On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that Trump had referred to El Salvador, Haiti, and several African nations as "sh*thole countries" during a meeting on immigration policy. Though the White House did not deny the reports, Trump later claimed on Twitter he never said those words. The condemnation was immediate, but there was, however, a familiar outlier — Fox News. Several hosts defended Trump's 'sh*thole countries' remark, chalking the phrase up to the president's signature blunt style or dismissing it as relatively unimportant. Some even argued Trump's description of those countries was actually valid.
According to reports, during bipartisan discussions of immigration reform Thursday, Trump asked, “Why are we having all these people from sh*thole countries come here?” He followed up by suggesting the United States should open up more slots for people from Norway, rather than admit immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, and African countries. This juxtaposition led many pundits, U.S. politicians, and world leaders to conclude Trump's remark was not just offensive, but also racist.
Several Fox News talking heads took a decidedly different stance. "If they aren’t sh*thole countries, why don’t their citizens stay there? Let’s be honest. Call it like it is." So wrote Tomi Lahren on Twitter, host of Fox News' Final Thoughts.
Lahren followed up that tweet with another deriding "leftist pearl clutchers" who criticized Trump over his comment, while "they’ve spent the last 2 years+ telling us the USA is a sh*thole country not worth standing for."
Tucker Carlson, host of Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight took a similar view. He tweeted that either "El Salvador isn't a 'sh*thole,' so they don't need" protected immigrant status, or "El Salvador is, in fact, a 'sh*thole.'"
On Fox News show The Five, host Jesse Watters brushed off Trump's comment. He argued that using language like "sh*thole countries" is how the president connects with the "forgotten men and women in America," who, according to Watters, may talk like that at a bar when they hear "a bunch of Haiti people or El Salvadorians, or people from Niger" are being brought in.
In Watters' estimation, Trump's language may not be "polite" or "delicate," but it's not going to "move the needle." Watters also went on to delineate "so many more offensive things" going on in the world, specifically citing ISIS, "crime in the inner city," and people getting kicked off welfare.
"We want Westerners who can speak English," said Ann Coulter, appearing on Laura Ingraham's Fox News show The Ingraham Angle. Coulter ran through a litany of promises she claimed were made by notable Democrats when they passed the 1965 Immigration Act, including that "we would not be overwhelmed by immigrants from Asia, from Africa, from the Caribbean, from any one country."
Ingraham interrupted the conversation about Trump's comments to highlight the arrest of six illegal immigrants in Colorado for dealing drugs. She failed to mention if any of them were from the countries Trump described as "sh*thole." Additionally, the arrestees would fundamentally differ from the immigrants Trump wants to swap out for Norwegians, in that they came to the U.S. illegally, as Ingraham herself is quick to point out.
She also brought up DACA, and how these criminal "kids" could hypothetically qualify for DACA protection. (The ages of the arrested males were not provided.) When a lawyer pointed out that criminal activity negates any DACA protection, Ingraham said that was only because they'd been caught. "How many didn't we catch?" she asked.
Another guest on Ingraham's show, Mark Krikorian, argued that innocent immigrant communities serve "as cover" for criminals like the ones Ingraham had just showcased.
The show featured little pushback on Ingraham's hardline stance against accepting immigrants from south of the U.S. border. In fact, most of the program centered exclusively on undocumented Hispanic immigrants. What she or her guests think about the legal immigration of Salvadorans, Haitians, or any number of African peoples didn't come up much.
Ingraham ended her segment with a year-old story of how a 17-year-old girl who belonged to the MS13 gang murdered another teenager. By the end of the segment, it was pretty clear that no one on the show had any intention of critiquing Trump's "sh*thole countries" comment. Instead, Ingraham spent most of her time highlighting the criminal activity of a tiny handful of immigrants.
One Fox News show that did push back on Trump's comment was Fox & Friends. Host Brian Kilmeade said Trump had "acted like someone who's not president of the United States." Kilmeade described his language as "ham-handed, it's bad, it's not good, and it steps on a message when he is legitimately on a role." Kilmeade said Trump should "clarify" his statements.
And as The Hill notes, shortly thereafter Trump did indeed tweet that his rhetoric during the DACA meeting was "tough, but this was not the language used."
The timing of Trump's tweet, quickly following Kilmeade's on-air request, appears to bolster reports of the president's devotion to viewing Fox News.