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Conservative news goes to war over impeachment

Illustration of a bomber plane with TV microphones falling out of the bomb hatch
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The impeachment process has widened the rift between solidly pro-Trump media and conservative-leaning news outlets — especially at Fox News, where daytime news anchors and primetime opinion hosts often find themselves at odds.

Why it matters: It's rare for the tensions between conservative outlets to be aired so openly, as they're being forced to choose between backing President Trump at all costs and reporting candidly on his troubles.

Trump's reliable media allies are feeling the pressure over impeachment:

  • Fox News host Tucker Carlson, with his Daily Caller co-founder Neil Patel, penned an op-ed criticizing the president's Ukraine call: "Some Republicans are trying, but there’s no way to spin this as a good idea." They went on to criticize "a purely partisan impeachment process."

Fights between reliably pro-Trump outlets and other conservative news sites are heating up, too.

  • Gateway Pundit called out Matt Drudge for headlines that seemed to suggest a pro-impeachment stance on his website. CNN's Oliver Darcy noted at the time that the swipe is notable, given the fact that the Drudge Report "has for a long time been a prominent source of traffic for The Gateway Pundit."
  • Rush Limbaugh said Fox News Channel could change its name to "Fox Never Trumper Network."

And this week, Trump is testing the loyalty of conservative media with his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria, leaving the Kurds vulnerable to attacks from Turkey.

  • Members of conservative-leaning media, including "Fox & Friends" host Brian Kilmeade, denounced Trump's decision.
  • Even Breitbart — one of the most reliable pro-Trump media outlets — carried a headline that didn't flinch from the outrage the decision has caused on the right: "Kurdish forces who defeated Islamic State call Trump Syria withdrawal 'a stab in the back.'"

Between the lines: Impeachment is creating clear internal tensions at Fox, where the divide between daytime news anchors and prime time opinion hosts is becoming even more prevalent — even resulting in on-air spats.

  • Last week, "Fox News Sunday" anchor Chris Wallace pushed back against White House adviser Stephen Miller's claim that the now infamous Ukrainian call whistleblower is a "deep state operative," but Miller faced no pushback from Fox Business Network host Lou Dobbs days later, Politico notes.
  • Two weeks ago, Tucker Carlson and Shepard Smith took swipes at each other's programming. Smith called the comments of a guest on Carlson's show "repugnant," after the guest called Fox News Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano a fool for saying it was "a crime for the president to solicit aid for his campaign from a foreign government." Carlson mocked Smith on air for criticizing the guest.
  • In an opinion column published last week on FoxNews.com, Napolitano wrote that "Trump’s call with Ukraine president manifests criminal and impeachable behavior." Sean Hannity said on Friday that there were a few "resistance" people at Fox News.

Flashback: The tension between Fox News' news programming and journalists and its primetime programming and opinion hosts has intensified over the past few months leading up to the impeachment news cycle.

  • In August, Trump publicly turned against Fox News, tweeting that the conservative-leaning cable network "isn't working for us anymore" and that "[w]e have to start looking for a new News Outlet."
  • On Sunday, Axios' Jonathan Swan reported that Trump "has grown disillusioned with Fox News" and has begun to rely more heavily in recent weeks on Breitbart News.

The bottom line: Trump's reliable conservative media machine is becoming more narrow and more loyal while other members of the conservative media back away from him.