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How Fox News Covered the Trump Tax Story on Monday

The popular Fox News morning show “Fox & Friends” was a TV home for Donald J. Trump long before he became president. In 2011, Mr. Trump had a regular Monday slot on the program, where he bonded with the hosts by hurling invective at President Obama and promoting the false theory that he had not been born in the United States.

During Mr. Trump’s presidency, “Fox & Friends” has reliably offered him a forum when he has found himself under scrutiny. In November 2019, for instance, while facing an impeachment inquiry, the president made false, exaggerated and misleading statements in his own defense during a 53-minute appearance on the show.

On Monday, the day after The New York Times published a lengthy investigative article chronicling years of Mr. Trump’s tax avoidance and financial difficulties, “Fox & Friends” welcomed two guests from his camp, the White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and the president’s eldest child, Donald Trump Jr. Both tried to cast doubt on the article, which examined more than two decades of previously unavailable tax data showing that Mr. Trump had paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he was elected president, and no federal income tax in 10 of the previous 15 years.

In a segment that touched on the Times article, the Fox News correspondent Griff Jenkins noted that it was “probably going to come up” in the debate between the president and Joseph R. Biden on Tuesday night, a matchup to be moderated by the Fox News anchor Chris Wallace. Mr. Jenkins then passed the baton to the “Fox & Friends” co-host Ainsley Earhardt and her guest, Ms. McEnany.

Ms. Earhardt quickly homed in on the timing of the article’s publication, rather than its substance: “What do you make of the timing, the tax thing coming out a day before the debate?” she asked.

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Ms. McEnany likened the article to past Times reports about President Trump, one of which she described as a “hit piece.” “This is the same playbook they tried in 2016 and the same playbook that the American people rejected and will do so again,” the press secretary said, before shifting to a discussion of Mr. Trump’s debate preparations.

Mr. Trump Jr., during his appearance on “Fox & Friends,” called the article “ridiculous” and said his father had “paid tens of millions of taxes,” adding that “people don’t understand what goes into a business.” He also criticized The Times for focusing on the president’s finances, saying, “If only they spent as much time looking for, maybe, I don’t know, Hunter Biden’s tax returns and the Biden crime family issues.”

The reference to a Biden “crime family,” a staple phrase among many right-wing supporters of the president, is an unproven smear. Last week, an investigation by Senate Republicans into corruption allegations against the Democratic presidential nominee and his son Hunter found no evidence of improper influence or wrongdoing by the former vice president. The investigation concluded that Hunter Biden’s work for a scandal-plagued Ukrainian energy company, while “problematic,” did not affect his father’s handling of American foreign policy.

Mr. Trump Jr. has been an aggressive proxy for his father on the campaign trail. Last week, Facebook and Twitter flagged a Trump campaign video ad featuring Mr. Trump Jr. because it violated recently implemented standards on both platforms meant to guard against the spread of misinformation. In the ad, Mr. Trump Jr. claimed without evidence that the “radical left” was attempting to “steal this election from my father” with “millions of fraudulent ballots.”

During a news conference Sunday, President Trump tried to dismiss The Times report, saying “it’ll all be revealed” after an audit by the Internal Revenue Service. The I.R.S. has repeatedly said that its review process does not prohibit a taxpayer from making tax returns public.

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Conservative Media and Trump Dismiss Climate Change as Cause of Fires

Rush Limbaugh told millions of his radio listeners to set aside any suggestion that climate change was the culprit for the frightening spate of wildfires ravaging California and the Pacific Northwest.

“Man-made global warming is not a scientific certainty; it cannot be proven, nor has it ever been,” Mr. Limbaugh declared on his Friday show, disregarding the mountains of empirical evidence to the contrary. He then pivoted to a popular right-wing talking point: that policies meant to curtail climate change are, in fact, an assault on freedom.

