specific conspiracy theory in question — that there was a concerted effort by Ukrainian government officials to work with the Democratic National Committee to try and take down Trump during the 2016 campaign. But it’s a useful notion for Trump and his enablers because it provides a talking point to justify his efforts to strongarm the Ukrainian government into investigating the 2016 election — efforts at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.
Trump, for his part, seems more inclined to believe Hannity’s ramblings than he is his own intelligence community, which has concluded that the real election interference operation during the 2016 campaign was conducted for his benefit by the Kremlin.
On Friday morning, Trump called into Fox & Friends for a lengthy interview in which he pushed a debunked conspiracy theory about Ukraine that seemed to be a bit much even for hosts of the reliably MAGA-friendly show. Gently pressed to back up his claim that the DNC colluded with Ukraine to frame Russia for being responsible for the DNC hack, the best Trump could come up with was, “Well, that’s what the word is.”
Notably, that response was good enough for Fox & Friends hosts, who quickly moved on with the interview.
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