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Even Conservative Media, Trump's Usual Defenders, Struggle To Explain Helsinki

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump is facing huge blowback after his summit with Russia's President Vladimir Putin and yesterday's controversial press conference. In moments like this, President Trump can usually rely on Fox News and other conservative media outlets to have his back. But as North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann reports, even Trump's defenders are seeming to struggle to explain his behavior in Helsinki.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: There's been a ton of reporting lately on the intimate ties between Trump's White House and Fox News. Trump's new communications chief, Bill Shine, is a former top Fox News executive. And numerous sources say Trump confers regularly with conservative Fox megastar Sean Hannity. But Trump's encounter with Putin was so unexpected that it left even many Fox News hosts sounding like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FIVE")

LISA KENNEDY: I guess I don't understand why he's so deferential to a horrible person.

MANN: That's Lisa Kennedy on the program "The Five." On the same show, Geraldo Rivera, a longtime friend and supporter of the president, said Trump had stumbled badly in Helsinki - committing an unforced error.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FIVE")

GERALDO RIVERA: I know the president well enough to know that he's going to be smarting on that flight home. He's going to be really angry. He's going to damn it. He's going to - what was a success in his own mind, when he left that podium, is going to turn to ashes now - everybody making fun of him.

MANN: But even on his worst days, Trump can rely confidently on two of the most popular conservative commentators on Fox - Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, both of whom were granted sit-down interviews with Trump yesterday. On his radio show, Hannity scorched Republicans who were critical of the president's Helsinki press conference. He called them disloyal and said they were false conservatives. On a Fox News appearance meanwhile, Carlson argued that Trump's warm behavior toward Putin made perfect sense.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TUCKER CARLSON: He thinks that Russia is not the primary threat to the United States - China is - and that it's absurd to pass up a chance to become closer to a government that might help the United States.

MANN: But Carlson acknowledged that Trump's words and actions in Helsinki reflect a dramatic new breach with many of the Republican Party's leaders who view Russia as a dangerous adversary.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARLSON: I mean, they're what we used to call neocons. I mean, they have a very specific view of the world. And he used to kind of pay some lip service to that, and he doesn't anymore at all.

MANN: But many media conservatives who have supported Trump in the past were clearly troubled by his deferential tone. On Fox Business, popular host Neil Cavuto blasted Trump for not confronting Putin directly on Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CAVUTO: COAST TO COAST")

NEIL CAVUTO: And that's what made it disgusting. That's what made his performance disgusting. I'm sorry. It's the only way I feel. It's not right or left thing to me. It's wrong. A U.S. President on foreign soil talking to our biggest enemy is essentially letting the guy get away with this.

MANN: Things got so bad for Trump yesterday that even on his favorite program "Fox And Friends" there was some sharply worded criticism, with host Brian Kilmeade describing one of the president's tweets about Russia as ridiculous and insulting. Brian Mann, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOW TO COUNT ONE TO TEN'S "SHOWERS WITH SUNNY INTERVALS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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