“Environmentalist wackos” — Mr. Limbaugh’s phrase — “want man to be responsible for it because they want to control your behavior,” the conservative host said on the show. He added that they “want to convince you that your lifestyle choices are the reason why all these fires are firing up out on the Left Coast.”

Hours later, that message leapt to prime time on Fox News, where the host Tucker Carlson said those who blamed climate change for the fires were merely reciting “a partisan talking point.”

“In the hands of Democratic politicians, climate change is like systemic racism in the sky,” Mr. Carlson told viewers. “You can’t see it, but rest assured, it’s everywhere, and it’s deadly. And like systemic racism, it is your fault.”

Mr. Limbaugh and Mr. Carlson are two of the most prominent commentators in the right-wing media sphere, where a rich history of climate denialism has merged with Trump-era cultural warfare to generate a deep skepticism of the notion that climate change is a factor in the fires devastating the West Coast.

Like President Trump, conservative media stars dismiss climate change — which scientists say is the primary cause of the conflagration — and point to the poor management of forestland by local (and, conveniently, Democratic) officials. Fringe right-wing websites, like The Gateway Pundit, have blamed left-wing arsonists, fueling false rumors that authorities say are impeding rescue efforts.

Visiting California on Monday to witness the destruction firsthand, Mr. Trump took Western states to task for failing to manage the forests properly. During a meeting with California officials who pushed him to acknowledge the role of climate change in the wildfires, the president said: “It’ll start getting cooler. You just watch.”

“I wish science agreed with you,” Wade Crowfoot, California’s secretary for natural resources, replied.

“Well, I don’t think science knows, actually,” Mr. Trump retorted.

The president’s comments were likely to resonate with fans of the conservative media personalities who routinely defend his agenda.

“This has nothing to do with climate change, it has nothing to do with man-made climate change, and it sure as hell would help if these forests in these timber areas were free to be properly managed, but they’re not,” Mark Levin, another popular right-wing radio host, said on his nationally syndicated show on Friday.

Credit…Leah Millis/Reuters

Like Mr. Carlson, Mr. Levin drew a link between climate advocacy and recent demonstrations for racial justice, suggesting that both causes — widely associated with liberals — offered a cloak for more sinister intentions.

“They want to talk man-made climate change because, out of this, they want to control you,” Mr. Levin said. “It’s just like the race stuff — ‘systemically racist’ — well, what do you want to do about it? Control you. Beat you down. You need to change your lifestyle, need to confess to something.”

Some right-wing writers see even darker origins in the outbreak of a lethal blaze.

The Gateway Pundit, a conspiracy website with a healthy online following — its chief writer, Jim Hoft, was welcomed to the White House by Mr. Trump — published posts asserting that left-wing anarchists were to blame, not the environment.

“Many arsonists have already been arrested in Oregon, Washington and California, but the Democrats continue to blame the wildfires on climate change,” a Gateway Pundit story said on Monday, alongside a video purportedly showing a woman in Oregon confronting an arsonist on her property. The site claimed that mainstream news outlets were ignoring this story because “it goes against their global warming and anti-gun narrative.”

A man in Oregon was charged last week with starting the destructive Almeda Fire in a small town that was under orders to evacuate. But the authorities say rising temperatures are a predominant cause of this year’s outbreak.

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Even Fox News Balks at Trump’s Coronavirus Disinfectant Advice

Even Steve Doocy had to admit it wasn’t a great idea.

The morning after President Trump mused at a nationally televised briefing that injecting disinfectant could be a treatment for Covid-19 patients, Mr. Doocy, a co-host of “Fox & Friends,” issued a warning to his Fox News viewers.

Injecting disinfectants “is poisonous,” Mr. Doocy said, holding up his hands for emphasis, during an otherwise upbeat segment that praised Mr. Trump for his other health tip: Get more sunlight. (The guest, Dr. Mehmet Oz, did not address the disinfectant idea.)

