Even by the standards of Fox News’s prime time programming — and after all we learned from the network’s $787.5 million Dominion settlement about its decisions to ignore journalistic principles to cater to former president Donald Trump and his supporters — it was a striking editorial choice.

As President Biden spoke Tuesday night, the chyron at the bottom of the screen read, “WANNABE DICTATOR SPEAKS AT THE WHITE HOUSE AFTER HAVING HIS POLITICAL RIVAL ARRESTED.”

It was a summary that might have made at least some sense during a conspiratorial monologue from the likes of ousted host Tucker Carlson. But that wasn’t the context; it was presented simply as the thing that was happening as the network showed Biden delivering remarks.

And just as with the Dominion situation, it should be read for what it is: a baseless allegation that fits very neatly with Trump’s political purposes.

Fox News said in a statement Wednesday, “The chyron was taken down immediately and was addressed.”

But the chyron, which appeared for about 30 seconds, didn’t come out of nowhere; in many ways, it was a culmination. For days and months, Trump and his allies have been pointing in this direction, despite the lack of any actual evidence that Biden played a role in the decision to indict Trump.

Biden said flatly last week that he “never once, not one single time, suggested to the Justice Department what they should do or not do relative to bringing a charge or not bringing a charge.” He also said he had not and would not be speaking to Attorney General Merrick Garland about the matter.

The decision to seek charges came from special counsel Jack Smith, who was appointed by Garland to insulate the case from political influence or the perception thereof. Garland himself is not allowed to overrule Smith’s decisions without notifying Congress.

There is no reason to believe that Biden played any role in indicting Trump or had “his political rival arrested.”

But that hasn’t stopped the whispers and even, in the case of Fox’s chyron, the outright claims. (The host during that 8 p.m. hour on Fox was morning and opinion host Brian Kilmeade.)

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) was among the first to respond to Trump’s indictment Thursday, saying, “If the people in power can jail their political opponents at will, we don’t have a republic.”

Over the weekend, Trump claimed that Biden “is trying to jail his leading political opponent.”

Shortly after Trump’s first court appearance on Tuesday, Fox welcomed his 2024 opponent Vivek Ramaswamy on to describe his push for information about any interactions between Biden, Garland and Smith. “That’s an important question,” host Martha MacCallum intoned.

Ramaswamy provided no evidence of any such interactions or involvement from Biden. But he said he was suspicious because of “selective omissions” from Trump’s indictment, including that it didn’t mention Trump’s late-2016 “commitment not to pursue” Hillary Clinton over classified-document issues. (Never mind that, in fact, Trump repeatedly pushed for prosecuting his political opponents — including Clinton after supposedly backing off — and that the very thrust of this effort is that a president shouldn’t have a role in such matters.)

Another popular bit of innuendo Tuesday was the baseless idea that Biden actually previewed his intent to take Trump down through the court system. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and others pointed to comments Biden made in November at a news conference:

Q: So the entire genesis of that G-7 conversation was tied to your predecessor, who is about to launch another campaign. So how do you reassure them, if that is the reason for their questioning, that the former president will not return or that his political movement, which is still very strong, will not —
BIDEN: Oh, yeah? (Laughs.)
Q: — once again take power in the United States?
BIDEN: Well, we just have to demonstrate that he will not take power by — if we — if he does run. I’m making sure he, under legitimate efforts of our Constitution, does not become the next president again.

Trump also pointed to these comments two months ago when he was indicted in Manhattan.

While Biden’s phrasing was awkward, there is simply no reason to believe he was referring to indicting Trump or anything except defeating Trump electorally. The context for “legitimate efforts of our Constitution” was Biden having talked at the news conference about Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

It’s a lot like Carlson pointing to Biden’s promises to stop the Nord Stream pipeline as if they were threats to blow it up and claiming that showed Biden in fact blew it up. Carlson last week unceremoniously backed away from that theory in the face of actual evidence.

Indeed, the entire effort is very Carlsonian. It’s injecting conspiracy theories into the country’s bloodstream under the guise of just-asking-questions. It’s assuring the worst interpretation is probably the correct one because your political opponents are just that nefarious. It’s distorting the known facts to fit Trump’s narrative of a deep-state plot against him.

And it’s fertile ground, given around 8 in 10 Republicans view the charges as politically motivated.

Trump often complains about Fox not toeing his line enough, despite the network having to fork over nearly $800 million in the Dominion lawsuit for having bent over backward to do just that. The message sent Tuesday night seemed to be: We’re here for you, and we’ll continue promoting your conspiracy theories regardless of evidence or their track record.

Fox appears to have acknowledged it went too far, which is notable in that it was basically just saying what Trump says. But there will apparently be no shortage of figures on the right willing to echo and promote Trump’s claims, even if they’re not always quite so direct.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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