AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Republicans on Capitol Hill are, for the most part, defending President Trump and criticizing Democrats for opening an impeachment inquiry. Conservative media outlets have been cheering them on, saying Trump did not do anything wrong in his call with the Ukrainian president. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik has been following this story. He joins us now from New York.
Welcome back, David.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.
CORNISH: Tell us how conservative media figures have covered this story as new information comes to light in the impeachment inquiry.
FOLKENFLIK: Well, let's acknowledge we're talking about this because in some ways, this is one of most important parts of the president's base is not only his megaphone echo chamber, where he works out ideas, but really part of the base itself. And none more important than Fox News. By and large - I want to stress, by and large - he's had strong support both in terms of attacking the Democrats and in terms of defending the president. Let's start - last night, Tucker Carlson, primetime host, really going after the Democrats who have kicked off this impeachment inquiry.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TUCKER CARLSON TONIGHT")
TUCKER CARLSON: In other words, the same people who spent two years writing Russia collusion fan fiction are outraged once again. Or did they ever stop being outraged? Probably not.
FOLKENFLIK: A number of other folks - personalities on the air - going after the whistleblower. Geraldo Rivera, sometimes a critic of the president on immigration, sometimes supporter, Geraldo has said, you know, this guy is a snitch, a fink. You know, I'd like to find him and basically said he'd want to beat him up. Jeanine Pirro, who has her own weekend show, is often an analyst on the weekday shows. Here's what she had to say earlier today.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JEANINE PIRRO: This whistleblower, whoever he is - if he's a CIA guy or whatever - it doesn't matter. This was a setup. Who were these other people in the White House who were looking to sink our president?
FOLKENFLIK: Very much echoing there, as many of her colleagues have, the president's own rhetoric, questioning loyalty of the person making these accusations.
CORNISH: And yet, for people who are close watchers of the network, there's a sense that there's been some tension. Can you tell us why people have that perception?
FOLKENFLIK: Sometimes there's been a tension at Fox between the folks who are reporting, the folks are doing the opinions. Now you're seeing some real tensions on both sides of that equation. You saw Shep Smith hosting analysis from Judge Andrew Napolitano, an analyst for the network, saying the president may in some ways have legal exposure here. And he was attacked by Tucker Carlson on Carlson's own show, and also by Carlson's guest that hour, Joe diGenova, a former federal prosecutor, who's become quite a partisan voice in the years since. And there's been exchanges like this one involving Sandra Smith - she's a news anchor for the show - and Chris Wallace - he's the host of "Fox News Sunday."
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
SANDRA SMITH: The complaint alleges a quid pro quo, the exchange of something for value. And the actual phone conversation revealed...
CHRIS WALLACE: You don't think that dirt on Joe Biden and Joe Biden's son...
SMITH: But they never brought up the funds.
WALLACE: ...Would be of value to - let me - you asked a question.
WALLACE: Let me answer it, Sandra.
FOLKENFLIK: Now Sandra Smith did let him answer it. At the same time, she, like a number of other folks, were stressing questions that people helping the White House - allied to the White House wanted to make.
CORNISH: Beyond Fox, how is this playing?
FOLKENFLIK: You're seeing a lot of conservative voices rally to the president's side. But there are some distinctions. The National Review, you see some questioning, some voices saying, you know, perhaps impeachment may not be wise, but the president may have done some things wrong here. You're seeing more critical voices some ways in some of the smaller conservative outlets, certainly than you are on Capitol Hill, but then you are particularly on a place like Fox as well.
CORNISH: In the meantime, David, I want to talk about another topic. The New York Times published a piece that gives a fair amount of detail about the identity of the whistleblower. The attorneys for the whistleblower released a statement saying that it compromised this person's security, or it could turn unwanted glare on their colleagues. I remember seeing some cancel the Times, you know, hashtag on social media. What are your thoughts on this?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, there are a number of people on the political left, the critics of the president, number of people within journalism who have said, you know, what the Times have done in some ways is reckless here. They protect the anonymity of sources. Why would they do this to a whistleblower, whose protection of identity should be guaranteed by statute as well as in principle? You know, what Dean Baquet has said, the executive editor of the Times, is, you know, we're trying to provide the American public with enough information so they can evaluate the credibility of the person who is making such important and serious, profound accusations and allegations against the president.
And I've got to say, as an impulse, I think that's probably the right journalistic impulse. But the question is once you have the information, what you do with it, how you cast it, whether you publish. And I think those - that very question and decision is being questioned right now.
CORNISH: That analysis from NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik speaking to us from New York.
David, thank you.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
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