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PLAYING THE HITS

How right-wing TV coped with Biden’s inauguration: a timeline

Inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States
Reuters/Andrew Harnik
Solemnly swearing.
  • Adam Epstein
By Adam Epstein

Entertainment reporter

Millions of Americans watched Joe Biden’s televised inauguration today. For Trump supporters, the event was covered quite differently than those watching network TV.

With the help of Lis Power, Bobby Lewis, John Whitehouse, and Jason Campbell—journalists for Media Matters for America, a nonprofit media watchdog group, who diligently tracked right-wing media’s reactions to today’s events—we can piece together a detailed timeline of how the day was perceived by right-wing outlets Fox News, Newsmax, and One America News Network.

All these networks are currently figuring out how best to capitalize on the attention of Trump’s political base, now that he is out of office. So far, they’ve decided to double and triple down on the type of coverage that earned Trump’s favor, such as peddling conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, while quickly pivoting to an opposition role for the new Democratic administration.

Here is how right-wing TV processed Trump’s exit and Biden’s first official day as president (all times US eastern):

6:39am: Fox Business guest Bob Unanue, a Trump supporter and the CEO of Goya Foods, says “a war is coming,” and claims the 2020 US presidential election was a vast conspiracy meant to usher in “the dawn of a new world order.” He also falsely says Trump won 80 million votes (in fact, Trump only won 74 million, to Biden’s 81 million). Fox host Maria Bartiromo does not challenge him on any of these fronts.

8:14am: As Trump and former first lady Melania Trump depart the White House for the last time, Fox & Friends host Ainsley Earhardt says Melania “has a very Audrey Hepburn look” and notes “she looks gorgeous, as always.”

8:27am: Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy says “nobody in the history of the American presidency has been beaten up as badly as Donald Trump.”

8:45am: Doocy calls Donald Trump a “disruptor” for refusing to attend Biden’s inauguration because the outgoing president “is leaving on his terms.”

8:52am: Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum says Trump “worked hard in the past 48 hours to finish this on a more gracious note.” Last night, Trump pardoned his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who was indicted for fraud and money laundering last year, as well as Lil Wayne, a rapper who pleaded guilty to illegal gun possession.

8:54am: Newsmax earnestly breaks down Trump’s use of the song “Y.M.C.A.” by the Village People as he departs for Florida.

8:58am: MacCallum says Biden’s plans to reenter the US in the Paris climate accords and stop further construction of a border wall with Mexico are “divisive actions.”

9:13am: Newsmax guest Liz Harrington, a Republican party spokesperson, says American voters “didn’t elect” Biden (they did), calls him an “illegitimate person” and a “fake candidate” (he’s not), and makes the debunked claim that the election was fraudulent (it wasn’t).

10:41am: As the inauguration is about to begin, Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer worries about the caravan of Honduran migrants that had been moving toward the US border, even though the caravan dissolved yesterday in Guatemala.

10:52am: A Newsmax anchor laments that Biden’s presidency will not be as entertaining as Trump’s.

11:05am: Fox Business host Stuart Varney complains about inaugural attendees wearing masks. “We would have a much better feeling of community if the people attending the swearing in were not walking around in masks,” he says. “There’s a grimness to this inauguration.”

11:15am: MacCallum insists that Kamala Harris, who is being sworn in as the first female vice president in US history, looks “animated” and “enthusiastic about being there.” Biden’s enthusiasm goes unremarked upon.

11:24am: Newsmax cuts away from US senator Amy Klobuchar’s introductory speech to discuss illegal immigration.

11:57am: One America News Network (OANN) is the only network not to be showing Biden’s inaugural address. Instead, OANN correspondent Pearson Sharp continues to tell lies about voter fraud.

12:20pm: A Newsmax anchor argues Biden’s speech, which centered on a theme of unity, was “dark” and “divisive,” and says Biden’s mentions of white supremacy and systemic racism were “overblown.”

12:32pm: Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, known for being more substantive than most of his colleagues at the network, says Biden’s speech was “the best inaugural address I’ve ever heard.”

1:54pm: John Roberts, the former Fox News White House correspondent, quotes Fox personality Tucker Carlson, asking his guest if Democrats want to destroy the lives of their political opponents.

2:04pm: Roberts is puzzled by Biden’s decision to hold a car door for his wife, first lady Jill Biden.

And so began the Joe Biden administration. The day was filled with other lies, strange observations, and appeals to Trump’s base from right-wing channels. In perhaps the most shameless message of the day, Fox News contributor Joe Concha said it was time the US media ”start doing your job as journalists, which is to hold the powerful accountable without fear or favor for party.”

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