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Impeachment Today Podcast: Florida Man Hasn't Changed His Mind After Hearings

In today's episode: we visit one of America's Trumpiest places to understand how impeachment is playing out inside the Fox News cinematic universe.

Posted on December 5, 2019, at 10:24 p.m. ET

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) asks a question during Wednesday's impeachment hearing.

It's Thursday, December 5th, 2019, 72 days since House Democrats began impeachment proceedings. Every morning, the Impeachment Today podcast helps you separate what’s real and groundbreaking from what’s just, well, bullshit.

You can listen to today's episode below, or check it out on on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

It's Thursday, December 5th, 2019. 72 days since the house announced an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump and this is Impeachment Today. Good morning. I'm HB, reporter and editor at Buzzfeed News. Did you finish reading the impeachment inquiry report? I hope so because there is a quiz at the end of the episode and you will be graded. Nah, I'm just fucking with you. You are not getting graded by a podcast. That would be Black Mirror as hell. Okay. Today we're talking to Molly Hensley-Clancy about Fox News and the effect it's having on its viewers' opinions about the impeachment saga and the president, but before we get to all that let's catch up on what happened yesterday.

Okay. I predicted that Wednesday's hearing with legal scholars talking impeachment in the House Judiciary Committee would be boring as fuck and wow, have I never been more happy to be wrong. What a lot of us didn't realize is that this would be the first hearing where we didn't just hear what happened from witnesses. Instead, we heard what it means that Trump asked Ukraine to announce the pair of investigations that would help him politically before he'd welcome Ukraine's president to the White House and release military aid. The three witnesses the Democrats called were unanimous that this issue was definitely impeachable. Like listen to this fire from North Carolina law professor Michael Gerhardt.

Michael Gerhardt:

If what we're talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable. This is precisely the misconduct that the framers created a Constitution including impeachment to protect against and if there's no action, if Congress concludes they're going to give a pass to the president here. As professor Karlan suggested earlier, every other president will say, okay then I can do the same thing and the boundaries will just evaporate and those boundaries are set up by the Constitution and we may be witnessing unfortunately, their erosion and that is a danger to all of us.

Hayes Brown:

Ranking member Doug Collins in his opening statement tried to say there was no way that the four law professors on the panel could possibly have digested both two weeks of hearings and the intelligence committee report released on Tuesday, but Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan was having none of that and she gave as good as she got.

Pamela Karlan:

That everything I know about our Constitution and its values and my review of the evidentiary record and here Mr. Collins, I would like to say to you sir, that I read transcripts of every one of the witnesses who appeared in the live hearing because I would not speak about these things without reviewing the facts. So I'm insulted by the suggestion that as a law professor, I don't care about those facts, but everything I read on those occasions tells me that when President Trump invited, indeed demanded foreign involvement in our upcoming election, he struck at the very heart of what makes this a Republic to which we pledge allegiance. That demand as Professor Feldman just explained constituted an abusive power.

HB:

On the other hand, the Republicans main witness, George Washington law professor Jonathan Turley tried to hit the brakes on the impeachment process. He argued that the Democrats' case isn't solid enough for impeachment and that things were moving way too quickly. Because the Democrats hadn't waited for the court to find a subpoena, witnesses had to appear. Obstruction of justice couldn't be a charge against Trump he argued, which every other witness disagreed with. Oh and he also mentioned his golden doodle.

Jonathan Turley:

We are living in the very period described by Alexander Hamilton, a period of agitated passions. I get it. You're mad. The president's mad. My Republican friends are mad. My Democratic friends are mad. My wife is mad, my kids are mad. Even my dog seems mad and Luna is a golden doodle and they don't get mad. So we're all mad. Where's that taken us? Will a slipshod impeachment make us less mad?

HB:

Yeah. For a hearing that was basically a constitutional law lesson, it was wildly quotable. Turley also called historians' work a particular kind of necromancy and he and Karlan had a brief duel of 18th century dictionary definitions of bribery. In the end, the hearing was way better than expected, especially for Democrats. Some of whom worried that moving the process to the massive judiciary committee would be a bit of a shit show. That's a legal term for you. No, it is not. Instead, it was a relatively smooth day with almost no wild flare ups or attempts to gum up the works and people who watched may have actually learned something. Who knew? Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani is, believe it or not, back in Ukraine. He's there to interview former Ukrainian officials to put together a documentary against impeachment in cooperation with one American news, a very pro Trump conspiracy pro news outlet.

