One day after the hosts of Fox & Friends issued an unusually strong condemnation of President Donald Trump’s actions during his joint press conference with Vladimir Putin, they completely reversed themselves on Wednesday morning. And all it took was one word.
Speaking from the White House on Tuesday, Trump attempted to clarify his position on Russian meddling in the U.S. election by explaining that when he said, next to Putin, “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia, what he actually meant was, “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be.”
The rare walk-back by the president was roundly mocked as “ridiculous” and “absurd” by critics. “If only that entire unbelievably, historically embarrassing spectacle could have been fixed with an ‘n,’ an apostrophe and a ‘t,’” CNN’s Dana Bash said, summing up the main problem with Trump’s “clarification.”
But apparently it was good enough for the Fox & Friends.
Steve Doocy sounded almost grateful for the clarification, as it helped explain away why they found Trump’s original statement “so puzzling” on Monday. “It looked like he was warmly embracing Vladimir Putin, when asked about Russian meddling—‘Who do you believe your intel community or Russia?’—it sounded like he was waffling,” Doocy said. “So yesterday, the president made it very clear that he absolutely believes the U.S. intel agencies that Russia meddled and he also inappropriately used a double negative.”
While Trump did say on Tuesday, “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” the hosts did not acknowledge the moment when the president immediately stepped on his own point by adding, “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”
“The economy’s great, he sat down with Kim Jong Un, this was the other summit, sitting down with a leader that we need to have a relationship with,” Ainsley Earhardt, who was in Helsinki for the meeting, added. “And everyone is excited about that, and then he misspeaks one word, one contraction—he forgot to put the ‘n’t’ at the end of ‘wouldn’t’—and it ruins the whole summit?”
As for Brian Kilmeade, who has been more critical of Trump than his co-hosts in recent days, even calling the president’s pre-summit tweets “ridiculous,” seemed almost exasperated as he predicted, “The president, as usual, will bounce back, if history tells us anything.”
Later, the hosts welcomed as their guest Newt Gingrich, who on Monday called Trump’s press conference performance “the most serious mistake of his presidency.”
“I thought his correction was important,” Gingrich told them, explaining that he only called out the “mistake” so directly on Monday to get Trump’s “attention.”
“This was a very important moment for this president. If he had not fixed this, if he had not had that talk in the Roosevelt Room, if he had not gone on to reinforce the intelligence system, I think we’d be in a much bigger mess right now,” Gingrich added later. “And I am really delighted that he took a serious look at it, he hates to correct himself, that’s not who he is, but I think he did the right thing and I think he did it well.”
In the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, before Fox & Friends aired, President Trump tweeted, “So many people at the higher ends of intelligence loved my press conference performance in Helsinki.” Perhaps Gingrich and the show’s hosts didn’t want to be left out of that prestigious group.