Donald Trump; Michael Flynn (Getty/Joe Raedle/Alex Wong/Salon)

Fox News tackles Flynn memo with usual formula for bad Trump news: Distract, minimize, distort

The sentencing memo for Michael Flynn is very bad for Trump. Fox News wants its viewers to believe otherwise


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Amanda Marcotte
December 6, 2018 12:00PM (UTC)

Late on Tuesday, there was another development in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into ties between Donald Trump's campaign and a Russian criminal conspiracy to hack Democratic email accounts and influence the 2016 election. Mueller filed a sentencing memo regarding Michael Flynn, the former general who was briefly President Trump's national security adviser after working for the campaign for months. Mueller advised the court to take it easy on Flynn, who pled guilty for lying to the FBI, because Flynn has apparently upheld his end of a cooperation deal.

To be fair, the memo doesn't say much, because huge chunks are redacted due to the ongoing investigation. But it's easy enough to read between the lines. The fact that Mueller appears satisfied with Flynn's cooperation and that massive amounts of black ink are blocking most facts about the investigation -- including exactly who or what is being investigated -- suggests that Flynn was a songful birdie and that what he had to share was extensive.

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This is very bad for Trump. That much is obvious, and not just to mainstream journalists and legal analysts. It's clearly obvious to the self-appointed propaganda troops at Fox News, whose desperation to spin this situation was hard to miss. The bad news is that the Fox team has really honed the art of the cover-up in the past two years. They expertly deployed their three-pronged strategy to bamboozle their Trump loyalist audience: Distract, minimize, and distort. Let's take a look.

Distract

When bad news comes down about Trump, Fox News likes to turn to culture-war distractions, getting viewers riled up about "political correctness" so they simply don't pay attention to evidence that the president might be a criminal.

Laura Ingraham distracted her audience with a "kids these days" segment about how young people supposedly "hate the past," in which she compared the removal of Confederate monuments to ISIS destroying priceless works of antiquity. She denounced "committing acts of violence to get your own way and defying laws," but sadly, these harsh words were not condemning the Confederates who turned arms against their own country in defense of owning human beings, but were aimed at young people who vandalized a statue.

Tucker Carlson went full-tilt into the white male victim complex, as well, with a segment in which he seemed to imply that his aging, right-wing audience was being denied their fair share of grandchildren because of immigrants. While Carlson isn't wrong to note that younger Americans "can’t afford to get married and have children," he argued that's because the "elite" prefers to "import new children," when of course the actual problem is that decades of Republican government and Republican-fueled economic policy have resulted in spiraling income inequality.

But Carlson didn't merely distract his audience by coaching them to embrace the same views as the white supremacists who chanted "You will not replace us" in Charlottesville. He also featured a segment portraying men as victims because women are less inclined to stay silent about being sexually harassed and assaulted.

The distraction technique continued into Wednesday programming, with Fox News giving air time to the supposed evils of veganism and how terrible it is that people who don't eat meat may also believe that women have the right to abortion.

This stuff is all silly, but it serves the purpose: It reaffirms Fox viewers' tribal loyalty to Trump, so they stay the course even as ever more distressing evidence piles up against him.

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Minimize

Mueller recommended no prison time for Flynn. To anyone paying attention, this is a really bad sign for Trump, as it strongly suggests that whatever information Flynn gave up was significant. they tried to spin the recommendation for a light sentence as evidence that there are no real crimes here.

Carlson's pointedly boring short segment on the memo ended with him sarcastically saying, "There better be a huge crime underlying this," and suggesting instead that nothing more than "stupid perjury charges" would come from it. This of course ignores the fact that lying is the charge that Flynn and his lawyers pled down to in order to get his deal.

Ingraham hit similar notes, suggesting the minimal sentencing requirement made the whole investigation a farce, and arguing that it was "anyone's guess" what's in the redacted sections. Her guest, Sol Weisenberg, characterized the memo as "kind of a dud."

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Steve Doocy, the next morning, just skipped all the subtlety and argued, "So if Flynn was colluding with the Russians, he wouldn't be getting zero jail time," once again ignoring that Flynn is getting a chance to plead to a lesser charge in exchange for his cooperation.

Distort

Building on the false idea that Flynn's likely light sentence means no real crime was committed, Fox News personalities decided to run with the notion that this also means that the suffering Flynn has already endured — meaning financial losses and stress — is outrageous and offers more evidence that, as a Certain Person often claims on Twitter, this is a "witch hunt."

Ingraham moaned how terrible it was that this prosecution had "destroyed" a "good man's life."

"Imagine how his life has been thrown into complete tumult," she added, as if there was no real reason for said tumult.

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Sean Hannity took this line of argument to preposterous lengths, openly implying that past military service should operate as a future license to break the law without consequence.

"Thirty-three years of service, five years in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan and this is the treatment? This is the thanks this country gives him? This is how we treat people? What kind of justice system is this?" Hannity protested.

You know Fox News pundits are desperate when they resort to this level of mawkishness about veterans. It's worth repeating one more time that Flynn cut a favorable deal, and this is Mueller letting him off easy. It's both telling and typical that the same people who preach "personal responsibility" at those who have fallen on bad times, often through no fault of their own, are suddenly endless founts of compassion for a man who had every opportunity not to getting in bed with a corrupt campaign but chose, of his own free will, to do it anyway.

Donald Trump personally prefers to deal with damning news by running toward the nearest microphones or turning to Twitter to spill a bunch of blatant lies, in hopes of confusing the issue. But since the Flynn memo dropped on Tuesday night, Trump has avoided all media questions and his tweets —about China, OPEC and the death of George H.W. Bush — are clearly being written by someone else, who is just using random capitalization in a vain effort to imitate the president's style. Since he can't seem to speak about the case without committing more possible crimes, odds are his legal team is behind this strategy.

But with his beloved in-house news source, Fox News, continuing to stoke Trump's victim complex, you can almost feel the pressure building. Odds are it's just a matter of time before he can no longer resist the urge to be silent.


Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a politics writer for Salon. Her new book, "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself," is out now. She's on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte

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