The child immigrant crisis at the border may be the biggest story in America, but readers at FoxNews.com don’t want to hear about it.
Traffic on the story has been low, according to a Fox insider, leading the website to give it significantly less play than most other news outlets, for which it has been a dominant narrative for many days.
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The decisions by FoxNews.com – increasingly a barometer of feelings of Trump supporters – reflect the ambivalence of many on the right on the issue: Even as President Donald Trump has refused to back down from his false claim that separating families is the product of laws hoisted upon him by the Democrats, members of the GOP are increasingly ill at ease with the situation.
“When there’s a topic like this, which is very uncomfortable for a certain segment of the audience, they just are looking the other way,” said the Fox News insider.
The story received some play on FoxNews.com over the weekend, but then, starting on Monday morning, headlines about it were buried beneath stories about Trump’s ambitions in outer-space, the hat Napoleon wore at the battle of Waterloo, and an allegedly spit-in hamburger at a restaurant in Queens.
Finally, on early Tuesday afternoon, the Fox News homepage flipped over to a headline booming “SEPARATION ANXIETY,” set over images of Trump and his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, in front of children in cages. “GOP scrambles to fix controversial border policy of splitting up illegal immigrant children, parents,” the sub-headline read. Just below was a headline for a story about House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi blasting Trump, as well as an op-ed by Alan Dershowitz calling for the president to end the policy.
According to the Fox News insider, the issue had simply become too big to ignore. But it quickly faded within a few hours, and the story was moved to a secondary position on the homepage.
“There is an enormous lack of interest in the story from the readers. Very low interest,” the Fox News insider said, explaining the story’s increased prominence on Tuesday. “And the website is keenly aware of that, but trying to cover the story nonetheless. The readers really have their head in the sand on this topic, they don’t want to hear it.”
Fox News did not respond to request for comment.
Charlie Sykes, the conservative commentator and author of “How the Right Lost its Mind,” said the Fox website bending to give the border story higher billing reflected growing outrage on both sides of the aisle over the Trump administration policy of separating immigrant children from their families at the border.
“On the surface, at least, this looks like a recognition of how this issue is metastasizing on the right,” Sykes said in an email. “It’s just too big and potentially damaging to ignore.”
Many publications might have made the editorial decision to consistently feature the story, despite traffic, given its news value. Instead, Fox News – which drew 86 million unique visitors last month, according to comScore — has been featuring a topic much more congenial to its readers: last week’s Inspector’s General report about the FBI and its former leader James Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.
“Fox News’s niche is to be a ‘safe space’ for conservatives, who may not want to read or hear much about this issue,” Sykes said. “This is one of the ways we’ve slipped into alternative reality news silos…a big portion of the population simply turns off what the rest of the country is seeing.”
Ken LaCorte, who ran Fox News Digital until 2016 — and is currently working toward launching his own news site — defended the website’s coverage, saying that it offers a different perspective. “That’s part of Fox’s differentiation,” he said, “ ‘Hey, we think more of people who might look at other things as more important things to talk about.’ ”
The online coverage played against much more bombastic support for Trump from Fox News’ primetime television hosts, which has sparked controversy.
Even as images emerged of immigrant children locked into cages, on Monday night, prime time host Laura Ingraham said that they were “temporarily housed in what are essentially summer camps.”
And Tucker Carlson derided the motives of both the media and those opposed to the policy. “You think any of these people really care about family separation? … No matter what they tell you, this is not about helping children,” Carlson said. “Their goal is to change your country forever — and they are succeeding, by the way.”
Appearing on Fox News on Sunday, conservative commentator Ann Coulter baselessly alleged that the children pictured were “child actors.”
Sykes said that the discordant notes reflected a White House that hasn’t managed to stay consistent with its own message.
“In the last couple of days the defenses from Trump-friendly media have been inconsistent and incoherent, mirroring the White House’s own lack of clarity,” he said.