Jesse Watters wants this article to be written.
This is what the Fox News host does, throws out controversial (and often false) claims and then surveys the turmoil that results. He’s a troll, albeit one with a prime-time cable news show and a big audience. And on Tuesday night, he presented that audience with one of the most ironic accusations I can remember.
The night before, MSNBC host Joy Reid’s microphone was live as the channel aired footage of President Biden speaking about immigration.
“If that bill were the law today, I’d shut down the border right now and fix it quickly,” Biden said on the tape (with someone in the audience yelling out, “I know you would!”). “… And Congress needs to get it done.”
Then you hear Reid, “Starting another [censored] war!”
From the audio, it seems as though MSNBC turned her mic back on as the video was ending and she didn’t realize it. The audio was then muted quickly and turned back on as Reid began reading from the teleprompter. She later apologized for the comment.
This walk-through is important when considering how Watters approached it.
“Every time you turn on the news, you’re told, don’t believe your eyes,” Watters said as the segment began. “The border’s secure, the economy strong, and Joe Biden is on fire.”
He showed a clip of MSNBC host Joe Scarborough praising Biden’s reelection bid.
“Do they really believe what they’re saying?” Watters continued. “Well, there’s new evidence that they don’t. Last night, we got a look behind the curtain. Joy Reid was caught on a hot mic trashing Biden, exclaiming that he’s going to start ‘another f-ing war.’”
He then played the clip referenced above. But notice how, already, he’s out over his skis. As I think Scarborough and Reid would attest, they are different people with very different political perspectives. Scarborough was once a House Republican from Florida. Reid’s career has involved working in media and advocacy for liberal causes. That Scarborough believes one thing is by no means an indicator that Reid will.
More importantly, we don’t know what Reid was referring to. It certainly could have been Biden; many on the left are critical of his approach to the conflict in Gaza, a conflict at risk of further escalating. But she also came into the clip talking about legislative efforts to link border changes to funding for Ukraine. Perhaps that was her focus: After all, the segment aired the day after a drone strike in Jordan killed three American service members, spurring talk of retaliation among Republicans on Capitol Hill. Just because Reid was speaking over a Biden clip doesn’t mean she was speaking about him.
Watters (and most others on the right) simply assumed she was talking about Biden and took it as an article of faith. (This happens a lot.) And that allowed Watters to universally decry his competitors’ dishonesty.
“So Biden’s going to start another f-ing war,” he said. “That’s what Joy Reid says when she thinks no one’s listening. … Why not just say that on the air? You’re an opinion host. You get paid to share your opinion.”
“Well,” he continued, “it’s because MSNBC doesn’t respect their audience. They’re not putting on a show to inform their viewers. It’s a brainwashing op. [Donald] Trump’s Hitler, Biden’s young, crime’s down.”
That he included “crime’s down” is amusing. Crime is down, as it turns out, despite Fox News’s constant efforts to insist that it is skyrocketing under Biden. When I wrote in October 2022 that Fox News was suddenly focused on rising crime as the 2022 midterms approached, despite the lack of evidence that it was, Watters disparaged me personally as a “knucklehead” and a “liar.” But it was down in 2022 and down again in 2023. A channel that respects its audience would state that.
“A network that respects its audience would let the audience watch live news,” Watters continued. “But MSNBC doesn’t let you watch Trump live, [MSNBC host Rachel] Maddow says. It’s too dangerous. The network can’t handle it, and neither can the audience.”
Well, no. The debate at MSNBC and in the traditional media isn’t whether to let people hear Trump, it’s whether to air him saying false things, particularly his debunked and unsubstantiated allegations about election fraud. A news organization doesn’t actively choose to misinform its viewers, either.
But again, irony. Fox News reached a settlement with Dominion Voting Systems for more than three-quarters of a billion dollars last year after the channel aired false claims that the company’s voting machines had facilitated stealing the 2020 election. When Fox News agreed to interview Trump a few months later, those interviews were taped — most likely so that the network could ensure it wasn’t airing further false information.
It gets worse! Fox News, after all, is the channel that declined to air the prime-time hearings of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, with then-host Tucker Carlson using the time to instead promote conspiracy theories about it.
Host Laura Ingraham even responded to critics of the channel’s decision not to run the hearings.
“We actually do something called, you know, cater to our audience,” she said. “Our audience knows what this is.”
“We told you last night this isn’t about persuasion anymore,” Watters said in concluding the segment. “It’s propaganda. The digital age’s MK Ultra.”
He then welcomed Trump’s former press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, who now works as a Fox News host and contributor. A study released in 2020, while she served in the White House, found that most Americans didn’t view Trump as honest and trustworthy — with the notable exception of Fox News viewers.