Conservative media is trying to make Trump's intel-sharing Russia scandal go away
On Monday, the Washington Post reported President Donald Trump had "revealed highly classified information" about the Islamic State group to Russian officials visiting the White House while bragging about the quality of U.S. espionage operations. The report suggested that not only had Trump imperiled the original source of the intelligence, but also blown the trust of a foreign power that gave it to the U.S. under an intelligence-gathering operation.
It's one of the most damaging accusations leveled at the president yet, who is already being dragged down in the polls by legal challenges to his executive orders, congressional setbacks to his agenda and his curious handling of three separate investigations into his campaign's ties to Russia.
But in much of the conservative media, audiences were largely greeted with unceasing attempts to discredit the report, despite its verification by other news organizations including the New York Times, BuzzFeed News and the Wall Street Journal. Some simply tried to change the subject — often to the president's preferred topic of finding who is leaking all the damaging information to the media, though also to any other topic. Fox News' website did not even mention the story by 6:45 p.m. Eastern, nearly two hours after the story broke.
Other commentators resorted to naked appeals to loyalty.
Jesse Watters, co-host of Fox's The Five, told viewers "If you're a disloyal person, you sing to the Washington Post. If you're a loyal person, you take it to your superior."
Conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer brought up Democrat Hillary Clinton's email scandal yet again, suggesting Trump was only guilty of being "unschooled" and "If it's not deliberate, it's not exactly a high crime and misdemeanor."
Later, right-wing Fox News personality Sean Hannity lambasted the media as biased and "fake news," arguing Trump's administration should respond by cutting back daily press briefings, taking mostly pre-approved questions and crowdsourcing questions from supporters on Facebook and Twitter.
"Conspiracy tin foil hat news, if you can call it that, is ruling the day," Hannity continued.
"Deep state strikes: leaks highly classified info to Washington Post to smear President Trump," teased the headline of an article on far-right site Breitbart. "LOL: Reporters negate oversold headline in 7th paragraph."
The buried tidbit Breitbart said negated the seriousness of the incident was the Post's own admission Trump likely did not break any laws.
Numerous right-wing reporters and commentators also took shots at the Post's accounts on Twitter, suggesting it was inaccurate or preferring to cite the administration's denials.
One possible explanation is Trump's conservative base remains solidly with the president. At the end of last week, the Post wrote, Gallup weekly averages showed 84% of Republicans had a positive assessment of Trump's job performance so far. Another explanation recently put forth by the New York Times is that Republicans are growing wary of Trump himself, but have grown increasingly gleeful about liberal outrage over his administration.
But outside the conservative bubble, the unending series of scandals plaguing Trump's presidency appear to be turning off the public. As CNN reported Monday evening, an average of polls kept by Real Clear Politics shows the president is on track to fall under 40% approval just 115 days after his inauguration.