Fox News Isn’t Covering Health Care Bill in Primetime. Why?

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
Photo: Fox News

What’s the biggest story in the country right now, the one that has the potential to affect the most Americans? The health care bill, am I right? The Senate bill whose details were only just revealed by the Republicans late last week, and whose vote was put off until after the July 4 congressional recess. Yet it was possible to watch all of Fox News’s primetime lineup on Monday — particularly Tucker Carlson Tonight and Hannity — and hear barely a word about the health care debate. Why would that be?

President Trump’s travel-ban legislation, ruled on by the Supreme Court, was the lead story on both Tucker and The Five. (The Five devoted time to the health care bill 15 minutes into its broadcast.) On Hannity, the lead story was what host Sean Hannity termed the lack of evidence of Trump administration collusion with Russia. (That collusion has, of course, not been disproved at all — that’s why there’s an ongoing investigation.) Hannity said that “Russia and the destroy-Trump media” would be “the subject of tonight’s opening monologue you won’t hear anywhere else.” And the reason you won’t hear it anywhere else is because no one else thinks that’s the top story in the country.

Over on MSNBC, Chris Hayes led off his 8 p.m. All In by laying out details of the health care bill, complete with bipartisan interviews that included a Republican congressman and a conservative economist. What was Carlson doing in that hour? One of his first stories was labeled “CNN Is A Campaign With A Political Mission,” timed to the network’s recent dismissal of three journalists. A bit later, he went to his usual bottomless well of contempt for his latest sally against political correctness, in this case (this was the headline) “Alaska Dumps Columbus Day For Indigenous People’s Day.” Yes, for real: Carlson ignored health care for some inflated anger about a decision made in Alaska.

With Fox News, you can be sure that if they’re ignoring a big story, it’s for one reason — they haven’t figured out their talking-point counterarguments to slam the Democrats, Obama, and Hillary Clinton yet. (Think I’m kidding about Hillary? Hannity’s second story was about how former Obama Attorney General Loretta Lynch ought to be “probed” for her failure to investigate Clinton’s blessed email server.) It’s disgraceful that Fox isn’t informing its viewers about the content and consequences of the health care bill.

Of course, it’s also disgraceful that CNN has chosen to cover the health care legislation primarily as a game-show competition to accumulate the most points — or in this case, the most congressional votes. CNN is all about “The White House can only lose two votes!” storyline, rather than telling its viewers more about what’s in the bill. There is a simple-minded seizing upon certain phrases that news networks hope will be the TV equivalent of clickbait — words like “mean” (used by both Trump and Obama to describe the current bill) and “heart” (Trump said he wanted more of it in the bill). Wolf Blitzer, who’s never met a cliché he couldn’t strangle, asked on Monday whether this latest version of Trumpcare “had more heart” than the House version. For Wolf and CNN, appealing to your emotions rather than your intellect is the path to hell.

For Fox, it’s about ignoring a difficult-to-explain subject until the network knows the outcome of the story. In this case, Fox looks as though it’s going to wait until the Trumpcare vote is in, and will then course-correct accordingly. If the bill fails, its prime-time heads will squawk about liberal “obstructionism.” If it the bill passes, it will hail President Trump as having fulfilled a campaign promise. In both cases, Fox will have failed in its stated purpose of, like, journalism. But you will know which state in our Union is caving to sensitive souls who don’t like Columbus Day.

Tucker Carlson Tonight airs weeknights at 8 p.m. on Fox News. All In With Chris Hayes airs weeknights at 8 p.m. on MSNBC. Hannity airs weeknights at 10 p.m. on Fox News.

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