Some Thoughts on Fox's Liz Cheney Interview
The Special Report segment was fascinating to watch, for a few reasons.
This is one of those columns that I started several days ago, when the topic was a little more newsworthy. But with the Holiday Season in full swing now, along with some other life distractions, my hopes turned to just getting it out the door by the weekend. The piece is mostly observational, but I hope it’s of some interest.
And while I have your attention, I’ll take the opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas!
Earlier this week, Liz Cheney went on Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baier to talk about her new book, “Oath and Honor.” Her appearance surprised a lot of people, being that a lot has changed since she worked as an on-air contributor for the network.
Cheney was later elected to Congress. Following the events of January 6, 2021, she rose as the leading Republican voice of opposition against Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, including his provocation of the Capitol insurrection. Her principled, unwavering stance not only made the former conservative-darling a pariah within her party (which ultimately led to her political ouster), but also an on-screen villain by many of her former Fox colleagues who, in the interest of appeasing the network’s transformed, MAGA-heavy viewership, put in many hours trying to diminish and discredit her work and reputation.
But Special Report, as is often pointed out, is different than most of what airs on Fox News. It’s primarily a news show, not an entertainment vehicle like the programs that precede and follow it. Bret Baier is an actual journalist, not an outrage-peddling opinion-host. That’s not to say that he’s immune from political and ratings pressure; revelations from the Dominion lawsuit made clear that he’s not. But as a serious journalist, he has a professional responsibility to ask fair questions of those he’s interviewing. They can be tough questions, of course, but fairness is important… and Baier typically performs his job quite well.
But as I watched the Cheney interview, I couldn’t help but notice how awkward it was. At times, it felt more like a supervised-visitation scene from a TV family-drama than one of fruitful dialogue. Baier played the role of the anxious parent who couldn’t say what he genuinely felt to Cheney (who I suspect he’s friends with), instead falling back on shallow themes and empty lines of questioning that he knew the eagle-eyed third-party overseer (the Fox audience) wanted to hear.
In her book, Cheney details her concerns about a potential second Trump term. She bases those concerns on the former president’s anti-democratic efforts, his disregard for the rule of law, and his vows to continue down that road if he gets back into office.
“We don’t have to guess about what next President Trump would do, because he did it before,” Cheney told Baier. She argued that if Trump wins in 2024, members of his first administration, who pushed back against his worst impulses (including on January 6), won’t be around to serve as guardrails.
Baier’s strange response to her argument was a Jesse Watters-esque whataboutism.
“But you haven’t been vocal about President Biden’s executive orders to cancel student loans, ban evictions, mandate COVID vaccines,” he said, having cited a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed arguing that Biden, too, has tried to circumvent the rule of law — specifically congressional authority, through executive orders.
It was a weird attempt at equivalence — one that Baier, who’s a smart guy, assuredly wasn’t buying himself.
Now, to be clear, Biden’s executive actions on these matters are indefensible, just as similar efforts have been in the past with other presidents (including Trump). They should be called out and constrained by the courts (and largely have been).
But executive overreach to advance public policy, as contemptible as it is, isn’t in the same ballpark as a U.S. president trying to cancel an election he lost, inciting an insurrection at the Capitol (the participants of which he now lavishes praise on), denying our country of its peaceful transfer of power, and outright calling for the Constitution to be suspended.
Cheney rightly rejected the comparison, along with Baier’s premise that she’d been silent on Biden’s overreach.
“It’s very different,” she said. “… every single president, Republican and Democrat, since George Washington, has ensured the peaceful transition of power. Donald Trump tried to seize power. So we can disagree with Biden policies, but the fact that [Trump] tried to seize power, the fact that he ignored the rulings of 61 courts, the fact that he ignored his own attorney general, his own White House counsel, who told him what he was saying about the election was false. It wasn’t true. His claims were false, and he went out and made them anyway, knowing that. The extent to which he, while a violent mob was assaulting the Capitol, he wouldn’t tell them to leave. Instead, he tweeted against his own vice president and he poured fuel on the flames. Those are lines that can’t be crossed.”
“And look, this isn’t about policy,” she added. “I voted with Donald Trump 93% of the time. This is about the nation. It’s about the republic. It’s about the Constitution.” She argued that there are a number of Republican candidates “who will abide by the Constitution,” and she made what I thought was a very simple yet powerful political point:
“We can have conservative policies without having to torch the Constitution.”
Imagine if Trump’s primary opponents (beyond Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson) were brave enough to make that exact same argument on the campaign trail. It might even be effective. Of course, that assumes a good portion of Republican voters still care about conservative policies, policies in general, or the U.S. Constitution for that matter… which is certainly in question.
Baier also re-elevated a narrative often parroted by MAGA-Republicans and media-conservatives during Cheney’s final political campaign (while she was hard at work with the January 6 Committee), that Cheney’s constituents turned sour on her for a reason other than her efforts to hold Trump accountable.
“You lost your primary to Harriet Harman, two to one,” said Baier. “And she said, ‘Liz Cheney has never been in touch with your average person.’”
“I won my [previous] primary by 70% of the vote,” Cheney responded. “I could have done that again if I was willing to lie about what Donald Trump did. I wasn’t willing to do that.”
Baier cited an AP article from 2019, seemingly trying to draw some kind of irony or hypocrisy between Cheney’s views of the Russia investigation and her work on the January 6 investigation:
“Wyoming’s congresswoman says a summary of the investigation into whether President Donald Trump election campaign coordinated with Russia, confirms what Republicans already knew. The summary of Robert Mueller’s investigation says there was no collusion between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia. Wyoming U.S. Representative Liz Cheney says Democrats for over two years have peddled falsehoods and made one scurrilous claim after another involving Trump in Russia. Cheney says in the statement, It’s time for Democrats to put aside their partisan agenda of attacking Trump and focus on real issues.”
He asked her what she would say to critics who argue that “all of this is about going after Donald Trump.”
It was another easy narrative for Cheney to refute. She reminded the Fox audience that she voted against Trump’s first impeachment, and said, “But this was different. When you have a president of the United States who attempts to seize power, that that goes to the heart of of who we are. And that danger is one we can’t ignore.”
Perhaps the most interesting moment of the interview was Cheney evoking the memory of a Special Report legend.
“You know, I come here to Fox and I sit in the Charles Krauthammer greenroom,” she said, “and I know how much, how revered Charles was by you, by me. And Charles taught us a whole bunch of things. But one of them is that some things have to matter. And rising above politics, rising above partisanship, recognizing our duty to the Constitution is the most conservative of all conservative principles.”
“Well, we have a policy here to hear from all sides,” Baier said, adding that the program wanted Cheney on to talk about her book.
As someone who used to watch Special Report religiously, it was a bittersweet closing exchange. Charles Krauthammer’s legacy, including his years at Fox News, was very important to me and millions of others, including Baier and Cheney. Krauthammer was a brilliant and reasoned thinker, and he represented and inspired a brand of honest, principled, intellectual conservatism that is no longer valued (nor barely even present) at the network.
In qualifying his interview with Cheney under a policy of “hearing from all sides”, it felt like Baier was portraying Cheney’s views and principles as fringe, when they would have been considered mainstream-conservative during much of the Krauthammer era. You could almost read the sadness in both of their eyes at that moment, in subtle acknowledgement of those days.
I miss those days too.