Donald Trump is a known Fox & Friends superfan who often appears to skip his daily intelligence briefings in favor of getting caught up to speed on current events by Steve Doocy, Brian Kilmeade, and Ainsley Earhardt. The New York Times has called the morning news discussion program “the most powerful TV show in America” mainly because Trump frequently tweets strong endorsements of the show’s news reports just minutes after they air, and because guests seek out bookings specifically to pitch policy to the show’s most prominent viewer. It’s not uncommon for pundits to look directly into the camera and address the audience as “Mr. President.” Trump’s fandom has evolved to the point that he’s struck up a friendship with weekend co-host Pete Hegseth. According to an Axios scoop, Trump called Hegseth, an Iraq War veteran and former head of the Koch brothers-backed Concerned Veterans for America organization, to discuss policy while the president was sitting in a meeting with Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. Hegseth was also a contender for the VA Secretary post, but the job ultimately went to Shulkin, an Obama administration holdover who somehow ingratiated himself with the president.
Trump reportedly put the call with the Fox News host on speaker and asked his opinion about legislation being discussed by Shulkin and the president. That Trump would pit a longtime bureaucrat against a rogue outsider of his choosing is not surprising—Trump has talked openly about valuing fights over policy. Hegseth, who has been openly critical of Shulkin on-air, is an advocate for privatizing veterans’ healthcare benefits and argued that position during the call. Shulkin is in favor of more moderate reforms to the VA.
The Daily Beast reported in a story about turmoil at the VA that although Trump didn’t hire Hegseth to be the VA’s secretary, he really enjoys watching his broadcasts and often calls afterwards to discuss the show:
When the two talk, Hegseth will sometimes try to inject VA and veterans issues into the conversation and steer the discussion in a more policy-oriented direction. According to these sources, Trump will typically acknowledge Hegseth’s points before quickly steering the phone conversation back in the direction of what he just saw on Fox & Friends.
Trump almost certainly chose to put Shulkin in an awkward spot during a tense time between the VA and the White House. Shulkin is allegedly seeking approval to purge a staff full of Trump boosters out to sabotage him. Meanwhile, the inspector general has accused Sulkin of misappropriating taxpayer funds last year on a trip to Europe with his wife. Shulkin reimbursed the government for the cost of the trip, but denied any wrongdoing. It’s been rumored that Trump has openly been talking to staffers about firing Shulkin.
Regardless, the problem with leaning on a chattering mannequin from Fox & Friends for intel and messaging is that the show has always been useless mush at best, and outright misleading propaganda at worst. Now it’s specifically crafted to flatter Trump personally and politically, which means that someone like Hegseth acting as a shadow advisor provides for a closed feedback loop between Trump and his the visible sycophants who have the facade of being objective observers. Fox News has never hid its biases, of course, but even among its towering landfill, Fox & Friends has always emanated a particular stench. Aside from being vapid even by the standards of morning television, the show often flat-out ignores facts: Last July, for instance, the show reported egregiously false information regarding recently ousted FBI Director James Comey leaking classified intel from one of his meetings with Trump. The next day, Doocy issued a correction regarding the show’s egregiously false reporting, but the damage was already done. The president had already started tweeting shortly after the false report aired and never bothered to apologize or issue a correction. Surely, roping one of these idiots into guiding the policy of the VA can only mean good things.