What does it take to get CNN’s Don Lemon and MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough to applaud something that happened on Fox News Channel? Ask Neil Cavuto.
Last Thursday, Cavuto took to the anchor chair for his “Your World with Neil Cavuto,” a show that has been on the Fox News lineup in some form since the 21st Century Fox-owned cable-news outlet launched in 1996. In 2018, he still has the power to surprise.
“Now, I’m not saying you’re a liar,” Cavuto said to President Donald Trump at the end of his program, which is typically used for a commentary segment called “Common Sense.” “You’re the president. You’re busy. I’m just having a devil of a time figuring out which news is fake. Let’s just say your own words on lots of stuff give me, shall I say, lots of pause.” He went on to list a number of things President Trump had said were true that proved to be false, or said were false and then were proved to be true. “You probably might not care. But you should. I guess you’ve been too busy draining the swamp to stop and smell the stink you’re creating,” said Cavuto. “That’s your doing. That’s your stink. Mr. President, that’s your swamp.”
On Fox News Channel, home to fervent Trump supporters like Sean Hannity, Cavuto’s commentary was akin to interrupting Bruce Springsteen’s show on Broadway with a cameo by Taylor Swift. Indeed, anchors at Fox’s rivals, including the aforementioned Lemon and Scarborough, took to Twitter to call attention to the segment.
“We reach quite a few fans of the president who just say awful things about me, and some even got personal. At first, I thought some were my family writing in,” says Cavuto in an interview. “They got very, very angry, and I understand that, but I’m not working with an agenda.”
Cavuto says he treats President Trump as if he were an executive at a major corporation, and uses facts and figures to hold him to account. His main criteria is “do the facts match what an executive, or in this case the president, is saying?”
Cavuto’s words aren’t to be dismissed. His “Your World” on Fox News Channel has been the most-viewed program in cable news in the time slot for 16 years and is also the most viewed by people between 25 and 54, the demographic most favored by advertisers in news programs.
This isn’t the first time Cavuto has called out Trump, though in a business in which every on-air segment becomes fodder for live tweets or clickbait-y online posts, it might be hard for some people to recall. In October of last year, speaking also during a segment on “Your World,” Cavuto advised Trump to tone down his social-media commentary. “I know some admire a president who speaks his mind, but some of your tweets alone are making the people you need run for cover,” Cavuto said. He added: “It’s not that some of your ideas aren’t sound — they are,” and then continued: “It’s that, increasingly, this erratic behavior is making me wonder whether you are.”
Cavuto likens himself to Columbo, the 1970s homicide detective played by Peter Falk who solved crime for years on NBC and ABC. “I’m always that kind of thick-skulled journalist, shaking my head and saying, ‘Wait a minute, you just said that,’ and ‘You just said this,’ and ‘You said this before.’”
Some viewers will no doubt seize on his now-viral news moment to examine for fissures between the anchors who helm Fox News’ daytime schedule, which is devoted more to breaking news, and its primetime lineup, which deals predominantly with partisan opinion. Shepard Smith and Sean Hannity have sparred occasionally in public over the facts and opinions expressed by the other, but Cavuto says there’s no feuding going on between him and anyone else. “We are all free to do what we do,” he says.
Cavuto is simply doing his job, says Brian Jones, president of the Fox Business Network, where Cavuto is on the air six days a week in addition to his Fox News Channel duties. “Neil holds everyone to the standard they should be held to, whether it’s a business leader, a thought leader, or the President of the United States,” says Jones. “If you watch his program, he does the exact same thing with all of his guests.”
The anchor, 59 years old, has increased his duties as of late. He does two hours on Fox Business every weekday, along with the hour-long “Your World” on Fox News. Since January, he has hosted a two-hour block, “Cavuto Live,” devoted to business and politics, each Saturday morning on Fox News. The show replaced taped programming after Fox News placed more emphasis on live broadcasts in an era when the news cycle spins even faster.
That’s 17 hours on-air each week – often more than other anchors with duties that span across the week, such as NBC News’ Chuck Todd and Willie Geist or CNN’s Jake Tapper.
Viewers may be surprised to know that the anchor does not do much if any reading off a teleprompter. He has long suffered from multiple sclerosis, which he says has had an effect on his optical nerves, and so he relies on notes or his accumulated knowledge. The situation is “tailor-made for breaking news, because things are happening, scripts are old almost the very second they are written,” he says, “It kind of frees me to do the things the show does best – breaking news and keep moving.”
He says he wouldn’t shy away from talking about another Trump matter – if the circumstances warrant. “I’m just not a ‘never-Trumper’ as much as I’m always curious,” he says. “I really am not red or blue. It’s just green. I follow the money. I follow whether there’s consistency. Some of that sounds clichéd, but it really is true.”