Why Is Fox News Putting ‘Russia’ and ‘Mueller’ in Quotation Marks Now?

Things have been weirder than usual at Fox News lately. Just the other day, we watched Geraldo Rivera saying migrants at the border should not be gassed or demonized while Jesse Watters screamed “racist!” in the background. It was quite a moment.

The following day, the story broke that Fox & Friends producers gave EPA chief Scott Pruitt interview questions and asked for talking points prior to his appearances on the network. (Pruitt’s staff even approved a script on the show once.) Folks who had been calling Fox News “state media” for the better part of two years had more hard evidence.

We won’t even get into Fox top dog Sean Hannity campaigning on stage with Donald Trump prior to the midterms. That’s too ridiculous to address.

But the guilty plea and revelations made November 29 by Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime lawyer, really sent the network to a strange place. On the Tucker Carlson Tonight show, producers posted images with the words “Mueller” (the special counsel investigating Trump) in quotes one day after they did the same with “Russia” (one subject of the probe).

Was the network questioning their existence or did producers simply forget how to use punctuation? Viewers genuinely seemed confused by the turn at Fox, where reality is complicating the network narrative.

Trump’s bad day — and Fox’s odd reaction

Robert Mueller standing in front of a statue of lady justice and the seal of the Department of Justice.

Robert Mueller | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Granted, it was no ordinary day in America (even for this president). Cohen’s statements basically wrecked the Trump defense that he hadn’t been in contact with Russia during the campaign. For Fox News, which has been obsessed with defending Trump at all costs, there was some soul-searching. How would they broadcast the night’s programming in light of the revelations?

On Tucker’s show, viewers got treated to a chyron (the headline at the bottom of the screen) of “Cohen Pleads Guilty to Lying to Congress.” To Tucker’s right, the audience saw “The Endless, Flawed ‘Mueller’ Probe” in all-caps with Mueller in red.

A shot from Tucker’s November 29 show | Andrew Lawrence via Twitter

Many have remarked on the random capitalization and use of quotation marks by Trump on Twitter. In this case, you could argue that Fox has begin to mimic the messaging style of the president.

But viewers of Tucker’s show the night before had already seen the technique in play. On November 28, Tucker opened with a segment that was remarkably similar, except in this case “Mueller” was replaced by “Russia.”

The opening of ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’ on November 28 | Andrew Lawrence via Twitter

Besides an obvious case of graphics recycling, Tucker was also reviving the point he made the night before. “The word ‘Russia’ eliminates all rational thought in journalists,” he opined from his desk. (For now, we have to leave the “Mueller Threatens Elderly Men” chyron alone.)

Rational thinking, Tucker-style

Tucker had quite a few thoughts about the subject on his broadcast of the 28th. “Russia!” he screamed. “Whatever the claim [about the investigation] is, journalists believe it wholeheartedly. Not just because they’re dumb — though obviously they are dumb — but because, Russia! It’s a spell.”

Once you suggest there is nothing to the Russia story except “spells” and a “magical incantation” (as Tucker did), you may as well transfer the concept to the man leading the investigation for the Justice Department.

Obviously, the narrative became much more complicated the following day when Cohen revealed what he did in federal court. Things got even more difficult the morning of November 30, when Trump began tweeting at 6 a.m.

Russia! It seems unfair for Trump to bring up the subject when Tucker just finished telling his audience it’s only fit for make-believe. But when you run a prime-time show at Fox News these days, grappling with reality is the toughest part of the job.

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