In the US, more myths are resurrected or created during the election season than at any other time. A Republican favorite is the fable of Ronald Reagan’s cutting taxes and creating twenty million jobs, which justifies the devotion to supply side economics that all GOP candidates share. In reality Reagan cut taxes once, in the first year of his presidency, and when it became clear that the effects were disastrous he raised taxes the next seven years. Another, more recent myth, also favored by Republicans, is the story that Barack Obama is responsible for the emergence of ISIS, because he pulled US troops out of Iraq after the ‘surge.’ The narrative here is that everything was going extremely well in Iraq and that the US and its imaginary allies were winning the fight with ragtag Sunni insurgents, when suddenly the Commander in Chief forced them to abandon their victorious positions. This fantasy overlooks the fact that the departure date of the US troops had been negotiated by George W. Bush, and the minor complication that their enemies were led by experienced and competent former members of Saddam Hussein’s armed forces. At the time of the withdrawal over 4,000 US troops had already been killed.
Last week a new myth was born: that there are people at Fox News who practice quality journalism. The questioning of the GOP candidates during the first debate by three moderators was praised as fair and thorough by pundits on both sides of the political spectrum. The few commentators who suspected that Fox had done a hack job on frontrunner Donald Trump, by immediately putting him on the spot as a potential traitor of the GOP, were either self-censoring or rapidly silenced, and for a couple of days Fox News ruled. Things escalated when Trump, incensed by a question about his sexism, past and present, attacked the female moderator, Megyn Kelly, saying that she had ‘blood coming out of her eyes and out of her… wherever.’ There appeared to be only one possible interpretation of what he had said, and many predicted that the end of his campaign was near. The outcome of the debate for Fox News, however, which included a record viewership of 24 million, became less rosy when the stories started emerging that Fox had indeed tried to eliminate Trump as a candidate on the orders of its owner, Rupert Murdoch, who never liked Trump to begin with and felt that he was hurting the Republican brand.
The questions that were not asked during the debate can serve as an illustration. While Trump was blasted for having called women ‘fat pigs’ and ‘dogs,’ Chris Christie did not get one question about Bridgegate, Ted Cruz was not asked to describe the benefits of shutting down the government, Mike Huckabee didn’t have to repeat his statement that Obama is ‘walking the Jews to the door of the oven’ with the Iran deal, and Ben Carson’s comparison of Obamacare to slavery was completely ignored.
In the meantime Donald Trump survived the onslaught. He tweeted that he would have said that Megyn Kelly had blood coming out of her eyes, nose and ears, if he had finished the sentence, and that ‘reasonable doubt’ defense so far seems to be doing the job. Trump is still on top of the polls, and although there definitely are limits to how far he can go, those limits may not yet have been reached.
In the meantime he has both the GOP and Fox News in an interesting blackmail position. Towards the Republican Party he keeps the option of running as an independent open, and he threatened no longer to appear on Fox. As a result the GOP has to be ‘nice’ to Trump, and Fox News, fearing for its ratings, has already made all the necessary gestures to get him back on its talk shows.