President Donald Trump attacked Fox News while being interviewed Thursday on Fox News, telling primetime host Sean Hannity that the network was in a "much different place" as he disparaged two of its leading journalists — Chris Wallace and John Roberts.
Trump dialed in to Hannity, with whom he reportedly frequently partakes in pillow talk, for a lengthy call in the hours after reports broke that top White House aide Hope Hicks had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Earlier on Thursday, Roberts, the network's chief White House correspondent, had rebuked Trump's press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on-air after a testy exchange at a White House press briefing in which she repeatedly refused to condemn white supremacy.
Trump himself had been bombarded with bipartisan criticism for failing to denounce white supremacy at Tuesday's presidential debate, which was moderated by Wallace. He led off the interview by condemning the ideology and affiliated organizations unequivocally before pivoting to gripe that Wallace had asked him the same question in a previous interview.
"Chris Wallace asked me the same question last time — and you know, it's a shame. It's a shame that they can get away with it," Trump said, without clarifying who "they" were.
He then turned to Roberts, whom he accused of "abusing" McEnany.
"When I saw John Roberts today going crazy — Kayleigh is just an incredible person. She was abused by John Roberts," Trump said. "It's a terrible thing. Fox is a much different place than it used to be, Sean."
Instead of further inquire about Trump's barbs against his colleagues and network, Hannity pivoted to the next question.
At another point in the interview, Trump appeared to blame U.S. troops and law enforcement for infecting his inner circle with the coronavirus, claiming that the uniformed men often want to "hug" and "kiss" members of his team out of gratitude for the "good job" the administration has done.
"You know, it's very hard, when you're with soldiers, when you're with airmen, when you're with Marines. And I'm with — and the police officers," the president said. "I'm with them so much. And when they come over here, it's very hard to say, 'Stay back. Stay back.' It's a tough kind of a situation."
Trump has, over the last several months, ramped up his attacks on the "news" side of Fox, which he treats as separate from the commentary purveyed by Hannity, fellow primetime stars Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham and the co-hosts of the morning show "Fox & Friends."
It was earlier reported that Trump had "screamed" at Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch in a call this summer about what Trump perceived "unfair" coverage and polling from the network. In late July, the president acknowledged that the network "forgot who got them where they are" and is "not even watchable." He repeated verbatim the latter claim in August, urging viewers to switch to the even further right-wing One America News, which he called "Fair & Balanced" in a dig at Fox News' longtime tagline.
That same month, Trump went on "Fox & Friends" to register a complaint that the network should not, unlike every other network, be covering the Democratic National Convention. (Some Fox fans apparently heeded the president's call, vowing to abandon the network after watching what they perceived as favorable coverage of the convention.)
Most recently, Trump took issue with a Fox News poll which showed him trailing Democratic opponent Joe Biden in key battleground states, attacking their 2016 polling for allegedly being "ridiculously wrong" and oversampling Democratic voters "to a point that a child could see what is going on."
A Trump-appointed federal judge recently agreed with the president's assessments of the network's credibility, issuing a verdict absolving Tucker Carlson of wrongdoing in a defamation case after Fox News admitted that its star host is not always accurate when he discusses the news on TV.
The "general tenor of [Carlson's] show should then inform a viewer that he is not 'stating actual facts' about the topics he discusses and is instead engaging in 'exaggeration' and 'non-literal commentary,'" Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil wrote. "Whether the court frames Mr. Carlson's statements as 'exaggeration,' 'non-literal commentary' or simply bloviating for his audience, the conclusion remains the same — the statements are not actionable.'"
A Fox News spokesperson did not respond when asked by Salon whether the network would comment in defense of Roberts.