American author and political satirist Christopher Buckley, Make Russia Great Again: A Novel (2020)
Among the many joys of Christopher Buckley’s fake memoir by "Herb Nutterman"—President Trump’s seventh chief of staff—are the hilarious names created for their very thinly disguised, real-life counterparts. (Do I really need to tell you that Colonnity is Sean Hannity and Fartmartin is Tucker Carlson?)
The difficult aspect of writing this satire, though, lay in spinning out a plot more absurd than what has been happening in the Age of Trump—very much including at the media outlet that helped propel him to the White House.
The irony in Buckley’s passage above extends well beyond those names for the Fox prime-time stars. As any fan of Lerner and Loewe (or, for that matter, T.H. White and Sir Thomas Malory) would remember, pure-hearted Sir Galahad was loyal to King Arthur, a wise, judicious monarch who ruled Camelot with wisdom.
But “Colonnity” and “Fartmartin” follow—for reasons best known to themselves and their boss, Rupert Murdoch—a President governed not by reason but by rampaging resentment.
Like Facebook, Fox News has fashioned a monster out of Frankenstein: an audience that has turned angrily on its creator. A quarter century after Murdoch gave free rein to Roger Ailes to whip viewers into a lather of bitterness over the liberal elite, the network’s prime-time pundits have not seriously tried to convince them that Donald Trump lost the election fairly and that no amount of challenges based on nonexistent evidence can reverse that outcome--even as many of their colleagues have admitted the obvious.
How dismally they must have felt over a week ago to hear crowds in Washington chant, “Fox sucks!”—all because the network finally attempted to live up to its “Fair and Balanced” moniker by calling Arizona for Joe Biden.
As my friend Joe Ferullo noted in a recent piece for The Hill, Fox is hardly alone as a channel that traded objectivity for editorializing—it is part of a larger trend towards “the tribal journalism of cable news,” mirrored on the left by MSNBC and CNN.
But, in the current needlessly fevered transition, Fox bears unique responsibility for the belief of 70% of Republican voters polled by Politico/Morning Consult that Joe Biden's victory was not "free and fair." Their evening stars—Hannity, Carlson, and Laura Ingraham—have been particularly reckless in giving a forum for the Presidential voter fraud narrative.
All of this might be amusing, in its odd way, if Hannity and Carlson weren’t aware that Trump isn’t missing a few brain cells. But they are, and that knowledge opens them up to a charge of journalistic malpractice.
According to an article in Vanity Fair by CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter, Hannity has grown tired of the 24/7 burden of being on call as an off-camera sounding board and on-air booster of a President desperately needing attention. “Hannity would tell you, off-off-off the record, that Trump is a batshit crazy person,” one of his associates told Stelter.
But Hannity dares not say anything remotely like this publicly. Doing so would not merely end the friendship of the President with his “shadow chief of staff,” as Stelter suggests; it would also mean that progressives would remorselessly chide him for shameless cheerleading for the President, that the network would lose access to and patronage from a still-powerful figure in American politics, and that Hannity would open himself up to the same kind of retaliation experienced by two other media personalities formerly friendly with Trump, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.
And so, Hannity tries to leave minimal daylight between himself and the President. "Americans will never be able to believe in the integrity and legitimacy of these [election] results," he told viewers as Joe Biden built an electoral and popular vote advantage that Trump did not enjoy in 2016 over Hillary Clinton. He has taken to retailing the President’s baseless charge that an electronic voting system used by election authorities across the United States has cost him millions of votes.
Carlson has had to perfect a similar balancing act of publicly embracing the President while privately stressing out over the President’s fecklessness.
In early March, after backing Trump to the hilt during the impeachment fight, he felt compelled to fly down to the Trumps’ Mar-a-Lago resort to tell the President that COVID-19 really WAS a big deal. That warning, the commentator said, was based on a tip from a non-partisan figure in the U.S. government with access to intelligence, who claimed that the Chinese authorities were concealing the severity about the outbreak (advice, it should be noted, that the President could have availed himself of if he paid attention to his daily intelligence briefing).
The President’s shift in tone after their talk was short-lived, as Trump went back to downplaying the seriousness of a pandemic that, as of this writing, has claimed more than 250,000 American lives.
Nevertheless, Carlson feels obliged to give oxygen to the conspiracy theories of this lazy, lying excuse for a manager. The broadcaster has claimed that the "outcome of our presidential election was seized from the hands of voters" and put in the hands of "clearly corrupted city bureaucrats."
The problem is that Trump keeps devising wilder and wilder tests of the loyalty of his Galahads. One would have thought that Carlson, for instance, would have gotten a lifetime pass from the President by inappropriately comparing critics who think Trump contracted COVID-19 through his own reckless behavior with those who say women in provocative clothing ask to be raped.
(In a blog post right after that statement, Wonkette properly gave Carlson's insanely offensive analogy the back of her hand: “There is, in fact, no known outfit in the world that is scientifically proven to prevent sexual assault. Masks, on the other hand, are known to reduce the transmission of COVID-10. We all know this. It's been proven.”)
But Trump’s multi-state electoral challenges—knocked down, one by one, across the country—may be too much for even Carlson to stomach.
First, Carlson was embarrassed into offering an on-air apology about ballots illegally “cast” by dead people when one cited case, James Blalock of Georgia, turned out to be correctly—and legally—cast by his widow, Mrs. James Blalock.
Second, after offering Trump lawyer Sidney Powell as much time as she wanted to exhibit her “evidence” of voter fraud, she angrily declined, leading to Carlson’s on-air explanation of the brush-off.
It’s one thing when Fox personalities elsewhere on the schedule are finding it increasingly difficult to hide their impatience over the endless and pointless electoral lawsuits. It’s another entirely when even the “twin Galahads” are showing signs of cracking under the strain.
Yet Murdoch, Hannity and Carlson may have no choice but to follow through, as long as they can, with their daily nighttime charade, even as the most brazen challenge to Presidential election results in American history continues unabated.
Like any major company, Fox fears a competitor that can slice into its market share. Trump has already called on his supporters to watch Newsmax and One America News Network, two rivals that have been out-foxing Fox as purveyors of outlandish conspiracy theories.
The “twin Galahads,” then, may represent Murdoch’s best chance of warding off trouble from a President whose candidacy he endlessly promoted four years ago, despite privately dismissing him as an“[expletive] idiot,” according to an April 2019 article in the Daily Beast.
(The accompanying photo of Sean Hannity was taken May 29, 2014, by Michael Vadon; the photo of Tucker Carlson, speaking at the 2018 Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, FL, was taken Dec. 22, 2018, by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ.)