It's clear that President Trump watches a lot of tv. And it's clear he believes just about anything he hears on Fox News (which also helps explain why he connected so well with his supporters last year). But last week's fiasco with the British may actually offer a path and opportunity to shape how Trump thinks and behaves to help avoid dumb controversies, decisions and problems going forward.
Assuming Rupert Murdoch values his ability to remain on this earth (the wrong approach with North Korea makes this a serious and real possibility) more than he values high ratings (and the revenue that comes with it) for Fox News, he could start to subtly change the network's approach to help influence what Trump does and thinks. Here's how:
Set a higher standard for what hosts and guests can say on the air. Just allowing a former local New Jersey judge to repeat a completely unsubstantiated rumor (in this case, that the British worked with Obama to wiretap Trump Tower) is no longer allowed. Any contributor, host or guest who can't be trusted enough to adhere to that basic standard of sanity can't be hired or invited on.
Disavow quickly. When vetting falls through the cracks and someone does say something crazy that Trump might believe and act on, the station disavows it clearly and repeatedly the minute it happens (while Trump is still watching). This eventually happened last week but far too late and only after the network was embarrassed into it (Fox may need to hire some editors with different, reserved perspectives who can more easily recognize the crazy stuff and act on it).
- Pick and choose. Murdoch picks a few key issues (like he's always done, except this time to help save the world rather than boost ratings) and makes sure the hosts and producers drive those constantly to help reach Trump. Instead of just railing against Obamacare, they pick issues like North Korea that unite us all (most people across the political spectrum would prefer not to die) and send a clear message to Trump as often as possible (like, do not start an unnecessary war with a crazy dictator who could wipe out Seoul in minutes and trigger a global nuclear holocaust).
- Make sure the key content is embedded in programming and issues we know Trump watches and cares about. Devote a segment to how great Trump is (it can be about how he's the best real estate developer, retailer, casino owner, hotel owner, country club presence - anything with a superlative works). If he's happy and feeling sufficiently praised, he's more likely to agree with the actual point of the segment.
Get buy-in from the hosts Trump cares about (Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity) and get them to rally viewers on Twitter to help reinforce the message. There are two mediums that really resonate with Trump - tv and Twitter. Murdoch has the reach to use both. The hosts may claim journalistic independence and try to resist, but if anyone has the powers of persuasion and the purse to get them to yes, it's Murdoch.
Is it fair to ask Rupert Murdoch to go from a media mogul to a covert policy advisor charged with saving the world from nuclear annihilation? Murdoch has never shied away from power before. And while most Trump opponents will still hate most of what Murdoch and Fox News stands for, there are a few larger issues that unite us all (like not dying).
It's still insane that the most powerful person in the world takes whatever he hears on tv and repeats it verbatim, but this is the world we now live in. The entities like the CIA, NSC and Joint Chiefs of Staff who traditionally influenced the thinking of most Presidents aren't that relevant in this White House.
Fox News is.
So let's accept the reality we're in and shape it as best we can to avoid catastrophe. If that means Rupert Murdoch is our best hope, so be it. Let's hope he rises to the occasion.