On May 11, President Donald Trump sat down for an interview with NBC News’ anchor Lester Holt. The result was a disaster for the White House, with the president attacking the recently fired FBI director James Comey as a “showboat” and admitting he had ousted him over the handling of the federal investigation into Russian efforts to impact the 2016 election. Less than a week later, the Justice Department appointed Robert Mueller special counsel to take over the Russia investigation.
That was the last time the president gave a scheduled national television interview with a mainstream outlet. He has continued to speak with reporters from mainstream print outlets on rare occasions, but not on camera.
Last week, Trump joined Fox News host Sean Hannity for an interview before a live audience at the Air National Guard base in Harrisburg, PA, continuing the president’s months-long strategy of doing national television interviews only with shills for his administration.
Over the last five months, Trump has sat down for cozy chats with a panoply of sycophants, including fiveinterviews with Fox, the channel of choice for the conservative movement. Trump isn’t the only one to prefer soft questioning from Fox hosts — in recent months, Trump’s advisers, family members, and personal lawyer have overwhelmingly favored the network — over CNN and MSNBC — on weekday programming.
Outside of Fox, Trump has been fawned over in interviews by the Christian Broadcasting Network’s Pat Robertson, who literally thinks the president’s opponents are serving Satan, and by the Trinity Broadcasting Network’s Mike Huckabee, whose daughter currently serves as White House press secretary.
It was finally Hannity’s turn. This will was Trump’s 70th interview on "Hannity" (including interviews with guest hosts and Fox correspondents) since he announced his presidential run in June 2015. Hannity was the lodestone of the successful Fox effort to drown the Republican primary field with Trump interviews, providing the candidate with an astounding 17-plus hours of airtime from May 2015 through May 2016. Hannity got on the Trump Train early and proved himself a grotesque lickspittle willing to defend virtually everything Trump has ever done, and he provided the now-president with almost shockingly obsequious treatment.
After Trump’s Holt interview, and a series of additional damaging stories surrounding the president’s connections to Russia, Hannity turned his show into a one-stop shop for presidential defenses. Using the rubric of “five forces” he claimed were opposed to Trump — the press, the Democrats, the “deep state” bureaucracy, and the establishment and never-Trump Republicans — Hannity sought to delegitimize and disqualify all potential sources for negative information about Trump. He devoted dozens of monologues this summer to building the case against those nefarious parties, with a big focus on their purported effort to construct “black-helicopter, tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories about so-called Trump-Russia collusion.” His top guest over the period was the president’s own lawyer.
Hannity’s efforts appear geared toward building support for Trump to take an authoritarian turn. If Trump decides to eliminate the special counsel or demand criminal investigations into his political enemies, Hannity’s viewers will have been prepared by the host to support those initiatives.
And after the interview, Hannity’s conspiracy theory has the imprimatur of the president himself.
This is not a White House that believes the president has a responsibility to answer tough questions from the press. Instead, the administration’s officials have repeatedly acted to limit venues that allow such interactions, in favor of rewarding fawning sycophants with exclusive presidential interviews. At this point, the question must be asked: Was Holt the last mainstream TV journalist who will get to do a sit-down interview with this president?