After months of cooler coverage of former President Donald J. Trump, Fox News hosts rallied around him Thursday evening, denouncing his indictment as an attempt to hinder his chances of re-election and suggesting it might lead to unrest.
They dismissed the potential charges in the case against Mr. Trump, which relates to his role in hush money paid to a porn star, as a “bookkeeping error” and said that Manhattan’s Democratic district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, had a political vendetta.
The united defense of Mr. Trump was an intriguing, if perhaps predictable, about-face for the conservative-leaning network.
Fox News is among the outlets in Rupert Murdoch’s media empire that have been devoting more coverage to Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and his prospective presidential bid, tipping him as the future of the Republican Party. Mr. Trump, once ubiquitous on the network, did not appear on its broadcasts from November until this week.
And a defamation lawsuit has laid bare some of the behind-the-scenes derision directed toward the former president by the network’s top stars and his baseless claims of fraud in the 2020 election.
“We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights,” Tucker Carlson, a Fox News host, wrote to members of his staff on Jan. 4, 2021, in internal messages released as part of the $1.6 billion lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems. “I hate him passionately.”
On Thursday, however, shortly after the indictment was revealed, Mr. Carlson attacked it as “the culmination of an effort to make certain that Trump is never elected president again” and argued that Mr. Trump would be put through a “humiliation ritual” when he is arrested and booked.
“You see Democrats indict the Republican front-runner, it almost feels like they’re pushing the population to react. We think they’re demoralized and passive, let’s see if they really are,” Mr. Carlson said on his show, “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
His guest, Glenn Beck, a former Fox host, called Mr. Trump a “symbol of the average, everyday guy” around whom the electorate would rally and put on a red “MAGA” cap.
Sean Hannity, a reliable Trump ally who interviewed the former president on his program earlier this week, used his Thursday broadcast to read aloud, word for word, a substantial part of Mr. Trump’s statement calling the indictment “political persecution and election interference at the highest level” and a “witch hunt.”
“He’s right,” Mr. Hannity said, before claiming that Mr. Bragg “has literally thrown the rule of law to the wind in exchange for a cheap act of petty political vengeance.”
Days ago, Laura Ingraham, whose show directly follows “Hannity,” expressed skepticism about a Trump loyalist’s praise for the former president and featured a guest who criticized Mr. Trump for “dwelling on grievance.” On Thursday, she was unequivocal in portraying Mr. Trump as a victim of what she called “political vengeance.”
Jesse Watters, co-host of “The Five,” was live on air Thursday afternoon when a colleague interrupted to deliver breaking news of the indictment. Mr. Watters, whose initial reaction was an audible gasp, alluded to the potential for unrest from supporters in response.
“There’s going to be a major rally-around-the-flag feeling,” he told viewers. “I don’t like it. The country is not going to stand for it.”
Mr. Trump, who had recently insulted Mr. Murdoch and labeled Fox as “fake news,” appeared pleased by the revival of his support on the network. On his account on Truth Social, the right-wing social media site he founded, Mr. Trump reposted several Fox News clips in the early hours of Friday, including one of Mr. Watters calling the indictment a “calculated move.”
“Do you think Donald Trump would be indicted if he wasn’t running?” Mr. Watters asks in the clip. “Democrats are branding Trump as a criminal, along with the 74 million people who voted for him.”
Michael M. Grynbaum contributed reporting.
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