President Donald Trump delayed a planned phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping to conduct an interview with Fox News opinion host Sean Hannity instead on Thursday night.
Trump had planned to discuss the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic with Xi at 9 p.m. but rescheduled to make time for the appearance on Hannity, one of the president’s favorite cable news shows. Trump revealed the change in plans when host Hannity began the segment by asking how the call went.
“Mr. President, thank you,” said Hannity. “Apparently, I heard you in the press conference, you had a 9:00 P.M. Call with President Xi of China, let me start there. How did that go?”
“Well, because of you, I made it at 10:30,” Trump replied. “So, that just shows you the power =… that just shows when you have the number one rated show in television, I better change things around. No, I am talking to him at 10:30 right after this call I’ll be talking to him.”
Although Trump repeatedly praised Xi and China’s response to COVID-19 in January and February, the president has apparently changed his position. Since then, Trump has suggested that the country is responsible for the pandemic and referred to the virus as “the Chinese Virus” on numerous occasions.
Trump announced the call with Xi during a news conference earlier on Thursday, where he said the discussion was set to take place at the request of the Chinese president. We’ll have “a good conversation,” the president said.
“It’s his call… I’ll talk to him [about] whatever he wants… we’ll have, I think, a very fruitful call tonight at 9:00,” Trump added. “We’ll be talking about the virus.”
A U.S. president delaying a planned phone call with a Chinese president to call into a cable news show instead might seem unusual, but the close relationship between Trump and Hannity has been noted by many since the former reality TV star first took office.
New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik claimed that Hannity’s influence was ever-present for Trump, dubbing the host the president’s “most influential White House counselor” in his book Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America, with an unnamed adviser quoted as saying “he basically has a desk in the place.”
Poniewozik also claimed that a number of Fox News personalities have successfully influenced the president to make real-world decisions, including the release of classified information concerning the Mueller investigation.
“Trump ordered the release of classified intelligence on the Russia investigation at the behest of his favorite TV hosts: ‘the great Lou Dobbs, the great Sean Hannity, the wonderful great Jeanine Pirro,‘” Poniewozik wrote.
Newsweek reached out to the White House for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.