President Trump’s rallies get extensive airtime on Fox News

NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump’s campaign-style rallies have found a receptive audience at Fox News Channel, which unlike the other cable news networks often carries his speeches live and in their entirety.

Four times in the past few weeks, Fox has set aside its usual prime-time programming to air the president speaking to supporters at events in South Carolina, Minnesota, North Dakota and West Virginia. The network also had live coverage of a Trump rally Thursday in Montana, where Democratic Sen. Jon Tester faces a tough fight for re-election.

Critics say Fox is essentially giving the Republican president free, repeated access to his supporters in a midterm election year.

Fox counters it is simply covering newsworthy events and the criticism is absurd.

The programming choices represent a stark illustration of how the cable networks have positioned themselves during the Trump administration. The president gives an overwhelming percentage of his TV interviews to Fox personalities, prime-time host Sean Hannity is a close confidant and fierce defender, and the White House on Thursday announced the hiring of former Fox News executive Bill Shine as deputy chief of staff for communications.

Meanwhile, MSNBC is now typically second only to Fox News Channel in popularity for all cable networks with a prime-time lineup that appeals to anti-Trumpers, who would probably howl if Chris Hayes or Rachel Maddow were knocked off the air for a presidential rally.

Not counting Tuesday’s speech before a military group in West Virginia, Fox has aired Trump rally speeches virtually in their entirety six times, according to Media Matters, a liberal media watchdog. That amounted to six hours, 33 minutes of programming. Meanwhile, MSNBC aired one rally for about eight minutes, while CNN has shown none of them live.

The airtime on Fox has “enormous value” politically, said Steve Schmidt, an MSNBC contributor and former campaign manager for Sen. John McCain who recently renounced the Republican Party over his distaste for Trump. This week’s speech in West Virginia was on the home turf of Joe Manchin, another Democratic senator up for re-election this fall in a state with a heavy concentration of Trump supporters.

“I don’t say this lightly, but this is a network functioning as state television for the president of the United States,” Schmidt said.

While past presidents would often campaign for broad public support for their policies, Trump is most interested in keeping his base of supporters excited and inflamed, he said.

Fox noted that two of the recent rallies came on the heels of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement announcement and Trump’s executive order ending his policy of separating migrant children from their parents.

“The president makes news whenever he speaks, and in this nonstop news cycle, there are constant headlines for President Trump to react to,” Fox said in a statement.