Depending on which cable channel you were watching on Wednesday morning, it was a tale of two exits.
On Fox News, Newsmax, and One America News Network, Donald Trump’s departure from the presidency—complete with “Hail to the Chief” and a 21-gun salute—was “graceful,” “elegant,” “poignant,” and properly celebratory of “vast accomplishments,” as the talking heads on Newsmax framed the occasion.
On MSNBC and CNN, however, the prevailing theme—predictably—was good riddance to bad rubbish.
On OANN, probably the nation’s most Trump-friendly (make that sycophantic) media outlet, coverage of the president’s final White House goodbye was dominated by pre-taped video packages warning that the Biden administration plans to “target Trump supporters” and how the mainstream media is “ignoring” violence committed by “radical left-wing extremists” in Washington, D.C., on Trump’s 2017 inauguration day—which was “exactly the same” as the Capitol insurrection, according to so-called “reporter” Pearson Sharp.
Anchor Stephanie Myers complained, “Mainstream media and Democrats are continuing to hype up the January 6 protests on Capitol Hill, but they appear to have conveniently forgotten the scenes of violence that were carried out at the Capitol just four years ago by radical left-wing extremists.”
Sharp, meanwhile, offered a word salad of false equivalency: “The protests in the Capitol on January 6 have sparked a media outcry like never before—which is surprising because contrary to what you’re hearing on TV and online, this isn't the first time these kinds of protests have played out in our nation's capital. In fact, going back just four years, it was extremists and terrorists from the far left who marched on Washington, attacking innocent bystanders, clashing with police, and setting cars on fire... Similar riots and violent attacks broke out all across the country. Hundreds were injured, including police, and hundreds more were arrested, but the mainstream media showed nothing like the kind of outrage we're seeing today, with conservatives being de-platformed and silenced online by the thousands all over.”
The folks at Fox News, meanwhile, heaped soothing praise on the defeated president, describing Trump as a hard-working family man, while host Dana Perino repeatedly and delicately referred to him as a “disruptor”—apparently her way of putting the best spin on Trump’s loutishly impeachable behavior of recent weeks—and Ainsley Earhardt sadly pondered how he and his 70 million-plus voters must feel down in the dumps today.
Trying out her chops as a fashion critic, Earhardt couldn’t resist delivering a rave review to Trump’s third wife: “Melania has a very Audrey Hepburn look. It’s not lost on me that she is wearing black. She just looks gorgeous as always.”
Nominal straight-news anchor Martha MacCallum, who has increasingly let her conservative freak flag fly since Fox News’ surprisingly fair and balanced election coverage alienated core viewers and contributed to a ratings disaster, claimed Trump has “worked hard in the past 48 hours to finish this on a more gracious note.”
She claimed that in contrast to Trump’s “unifying” messaging—as several Fox News colleagues described it—the 46th president, Joe Biden, was bound to provoke anger and division. Following Trump’s departure speech, MacCallum told viewers that Biden is a “nice man,” but his announced decision to “stop further building of the wall”—one of Trump’s signature unrealized aspirations—is “somewhat divisive.”
Fox anchor Bill Hemmer, meanwhile, struck a wistful tone of what-ifs as he gave the departing president every benefit of the doubt. “I thought his speech on video yesterday was quite effective, to talk about the accomplishments, to talk about the new administration, to talk about everything that he had gotten done over the past four years,” he mused. “What if you could rewind the hands of time back to the week of November 9th and, what if, after the election that week, the president would’ve called an Oval Office speech… and could’ve delivered that same message, we would not have seen what we saw two weeks ago to this day, January 6th, in the Capitol behind me. I just think about his legacy and what could have been had that moment not taken place here in Washington.”
On MSNBC and CNN, the anchors and commentators seemingly were describing events that had absolutely no resemblance to the alternate reality being delivered to viewers of the Trumpist cable channels.
“He looks small,” CNN anchor Dana Bash opined as the defeated 45th president and his unpopular first lady, Melania, made their way across the South Lawn to Marine One, witnessed by a vestigial scattering of staff and the White House press gaggle, for the helicopter flight to Joint Base Andrews. “He just looks like a small man.”
Seconds after Trump’s farewell address as he prepared to board Air Force One along with Jared and Ivanka, Don Jr. and his girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle, Tiffany, her fiancé, and other hangers-on—“a planeload of grievances and grudges,” as Anderson Cooper described the scene—Jake Tapper offered his own acerbic assessment: “A fitting end to the Trump presidency. A speech full of puffery and lies, although of course, with this president, it always could have been worse...He did acknowledge that there is an incoming administration. But we don’t have to grade on a curve. It was an embarrassment that he did not even mention the name of his successor, Joe Biden, and the fact that he is making it all about himself and not about the country.”
On MSNBC, Joe Scarborough was uncharacteristically restrained, giving a straightforward summary of his erstwhile pal’s dubious assertions about his administration’s popularity and other pressing issues, punctuated by fact-checks, while Mika Brzezinski acidly derided Trump’s claim to have “left everything on the field.”
Far from Trump’s claim of being a “hard worker,” she said, this “is a president who golfed over 300 times during his presidency and spent most of his time watching television.”
Newsmax’s coverage featured many of the usual suspects—rabid polemicist Betsy McCaughey, disgraced journalist Mark Halperin, Republican spinmeister-turned-historian Craig Shirley, and host Sean Spicer trying to describe the scene at Andrews (sounding as if he was shrieking through a tin can when technical glitches didn’t silence him entirely)—but, surprisingly, also included a bracingly skeptical Democratic strategist named Mustafa Tameez.
Tameez, who noted that Trump shouldn’t be permitted to take credit for the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines while avoiding blame for his “abject failure” in handling a pandemic that so far has killed more than 400,000 Americans, was quickly excused from the panel that appraised Trump’s goodbye.
It was Newsmax’s Wake Up America anchor Rob Finnerty who called Trump’s farewell “poignant, elegant and graceful,” and also favored viewers with a lengthy disquisition on the significance of the Village People’s gay anthem ”YMCA” blaring over the loudspeakers as Trump waved to his fans. According to Finnerty, the song’s lyrics, “Young man / There’s no need to feel down,” was a reference to Trump’s own experiences as a young real-estate developer confronting challenges in Manhattan in 1978 when the tune was a big hit.
Which prompted media critic John Whitehouse to tweet: “i lost it when newsmax started doing serious textual analysis of what YMCA must mean to trump.”