You would think after finding himself reportedly under investigation for his Ukraine work, that it would be the last place he wants to go. Rudy is not like us mere mortals. No, Giuliani goes wherever the winds take him, even if they take him to the same officials who fed him the bullshit that led to an impeachment inquiry of his client. Okay. That was the news. This was the noise. Much like Trump's July phone call with Ukraine's president, the hearing wasn't perfect. At one point, emphasize how the president is different from a king, Karlan made this comparison.

Pamela Karlan:

The Constitution says there can be no titles of nobility, so while the president can name his son Baron, he can't make him a Baron.

HB:

That did not go over well with Republicans. Representative Matt Gaetz went in hard on her during his five minutes of questioning.

Matt Gaetz:

We also suggest that when you invoke the president's son's name here, when you try to make a little joke out of referencing Baron Trump, that does not lend credibility to your argument. It makes you look mean. It makes you look like you're attacking someone's family. The minor child of the President of the United States.

HB:

Outside the committee room, the first lady tweeted, Pamela Carlin you should be ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering and using a child to do it. Vice president Mike Pence called Karlan's statement vile. Karlan apologized at the end of the hearing for bringing up Baron, but as she pointed out the president has said way worse things over the years without a hint of apology. Honestly, the whole thing was a huge instance of well, that happened.

HB:

Now while the Nixometer may not be in the Constitution, we turn to it anyway for today's reading.

On our scale a zero is a normal day in a normal White House and 10 is President Richard Nixon resigning and flying away in Marine One. This morning we're at a 7.4 still. That hearing was way more convincing that a lot of people expected, myself included, and between that and the intelligence committee report, the Democrats are clearly on a roll as they move further and further towards actually impeaching the president. Will the Senate actually listen to what these scholars had to say when they take it up in trial remains to be seen. Okay. When we come back, we're talking to Molly about Fox News and the bubble it's created around its viewers when it comes to impeachment. Stick around.

Okay friends. It is time for this fucking thing. It's where we zoom in on a person, place, or thing that is shaping the impeachment saga. Today it's Fox News and how its coverage is shaping its viewers' understanding of what Trump did or didn't do. We have Buzzfeed politics reporter Molly Hensley-Clancy joining us from DC to break that down. Thank you so much for joining us Molly.

MHC:

Thanks for having me.

HB:

Okay, so Molly you wrote an article back in October where you visited a Florida district to get their views on impeachment. Which district was that and what did you find there?

MHC:

I went to Florida's first district, which you might recognize primarily because of its representative Matt Gates.

HB:

Ah, favorite.

MHC:

If you recognize him, that means you watch a lot of Fox News. He's like all Fox News all the time. It's also the most conservative district in Florida, one of the most conservative districts in the country. It's really heavily white. So there's not a lot of data about where people watch the most Fox News in the country, but we had a pretty good guess that this was really deep inside what we call the Fox News bubble.

HB:

So that district for just geography sake, that's in the panhandle, right? Very conservative part of Florida.

MHC:

Yeah it's way at the tip.

HB:

So in that story, when you actually were talking to these people, what did they have to say to you about impeachment given the fact that they were in this bubble?

MHC:

So a couple of things I thought were really interesting. I've been to a few Trump rallies. I went to some before the election, after the election. One of the things that really stood out to me is that what they were saying about impeachment was basically the same stuff that you've been hearing them say at Trump rallies for years now. The reason is because for them they just kept saying like, they don't see this situation as being any different than any of the other times the Democrats have attacked him. They kind of just see it as being the next in this litany of persecution that's been going on. And Now Democrats have the House, so of course they're trying to impeach him, but to them it's really like this is just the next thing that they're attacking him for. He's in a sense still.

HB:

So it's kind of like a boy who cried wolf situation for them even though they believe that the wolf in this case being the Ukraine saga just does not exist for them. Have you been in touch with any of these people since your story?

MHC:

I haven't. I think it'd be really interesting to check back in with them.

HB:

Based on your conversation with them before, do you think any of their views would have changed based on what we've learned in the last month or so? I feel like we've learned a lot of new details since then.

MHC:

Yeah, for sure. I would say I would be shocked if any of their opinions had changed because they basically told me that their opinions weren't going to change. Not only that, I mean they were very set. I would ask them kind of is there anything that could come out in this Senate trial, in the inquiry that would change your mind? Many of them basically said no. Also I think this is where Fox News comes in, right because the narrative as it's been playing out on Fox News is really different than how it plays out on CNN and MSNBC. So what they're hearing every day, what they heard from a lot of the biggest testimony days is really different than what Democrats or even Independents are hearing.

