Critic’s Notebook: Fox News Plays Knight in Shining Armor to a Beleaguered Trump-on-Trial

It’s been Donald Trump’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week.

The past and potentially future leader of the free world spent most of it in a dingy Manhattan courtroom, no longer the master of his domain. It’s a place where he dutifully sits down when the judge tells him to sit, where he’s unable to say whatever he wants, where he’s not allowed to use his phone. And worst of all, where there’s no red button for him to push when he wants a Diet Coke. And according to him, it was bitterly cold — “freezing,” in fact, sounding like your elderly uncle at Thanksgiving. Forget a legal defense; someone needs to give him a sweater.

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The criminal hearing in which he’s facing 34 felony counts is not the trial we deserve. That would be either the Georgia election interference case, the federal classified documents case or the federal Jan. 6 election case (it’s so hard to choose). But perhaps it’s the trial Trump deserves, laying bare the sleazy, tawdry aspects of his existence in a manner that could potentially sway those magical swing voters who apparently live in an alternate universe devoid of moral judgement.

For days, he was forced to listen to his good buddy David Pecker, the CEO of the company that publishes the National Enquirer, relate how he cooperated on “catch-and-kill” stories involving such things as Trump’s affairs with Playboy model Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels, among others. And how the Enquirer basically operated as an arm of the campaign, doctoring photos to publish false stories like the one linking Ted Cruz’s father with Lee Harvey Oswald. Talk about fake news.

The publisher testified that he told Trump and his then-consigliere Michael Cohen that he would be the “eyes and ears” of the presidential campaign. And of course, it’s Pecker. The admission must have been shocking to anyone who considered the Enquirer to be a bastion of journalistic integrity.

In response, Trump was reduced to making impromptu speeches in the building’s hallway, where his inability to articulate without a teleprompter (or even with one) was made painfully clear. “I should be in Georgia now. I should be in Florida now,” he whined. “And I’m sitting here. It’s very unfair.” On Wednesday, when the court wasn’t in session, Trump vigorously resumed his campaign. (Just kidding. He went golfing.)

You couldn’t blame him for being unhappy. In his opening statement, his lawyer Todd Blanche made the bizarre claim, “I have a spoiler alert … there’s nothing wrong with trying to influence the election, it’s called democracy,” which only proves that he doesn’t know the meaning of the term “spoiler alert.” But it must have sounded good to all those Jan. 6 insurrectionists — excuse me, “influencers” — currently sitting in jail.

It was fairly obvious that things weren’t going well for the defense when, barely into the first week of testimony, the judge told Blanche, “You’re losing all credibility with the court.” (It’s amazing it took that long.)

Fortunately for Trump, he wasn’t alone, basking in the presence of his wife, Melania, and his children, who appeared in court with him every day to lend moral support. (Just kidding. None of his family members was there. In her defense, Melania was busy hawking $245 necklaces for Mother’s Day.)

Trump’s biggest complaint was with the high level of security that prevented his legions of followers from showing up and protesting. (As Jan. 6 demonstrated, he’s not a big fan of security.) But as journalist Maggie Haberman pointed out on CNN, the problem wasn’t that Trump supporters were being blocked from the courthouse but rather that they simply weren’t showing up. In response, Trump employed his usual self-control and refrained from contradicting her. (Just kidding. On Truth Social, he blasted her as “Maggot Hagerman of the failing New York Times.”)

On Monday and Tuesday, CNN and MSNBC covered the trial exhaustively, resorting to essentially blogging on-air since cameras weren’t allowed in the courtroom. (There were still photographs of a glowering Trump, and drawings by a sketch artist whose work would scare Hieronymus Bosch.) Fox had other things on its mind, especially the pro-Palestinian protests by “professional agitators” at “elite East Coast universities.” And the hosts of The Five were dealing with such pressing issues as “Is Kamala’s Laugh Dooming Democrats?”

The Fox defense team, I mean correspondents, were eager to lend their support to Trump, including Sean Hannity, who said he never could have imagined this sort of weaponization of the Justice Department (apparently, he couldn’t imagine the Nixon administration). Jesse Watters commented, “[Trump’s] lawyers paid Stormy, and after the campaign was over the money was reimbursed and booked as a legal expense,” helpfully summing up the prosecution’s case for them. Referring to the witnesses, he pointed out, “People will say anything for a paycheck,” a statement that redefines the meaning of “irony.” He also seemed weirdly concerned about Trump’s health.

“The guy needs exercise,” Watters complained of Trump, a well-known fitness fanatic, having to spend so much time in the courtroom. “It’s unhealthy. He needs sunlight and he needs activity. It’s really cruel and unusual punishment.” Later in the week, he took the opposite tack, comparing Trump to King Kong in confinement.

“And what happens with King Kong?” he asked. “It’s not going to be good. He’s going to bust out of his cage eventually. They’re not going to be able to keep him down.”

Fortunately, co-host Harold Ford Jr. was there to put it in proper perspective. “They killed King Kong,” he quietly observed.

On Thursday, the criminal case took a back seat to coverage of the Supreme Court hearing about presidential immunity (so many cases, so little time). Not surprisingly, the conservative justices hinted that they may throw the case back to the lower court, potentially delaying a ruling until after the presidential election and offering Trump yet another lifeline. It just reminded you that watching Trump go through his legal travails is like waiting for Jamie Lee Curtis to finally kill Michael Myers.

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