Trump as thug or hero? Depends on what network you watch

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President Donald Trump walks past police in Lafayette Park after visiting outside St. John's Church across from the White House Monday, June 1, 2020, in Washington. Part of the church was set on fire during protests on Sunday night. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

NEW YORK – It was a split screen for the ages on MSNBC Monday: on the left side, President Donald Trump talking about restoring law and order. On the right, a tear-gassed young woman vomiting in a Washington street.

For a nation rubbed raw following a traumatic weekend, cable television news did little to promote peace, love and understanding in its most-watched hours

Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC poke and prod the nation's divide on most nights, and each has been amply rewarded in the ratings. Trump's stern speech and walk to a nearby church after protesters were forcibly cleared out of the way Monday raised the temperature on those networks even higher.

“The president seems to think that dominating black people, dominating peaceful protesters, is law and order,” CNN's Anderson Cooper said. “It's not. He calls them thugs. Who's the thug here?”

At the same time on Fox News Channel, Tucker Carlson said that Trump provided “a powerful symbolic gesture, a declaration that this country, our national symbols, our oldest institutions, will not be desecrated and defeated by nihilistic destruction.”

For the most part, the television commentators talked past each other to vastly different audiences. CNN and MSNBC concentrated on peaceful protests in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of police; the Fox News focus was on violence and property destruction in the streets.

The same arguments have animated American politics for decades, but cable news uses megaphones to amplify them.

Trump has the full authority to use the federal government to go into states to restore order, Fox's Sean Hannity said.