Trump as thug or hero? Depends on what network you watch

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President Donald Trump walks past police in Lafayette Park after visiting outside St. John's Church across from the White House Monday, June 1, 2020, in Washington. Part of the church was set on fire during protests on Sunday night. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

NEW YORK – It was a split screen for the ages on MSNBC Monday: on the left side, President Donald Trump talking about restoring law and order. On the right, a tear-gassed young woman vomiting in a Washington street.

For a nation rubbed raw following a traumatic weekend, cable television news did little to promote peace, love and understanding in its most-watched hours

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Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC poke and prod the nation's divide on most nights, and each has been amply rewarded in the ratings. Trump's stern speech and walk to a nearby church after protesters were forcibly cleared out of the way Monday raised the temperature on those networks even higher.

“The president seems to think that dominating black people, dominating peaceful protesters, is law and order,” CNN's Anderson Cooper said. “It's not. He calls them thugs. Who's the thug here?”

At the same time on Fox News Channel, Tucker Carlson said that Trump provided “a powerful symbolic gesture, a declaration that this country, our national symbols, our oldest institutions, will not be desecrated and defeated by nihilistic destruction.”

For the most part, the television commentators talked past each other to vastly different audiences. CNN and MSNBC concentrated on peaceful protests in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of police; the Fox News focus was on violence and property destruction in the streets.

The same arguments have animated American politics for decades, but cable news uses megaphones to amplify them.

Trump has the full authority to use the federal government to go into states to restore order, Fox's Sean Hannity said.

“If the liberal mayors or governors in most cases are unwilling and unable to protect their own citizens, the federal government will,” he said.

Not so fast, Rachel Maddow said on MSNBC.

“While there are depths that even the most doomsday predictions about the Trump presidency did not plumb, this rubicon moment arrived tonight in the haphazard and slipshod way that has become familiar for most of the other previously unimaginable dark turns this country has taken since Mr. Trump has become president,” she said.

CNN's Chris Cuomo concluded of Trump: “This is who he is, and it's not what the country needs right now.”

“You're not surprised, are you?” his colleague Don Lemon said.

Trump came off Monday as “a modern-day dictator,” Lemon said.

But the headline on Fox News at that moment was “Chaos Blankets American Streets.” Reporter Bryan Llenas showed pictures of broken glass in front of storefronts littering New York City streets.

Criminals and domestic terrorists are using George Floyd “to try to murder America,” host Laura Ingraham said.

“The president tonight reaffirmed his duty to defend the Constitution,” she said.


AP Television Writer Lynn Elber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.