Two Americas: How Fox and MSNBC Spin the News for Their Audiences

Courthouse News examined how two news programs sharing a time slot — “Fox News at Night” and MSNBC’s “The 11th Hour” — compared in their presentation of the news of the day. On Wednesday evening at least, the comparison was like night and day.

Police and protesters converge during a demonstration, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, in Louisville, Ky. A grand jury has indicted one officer on criminal charges six months after Breonna Taylor was fatally shot by police in Kentucky. The jury presented its decision against fired officer Brett Hankison Wednesday to a judge in Louisville, where the shooting took place. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

(CN) — “Fox News At Night” and the MSNBC’s “The 11th Hour” each started their Wednesday evening episodes talking about the Louisville protests, but the images chosen by each to illustrate the event stood in stark contrast to one another.

The protests that erupted Wednesday in Louisville and a number of other cities across the United States began in response to a Kentucky grand jury decision not to pursue murder charges against the three officers responsible for the death of Breonna Taylor.

The officers busted into Taylor’s home in the middle of the night under the auspices of serving a warrant. Taylor’s startled boyfriend fired his gun and the officers returned fire, killing Taylor.

One of the officers, Brett Hankinson, was indicted on charges of wanton endangerment, a class D felony with a minimum sentence of one year, for firing his weapon into adjacent apartments.

During Wednesday’s protest, two on-duty Louisville police officers were shot. Both are expected to make a full recovery.

Fox’s version of the evening news gleefully played clips of protesters throwing objects at and fighting with the police. The news program focused repeatedly on the burning piles of debris strewn throughout Louisville’s streets. The picture the network wanted to paint came through clearly enough — it wasn’t a protest, it was a riot.

Compare that with MSNBC’s coverage, and one would be hard-pressed to believe it was the same event. Its version showed crowds of completely peaceful demonstrators marching down the same streets with nary a blaze in sight. A group of understandably angry, yet completely benign Americans exercising their right to peaceful assembly. And that more or less set the tone for the rest of the evening’s broadcast.

Shannon Breem, host of “Fox News At Night,” started her show describing a standoff between police and protesters in Louisville complete with an FBI roadblock, while noting the demonstrators were flouting curfew. She moved on to the fires and the shooting of the two officers before playing footage of protests in other cities.

“Right now, it’s generally peaceful, but unfortunately two police officers were shot here tonight, so overall, not a peaceful night in Louisville,” said Matt Finn, a Fox News correspondent in the city.

Breem’s guests for the night were James Butts, mayor of Inglewood, California, and a former Santa Monica police chief, and Ted Williams, a former detective in Washington, D.C. Each man said the officers involved in the allegedly no-knock warrant raid on Taylor’s home made several errors. While both men agreed that the warrant, obtained months before the raid, was stale, should have been rescinded and was poorly served, neither guest believed the officers involved should have been charged with a crime.

“This was not a situation that should have been resolved with charges. They had a lawful warrant; the officer was fired upon,” Butts said. “With that said, there were a lot of mistakes made. The charging of this one officer with reckless endangerment is just an appeasement. He should be fired, but the charge is an appeasement.”

Williams added: “Once they entered, meaning the officers, and if Kenneth Walker, the boyfriend of Ms. Taylor, fired upon them as we’ve been told by the attorney general, then they had a right to return fire. If you shoot at the police, they’re going to shoot back at you.”

Both men also believe Hankinson, the sole officer involved to be charged with a crime, will be acquitted — a verdict that will inevitably prompt further violence.

A later segment of Breem’s show detailed an oft-touted conspiracy involving Hunter Biden, son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, alleging his father’s influence as vice president bought him a lucrative seat on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma. Democrats have dismissed the Senate report which prompted the allegations as both a sham and a waste of tax dollars.

On MSNBC’s “The 11th Hour,” the nights’ events took on a decidedly different tone. Gone was the apocalyptic inuendo. In its place, President Donald Trump.

Demonstrators march on the Williamsburg Bridge during a protest, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, in New York, following a Kentucky grand jury’s decision not to indict any police officers for the killing of Breonna Taylor. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

Ali Velshi, filling in for host Brian Williams, began the evening’s broadcast with a question: Has Trump made more money since becoming president than he would have as a private citizen?

Velshi asked Dan Alexander, author of the book “How Donald Trump Turned the Presidency Into a Business”, who said it’s been a mixed bag.

Alexander said some of Trump’s properties have suffered as a result of his “alienating half the country,” while his commercial leases — the kind of long term 15-20-year deals not subject to the whims of the moment — have prospered. According to Alexander, foreign governments and others seeking influence have been flocking to Trump properties while liberals have fled his golf clubs, so it’s a wash.

MSNBC’s coverage of the Louisville protests differed greatly from that of Fox News as well. MSNBC was far quicker to criticize the three officers responsible for killing Taylor, and far slower to condemn the protesters for expressing their outrage over her killing. There were no fiery images intended to portray chaos. No protesters battling with police in the streets. No mayhem.

Velshi asked Philip Rucker, White House bureau chief for the Washington Post, what kind of picture the Trump administration is trying to paint of the protests.

“I would fully expect that the president and the White House are going to try to play up what happened to those two officers in Louisville because it fits the narrative that they have been trying to present to the American people in the run up to the election,” said Rucker. “That these Black Lives Matter protests are somehow unruly and unsafe and endangering the lives of law enforcement.”

Two networks, two narratives. Apt, since these days it feels like there are two Americas.

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