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Trump Seeks Out Conservative Media During Campaign's Final Stretch

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In the final stretch of a tough reelection campaign, President Trump has sought the familiar embrace of conservative media outlets. As NPR's David Folkenflik reports, they have been returning the favor - devoting airtime to Trump and hammering the Bidens.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Conservative news outlets have been leading the charge.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

GREG GUTFELD: Why don't the Republicans start a preemptive impeachment on Joe Biden in case he wins? They could actually start...

CHANEL RION: The Biden-Harris campaign is facing down the barrel to an October surprise of nightmare proportions.

KRISTINE FRAZAO: And some GOP lawmakers say time is running out to get to the bottom of what they call corruption at the highest levels of government.

FOLKENFLIK: That's Greg Gutfeld of Fox News, Chanel Rion of the One America Network and Kristine Frazao of Sinclair Broadcast Group, respectively.

In the dwindling days of Trump's reelection campaign, many conservative outlets and stars are recycling unverified claims against the Democratic nominee circulated by the president's friends. Then they bask in Trump's glow.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: What?

MARIA BARTIROMO: It's amazing to me that you're - and tell me how you felt, what you went through...

FOLKENFLIK: Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business interviewed Trump twice in October.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARTIROMO: It's amazing to me that you're back in such strong form right now. How did that happen?

FOLKENFLIK: Since September 1, Trump has given about 30 interviews to the media, according to a tally by CBS White House correspondent Mark Knoller. Most have been with sympathetic figures - a majority on Fox News and other outlets also controlled by Rupert Murdoch, an ally of the president. Sinclair host Eric Bolling tells me there's a transactional nature to the relationship.

ERIC BOLLING: I believe some of the stuff he does on Fox is almost like a thank-you or negotiable item because when he's on Fox or here, our ratings explode, right? So we want him to come on.

FOLKENFLIK: Bolling is a former Fox News star, as well as a friend and adviser of Trump. He's interviewed Trump eight times as president.

BOLLING: But in turn, he wants to be on those networks when he does his rallies, OK? So, you know, for a while, Fox wasn't taking his rallies. Now all of a sudden in the last week or so, they're taking these rallies through the end. That's worth a lot. That's invaluable to a candidate.

FOLKENFLIK: When Trump is taken unfiltered, live, his distortions and untruths are often unchecked. Trump tweeted twice against Fox News when it broadcast remarks by former President Obama live, mocking Trump. That night, Fox News's chief political anchor Bret Baier reminded listeners and the president the network had just carried Trump's rally for much of the hour, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRET BAIER: You've been watching President Trump in Salem, Wis., speaking for almost 42 minutes so far in front of another big crowd.

FOLKENFLIK: Last month, when Trump contracted COVID-19, he couldn't stage rallies. Columbia University historian Nicole Hemmer studies conservative media. She notes Rush Limbaugh, a friend and ally of the president, mused aloud how he could help Trump.

NICOLE HEMMER: And Limbaugh kind of came up with this idea on the radio that he would offer his microphone to the president so he could do a kind of virtual rally.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

RUSH LIMBAUGH: This, sir, is a mega MAGA rally. And we are all thrilled to be with you today. We are so glad you're doing better. And welcome to the EIB Network.

TRUMP: Well, I want to thank you, Rush. You're a fantastic man, a friend of mine. But before I really even knew you as a friend, you were like a supporter.

FOLKENFLIK: Limbaugh almost never has guests. That conversation lasted two hours. And then the top-rated radio host spent another show listening to an actual Trump rally.

HEMMER: It gives you a sense of how all-in both the president and Limbaugh are in the 2020 election.

FOLKENFLIK: Not just Limbaugh and Trump, but the president and the conservative media. Funny thing is, you can also see a game plan for what happens if he loses start to emerge - a lot of airtime for Trump, a lot of attacks on the Bidens.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERIK JEKABSON'S "ANTI-MASS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.