This week, three of US President Donald Trump's former advisers were charged with federal crimes, including tax evasion, conspiracy against the US, and lying to the FBI about contacts with alleged Russia middlemen.

The White House has denied this and Trump described the investigation as a "witch-hunt".

While US news outlets covered the indictments in Washington and the possible impact on Donald Trump's presidency, Fox's coverage differed. As its competitors focused on the news, Fox downplayed it, directing its attention to Hillary Clinton, questioning the integrity of the chief investigator Robert Mueller, even making time for stories about emojis and Halloween candies.

Fox looked at the Russian angle in the story and basically concluded: "There's nothing to see here". Fox was quite flagrantly echoing the same line coming out of the White House - a blend of diversion, distraction and denial - blurring the line between truth and falsehood, the apparent end game being to help the president take back control of the narrative.

Not only did they [Fox News] spend a good amount of time downplaying the allegations that Mueller had made, but they also found time to discuss any number of other stories. From hamburger emojis to Halloween candy. This is what Fox News does. This was a more embarrassing case, but it is what the channel typically does and always has.

Mark Gertz, senior fellow, Media Matters for America

"Not only did they spend a good amount of time downplaying the allegations that Mueller had made, but they also found time to discuss any number of other stories," explains Mark Gertz, senior fellow, Media Matters for America. "From hamburger emojis to Halloween candy. This is what Fox News does. This was a more embarrassing case, but it is what the channel typically does and always has."

Other Rupert Murdoch-owned media outlets that haven't always been on the Trump bandwagon seem to be climbing on board.

Eight months ago, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial questioning the president's credibility, calling Trump "his own worst political enemy" and saying of his obsession with so-called fake news - that "if he doesn't show more respect for the truth most Americans may conclude he's a fake president."

Something has clearly changed. Just prior to the indictments being made public, the journal published pro-Trump editorials, including one questioning the credibility of chief investigator Robert Mueller, calling for his resignation.

"Donald Trump and his allies realised that firing Robert Mueller would result in real drastic consequences for Trump. So, the next best thing is to try to disqualify Robert Mueller," says Washington Post reporter Erik Wemple.

Much of what pro-Trump elements in the US media have produced on this story - their obsession with Hillary Clinton included - seems designed to sow uncertainty in the minds of Americans on a story that was already complicated.

And journalists from other outlets, in their zeal to get to the bottom of the story, may have unwittingly done the same thing, by conflating one story with another.

The charges against Trump's one-time campaign manager, Paul Manafort - for money laundering and fraud - all relate to overseas transactions that occurred before he was hired by Trump in 2016.

Another campaign aide charged, George Papadopoulos, tried to set up a meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin - but it never happened.

It is not clear whether either case has anything to do with the other Russia angle out there - the allegations, as yet unproven, that the Kremlin somehow colluded with the Trump campaign during last year's election.

"This goal of proving collusion as kind of an overarching theme of the media, in some ways, it plays into the right-wing media's own narrative," says Reed Richardson, Fair Media Watch contributor.

With each passing political story, American journalism seems to grow more polarised.

And media consumers, because it's never been easier to hunker down in the comfort of their own echo chambers, rarely venture out to a place - a news outlet - where their beliefs might actually be challenged.

"Conservatives have spent decades building a parallel news apparatus in order to ensure that conservatives have an entirely different set of facts than those that everybody else gets. And what that means is that you have a large group of people that are being fundamentally and deliberately confused about what is going on in the country. That's pretty dangerous and it could be moving us in a fairly scary direction," says Gertz.

Contributors:
Matt Gertz, senior fellow, Media Matters for America
Erik Wemple, media reporter, The Washington Post
Reed Richardson, contributor, Fair Media Watch
David Lawler, deputy newsdesk editor, Axios

Source: Al Jazeera