The Slatest

Is the Trump-Fox News-Wall Street Journal Unholy Alliance Starting to Crack Under the President’s Lies?

Fox News host Neil Cavuto launched a reasoned, restrained broadside against President Trump Thursday evening from the unlikeliest of places: a Fox News host chair. Cavuto wrapped his show in the wake of the latest twist in the Stormy Daniels saga with a several-minute closing statement that methodically called out and picked apart Trump’s inability to tell the truth. The audacious and performative lying of the whole sordid episode seems to have touched a nerve and the host’s closing monologue appeared fed up, exhausted, disappointed, annoyed, scolding, and righteous all at once.

“Let me be clear, Mr. President. How can you drain the swamp if you’re the one that keeps muddying the waters? You didn’t know about that $130,000 payment to a porn star till you did,” Cavuto said. “You acknowledged today you were the guy behind the retainer payment that took care of this. You insist that money from the campaign or campaign contributions played no role in this transaction. Of that you’re sure. The thing is, not 24 hours ago, sir, you couldn’t recall any of this.” “I guess you’re too busy draining the swamp to ever stop and smell the stink you’re creating,” Cavuto concluded. “That’s your doing. That’s your stink, Mr. President, that’s your swamp. Goodnight.”

Let’s face it, Trump has lied out of both sides of his mouth ever since someone stuck a microphone in front of it, but the public brazenness has made the untruths more and more difficult to square with reality, including a growing pile of public tweets and statements. The Wall Street Journal, the highbrow axis of presidential enablement, also seems newly unable or unwilling to play along with Trump’s tumble drying of the truth. In a staff editorial published online Thursday evening, the editorial board fires a warning shot within earshot of the West Wing.

Mr. Trump’s public deceptions are surely relevant to his job as President, and the attempted cover-up has done greater harm than any affair would have. Mr. Trump asked Americans, not least his supporters, to believe his claims about the payments. They were false and conveniently so in putting the onus on Mr. Cohen. Now, as more of the story has emerged, he wants everyone to believe a new story that he could have told the first time.

Mr. Trump is compiling a record that increases the likelihood that few will believe him during a genuine crisis—say, a dispute over speaking with special counsel Robert Mueller or a nuclear showdown with Kim Jong Un. Mr. Trump should worry that Americans will stop believing anything he says.

It’s a newly assertive stance from the Journal, which had seemed content to cherry-pick what it deemed policy wins out of the mass casualties and rubble of the Trump presidency so far. Similarly, at Fox News, outside the comfy confines of Sean Hannity’s nightly hour of television, which remains Donald Trump’s personal green zone, there didn’t appear to be much of an appetite for taking on Trump in any way, big or small. In fact, it didn’t appear anyone at the network was paying much attention to the mounting absurdity of Trump’s actions and statements. Over the last 18 months, Fox News appeared to be covering something else altogether, an America that didn’t actually exist, a country where Hillary Clinton was now the president. That’s why Cavuto’s smoldering, end-of-his-rope soliloquy carries with it the scent of real danger for the president. Because if Fox News wakes from its journalistic slumber and starts telling the truth to its viewers about the president’s unwillingness to do the same, President Trump’s legal problems will overnight become political ones.