NEW YORK ― Since Donald Trump finally admitted last week that President Barack Obama was born in the United States, the Republican nominee has done more than two hours of interviews with Fox News and Fox Business hosts.
Yet the toxic crusade that Trump pushed for five years, and which was amplified through several appearances on Fox News in early 2011, hasn’t come up.
Trump briefly acknowledged on Friday, Sept. 16, that Obama was born in the U.S., a fact long clear to anyone who was not a fringe conspiracy theorist. He did so that morning only after promoting his new Washington, D.C., hotel and ceding the microphone to a stream of veterans praising him ― a spectacle the cable networks carried for more than 20 minutes before any actual news was made.
Reporters, who had been given the impression that Trump would take questions at the event, were left shouting their queries to no avail.
Trump’s remarks that day left several unaddressed issues, including why he kept peddling the birther lie in interviews and on social media for five years after Obama released his long-form birth certificate in April 2011. Reporters would’ve presumably also asked about his now charging Hillary Clinton with starting the birther conspiracy during her 2008 presidential race, a claim that’s been shot down by fact-checkers.
Trump stormed across the airwaves during the Republican primary, but since becoming the party’s nominee, he has largely avoided media scrutiny. He hasn’t held a press conference since late July and mainly turns to Fox News and sympathetic hosts like Sean Hannity and the crew on “Fox & Friends” when looking to speak out. He hasn’t sat down lately with some of the more adversarial hosts on Fox News, such as Shepard Smith, who ripped apart Trump’s hotel event and his claims about Clinton.
During a week in which journalists had plenty of questions for Trump on the birther issue, all six of his national TV interviews went to Fox News and Fox Business.
The birther question didn’t come up in an interview with Fox News “MediaBuzz” host Howard Kurtz that aired this past Sunday. Although it had been taped on Sept. 15, the day before Trump’s birther admission, the issue had been percolating in the media for several weeks.
On Monday morning, the bombings in New York and New Jersey were the biggest news, but the hosts on “Fox & Friends” managed not to get around to Trump’s birther remarks during a nearly 26-minute phone interview. That night, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly ― who had raised the birther issue with Trump just two weeks earlier ― didn’t acknowledge it during a 15-minute interview.
Sean Hannity taped an hour-long event with Trump on Wednesday, which will now air Friday night after being pre-empted for Charlotte protest coverage. Reporter Sopan Deb, who exhaustively covers Trump for CBS News, noted that Hannity didn’t ask about birtherism.
The issue did come up Wednesday when Trump gave an interview to a local ABC affiliate. He described publicly coming around on Obama’s birthplace as a way “to get on with the campaign,” a remark that raised questions about his sincerity.
But “Fox & Friends” hosts didn’t ask about Trump’s latest comment during a 14-minute phone interview on Thursday. Fox Business host Lou Dobbs didn’t either when Trump called in for six minutes that night.
The dearth of questions about Trump finally giving up birtherism stands in contrast to how Fox News hosts gave the real estate mogul repeated opportunities to question the legitimacy of the first African-American president on air, without proof, during his earlier flirtation with running for the White House.
“Why can’t he produce a birth certificate?” Trump asked during a March 28, 2011, segment on “Fox & Friends.” Co-host Steve Doocy asked Trump why the “mainstream media” were portraying him as crazy for simply raising the issue, teeing up a chance for Trump to criticize the press. That night, Trump again questioned Obama’s birthplace in an interview with then-Fox News host Greta Van Susteren.
On April 15, 2011, Trump claimed on “Hannity” that he had investigators digging into Obama’s records in Hawaii. (The New York Times recently reported that “Trump apparently never dispatched investigators or made much of an effort to find the documents.”) Three days later, Doocy backed up Trump’s call for Obama to present his long-form birth certificate by saying the president “could end it, simply ― just show it to us.”
But like Trump, some Fox News hosts apparently still weren’t satisfied with what the president released on April 27, 2011.
“This thing isn’t a pure copy from a book, a ledger from Hawaii,” Eric Bolling said that night on Fox Business. “This thing has been altered.” Bolling brought on leading birther Pamela Geller, who said the document needed additional digital forensic analysis. She also praised Trump as “the first mainstream guy” to bring attention to the issue.
Now that Trump wants to move on, it appears Bolling is ready to do so, too.
“He dismissed it appropriately in 25 seconds,” Bolling said on the night of Sept. 16 on Fox News. “It’s done. It’s gone.”