“Not the warmest welcome in the world” – pro-Trump media struggles to spin UK protests

US right-wing media outlets are usually united in their coverage of Trump, but the president’s state visit has proved a challenge. 

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As an expected 250,000 people prepare to march in London against his visit, even the most reliably pro-Trump corners of US media are struggling to put a positive spin on the president’s visit to the UK this week – a trip which was supposed to shore up the strained “special relationship” but which has been marked with widespread protests and spats with both London mayor Sadiq Khan and Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle.

There has been a wide range of imaginative trolling by Brits outraged at Trump’s visit, including the projection on to buildings in central London of Trump’s dismal UK approval-rating (21 per cent) relative to his predecessor Barack Obama (72 per cent) and the logo of the USS John McCain (a warship, named for the now-deceased senator with whom Trump had sparred, which it was recently and embarrassingly revealed the White House requested moved from view during Trump’s recent trip to Japan).

The visit has been such a disaster, and the protests against the president have acquired so much viral traction, that even the most rabid right-wing pro-Trump media outlets have been forced to cover them. “President Trump is no stranger to trolling his adversaries on Twitter, but an activist group attempted to get under his skin in the flesh on the opening day of his trip to the United Kingdom,” an online Fox News story reported, with almost tangible reluctance, on Monday.

Desperate for anything positive to say about the trip, The Daily Caller, a news website with links to white nationalism, devoted three stories to the outfits worn by Melania and Ivanka Trump (“gorgeous”) and another to a “makeover” of Trump’s hairstyle before his meeting with the Queen (a change which, to be fair, was quite startling). But even they were forced to cover the protests. “Perhaps,” the Daily Caller article admits, “this was not the warmest British welcome in the world.”

Breitbart News covered the protests too, taking the different tack of trying to portray the widespread protests and criticism of the president across the UK as a “Leftist meltdown” of “ritualistic histrionics” and “anti-Trump theatrics.” (“Have these Leftists ever thought of going for the nice, persuasive tack instead of being loud, rude and obnoxious?” one particularly irony-deficient commenter whined under the story.)

The pro-Trump media is usually more united in its coverage – not coordinated exactly, but often taking their cues pretty directly from White House talking-points. This particular segment of the media ecosystem can be seen, in a way, as a reflection of Trump’s internal monologue – a mirror to the president’s state of mind.

In turn, Trump, who obsesses over all media about him, often rewards the most sycophantic coverage, directly tweeting out things he sees on shows like Fox & Friends. These shows have come to play the kind of role that under other presidents would be the preserve of close advisors. If the pro-Trump media are rattled, it means the president is likely feeling the same way.

Fox News in particular has struggled more than usual to get the party line straight on the UK visit. On Monday, Fox News commentator Dana Perino, a former press secretary for George W. Bush, said that “obviously there is an anti-Trump crowd in London, but it’s like saying that New York City is America.” But then later, Nigel Farage – who remains a commentator for the network – claimed that the protesters were “paid-for.”

Others at the network blamed the media; commentator Lee Cohen wrote in a bizarre op-ed that Trump “could … announce a cure for cancer and resurrect Churchill while in Britain and still the press won’t give him a break.”

The same day on the morning show Fox & Friends, correspondent Kevin Corke told host Steve Doocy that: “A lot of those demonstrations will also include pro-Trump folks out there who – a great many of them – feel like is he similarly not getting his fair share in the media here.”

This last claim, as well as totally contradicting what Farage and others said on the same network over the course of the day, was particularly illuminating. Fox & Friends is the president’s favourite TV show, and he watches it religiously. Doocy and his co-presenters know this, and so the contortions they go through to rationalise the hostility from a huge swathe of the British electorate strongly hints it has struck a presidential nerve.

Sure enough, Trump felt compelled to tweet at around the time of the Fox & Friends broadcast: “Haven’t seen any protests yet, but I’m sure the … Fake News will be working hard to find them.” With apologies to Shakespeare: in regard to how he feels about these protests, the president doth protest too much.

Nicky Woolf is the editor of New Statesman America. He has formerly written for the Guardian and the New Statesman. He tweets @NickyWoolf.