It was a rare fissure between the president and “Fox & Friends,” a show that regularly praises him. But Mr. Doocy was not the only Fox personality who was unimpressed by the notion that Americans would consider the internal use of disinfectant, which can result in serious injury and death.

“Please don’t try this at home,” said the Fox Business anchor Stuart Varney, one of Mr. Trump’s favorite hosts. The anchor Chris Wallace — not a Trump favorite — felt the need to clarify on-air: “The answer is no, it’s not safe. A lot of the major manufacturers say it isn’t.”

When Mr. Trump made an effort to walk back his remarks on Friday, claiming to reporters at the White House that he had made the comment “sarcastically,” John Roberts, Fox News’s chief White House correspondent, did not sound convinced.

“I was watching very closely,” Mr. Roberts, who attended the briefing, said on the air. “At no time did I seem to think that the president was sarcastically asking the question.”

Bret Baier, Fox News’s chief political anchor, also had a skeptical take. “No one at home thinks, ‘Oh, you know what? I’m going to go drink bleach,’” Mr. Baier said, adding, after a pause, “I don’t think.”

“But it is something that he clearly stepped in here,” Mr. Baier added.

Still, Mr. Trump’s defenders in Fox News prime time, the channel’s most closely watched portion of day, sidestepped the matter entirely on Thursday.

If the president — who obsessively monitors his news coverage — was seeking backup, he could have turned to his other preferred media outlets, where his idea for an unorthodox remedy was not so much excused as deemed not to exist.

“The drive-by media is attempting to persuade and convince people that Donald Trump told people to drink Drano at the White House press briefing,” the radio host Rush Limbaugh said dismissively on his Friday show. “That Donald Trump told people to go out and get a syringe and inject Clorox in their arms, and that this could be dangerous.”

Here is what Mr. Trump said at Thursday’s briefing: “I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets inside the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”

Joel B. Pollak, the senior editor at large at Breitbart News, wrote about that statement in a column that ran under the headline “Fact Check: No, Trump Didn’t Propose Injecting People With Disinfectant.”

“Trump used the word ‘inject,’ but what he meant was using a process — which he left ‘medical doctors’ to define — in which patients’ lungs might be cleared of the virus,” Mr. Pollak wrote. (Breitbart later retracted its “fact check” headline, saying the column “should have been framed as an opinion piece.”)

The White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, issued a statement on Friday accusing the news media of taking Mr. Trump’s words “out of context.” That was before Mr. Trump claimed that he had spoken “sarcastically,” to get a rise out of journalists.

Neil Cavuto, a Fox host who has been critical of Mr. Trump, was not impressed with that excuse. “I think it’s important on the president to say and come out unequivocally: ‘Some of you took me seriously, even though I sounded serious saying it. Please do not. Please do not even consider injecting some of this stuff into your system,’” Mr. Cavuto said during a Friday appearance on Fox Business.

It was not the first time that Mr. Trump has offered medical advice on how to combat the virus. For weeks, he touted the use of a malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, from behind a lectern with the presidential seal.

The drug also had champions on Fox News, particularly Laura Ingraham, one of the network’s prime-time stars, who has relentlessly promoted the drug on her program as a potential cure for the coronavirus. Ms. Ingraham went as far as to meet with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office to pitch him on the medicine.

On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration issued a formal warning against the use of hydroxychloroquine in treating the virus, citing a risk of serious heart rhythm problems. The agency urged that the drug be taken only in a clinical trial or under close supervision in a hospital.

Ms. Ingraham devoted a lengthy segment of her Wednesday program to dismissing the results of a study of Veterans Affairs patients showing that the use of hydroxychloroquine was associated with an increased risk of death. She criticized “this blind obsession to disprove the effectiveness of a drug that is being used right now, tonight, in medical centers across America.”

On Friday, after the F.D.A. issued its warning, Ms. Ingraham retweeted several online articles extolling the use of hydroxychloroquine as an effective treatment.

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