Comey Firing Provides Bright Dividing Line for Media Coverage

Comey Firing Provides Bright Dividing Line for Media Coverage

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Sean Hannity of Fox News said he was deeply grateful for the president’s action — “Comey Fired!!! Finally,” he posted on Twitter — and he said on the air that he hoped Mr. Comey’s replacement would reopen an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Fox News initially reported that Mr. Comey had resigned before correcting itself minutes later to make clear he was dismissed.

The Fox News worldview was echoed on Wednesday in the White House briefing room, where Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy press secretary, defended Mr. Trump’s decision and denounced Mr. Comey as having “shown a lot of missteps and mistakes.”

Ms. Sanders was substituting for her boss, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, who had said late Tuesday that he would be on previously scheduled Navy Reserve duty for the rest of the week. Ms. Sanders, in only her second time at the lectern, was smooth and assured under pressure, mixing her answers with a few deft jokes about her daughter’s birthday.

Rachel Maddow invoked the firing of Archibald Cox, President Richard Nixon’s special prosecutor during Watergate, during her show on MSNBC.

Credit
An Rong Xu for The New York Times

Still, she drew some criticism for saying that Mr. Comey had committed “atrocities” while leading the F.B.I., and White House reporters were clearly skeptical about her explanation that Mr. Trump had merely asked Justice Department officials to codify their concerns about Mr. Comey in writing, rather than explicitly ordering the director’s dismissal.

Into this ideological breach came a bracing report on Wednesday from the Pew Research Center, which said that Democrats’ and Republicans’ attitudes toward the news media’s role in society are more divided than at any point in the last 30 years.

About 89 percent of Democrats say the news media plays a watchdog role in holding political leaders to account. About 42 percent of Republicans said the same. That gap — 47 percentage points — is the widest ever recorded in the Pew survey, which stretches back more than three decades.

The gap is also a sharp contrast from only a year ago. In the first months of 2016, 74 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans agreed on the watchdog role of the news media, Pew said.

The presidential campaign and early days of the Trump administration seem to have further fueled this divide. (The Pew survey, conducted March 13 to 27 among 4,151 adults online, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.)

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