HB:

Right. Which is really interesting because I mean fuck news, I think it's pretty fair to say it's basically two channels in one right now with the news in the late morning and afternoon and a lot of opinion in the evenings. So are these people just not watching the daytime coverage where they've actually been critical of the president?

MHC:

I would guess not. Although I kind of think it all bleeds together and I think you see this a lot where a lot of people have a hard time distinguishing between opinion and news coverage. You see people getting mad at the New York Times for some op-ed where clearly it's an opinion piece, but it's seen as a news story or the New York Times. I think that all just bleeds together and what you might hear as the facts being presented at night and you can't tell the difference between what's being said during the daytime.

HB:

Speaking of those people at night, they have a real powerhouse block of Trump defenders in the primetime slots right now. They've got Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingram. I mean are these people just basically the ones who are running point on the country at this point given the huge viewership that they have?

MHC:

Certainly for a really big slice of the country those people matter a lot. I actually talked to a number of people who didn't watch Fox News on TV. They may be younger, but would watch YouTube channels. One guy said he mostly watched Tucker's YouTube channel. So yeah I mean you would hear sort of a talking point on Fox News and then the next day you kind of would hear people say it. I've been to Trump rallies where you start hearing people saying something that Fox News was talking about the night before. So they have a lot of power.

HB:

They have a lot of power. Okay. So Fox and especially these primetime anchors have been kind of a clearing house for presenting you with the conspiracy theories that Trump wanted to investigate in Ukraine. Has there been any sign that you can see of that changing over the last few months where there's been an increase or decrease in the number of people pushing these theories?

MHC:

So I mostly pay attention to Democrats more. That's who I sort of cover on a day to day basis. What I feel like maybe the past couple of weeks we've seen more Republican senators talking about this and I think it kind of varies. There was a time when they were kind of questioning whether people were double agents or whatever and it seemed like maybe Republicans were going to go there and then they kind of went there. So I sort of feel like there's been more and more of this like Republican senators like Senator Kennedy the other day, like they're saying this stuff openly now.

HB:

So is there anything that you think could come out in the next few months or however long this takes that would break through this Fox News firewall where the narrative changes not just on the channel, but in people's minds who have been consuming this for years now?

MHC:

It would depend on those personalities really. I really think that, and you can kind of stop and try to imagine that happening where a point at which Tucker Carlson says like, "Oh man, this is like beyond the pail." It's kind of impossible to fathom that. So I really feel like unless that happens, you're not going to see this stuff changing. I think the thing that I ended up learning from being in this district was their support of Trump is so deeply ingrained with all this other stuff about themselves and their political identity and all these social issues like abortion, like homosexuality. It's all just mixed in there and it's hard to sort of say how that got that way. It's probably has a lot to do with the way Fox presents this stuff. It's really hard to untangle that stuff. You know what I mean? I don't really see that happening.

HB:

Woof. Okay, well then Molly on that like very depressing note before we let you go, I am so curious about what you brought for the kicker.

MHC:

Okay. I brought a tweet from Ariel Edwards Levy who writes all about polls. So what she said is Democrats hoped for a groundswell of support for impeachment. Republicans hope the hearings would backfire against Democrats. No, we have a new poll taken after Sondland testified. 45% support impeachment and 42% oppose. It's identical to the polling from the previous week.

HB:

Wow.

MHC:

So to me, that's just like remember how much everyone was freaking out about Sondland on both sides. It was like bombshell, all this stuff, and then it did not move public opinion at all. Like people know what they think about this at this point and it's not moving.

HB:

I completely agree. I am completely depressed by all of this, but Molly it's been great talking to you and thank you so much for taking the time today.

MHC:

Thanks you too.

HB:

Okay, that's it for today. Tomorrow we'll have more of the madness for you. I would be a fool to try and predict just what that might look like at this time. Now I am not a constitutional scholar, but if you have any questions about the impeachment process so far or things that just have you going wait what, I am here to help. Open the voice memo app on your phone, record your question, and email it to impeachment@buzzfeed.com or just send me a direct message on Twitter. I am at HB and my DMs are always open. Be sure to subscribe to Impeachment Today on the the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows - and maybe please leave a rating and a review. Also, tell your friends about the show as we all figure this out together.

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