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Fox News host Brian Kilmeade on criticizing Trump: ‘If you respect him, but disagree, that’s fine’

"I have a job to do. And I think he understands that," Kilmeade told The Inquirer.

"Fox & Friends" co-host Brian Kilmeade, like many hosts on Fox News, is an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump. But Kilmeade stands out for his willingness to publicly disagree with the president from time to time.
"Fox & Friends" co-host Brian Kilmeade, like many hosts on Fox News, is an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump. But Kilmeade stands out for his willingness to publicly disagree with the president from time to time.Read moreAP Photo / Richard Drew

Fox News host Brian Kilmeade is an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump. But the longtime Fox & Friends co-host has also become a surprising sometimes-critic of the president, breaking away from the cheerleader-like coverage Trump receives from his colleagues like Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro

Recently, Kilmeade called out Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, leaving the United States’ Kurdish allies to fend for themselves against an invasion from Turkey that has been described as “ethnic cleansing." Kilmeade blasted the move as “disastrous.”

“The reason why our casualties were so low is because the Kurds did all the fighting,” Kilmeade said on Fox & Friends last month. “Now we’re saying, ‘OK Turks, go wipe them out or force them out.’ What kind of message is that to the next ally who wants to side with us?”

Criticizing the president normally draws a strong rebuke, but so far Kilmeade has avoided any direct condemnation from Trump, in part because the president covets the show’s support and its largely conservative audience. During an appearance on Kilmeade’s Fox News radio show in August, Trump praised the host as “solid,” but complained he was “not happy with Fox” after the network’s polls showed him trailing potential Democratic rivals.

“I have a job to do. And I think he understands that,” Kilmeade told the Inquirer. “Just my opinion now, … if you respect him, but disagree, that’s fine."

Kilmeade is certainly busy. In addition to the six-straight hours he spends hosting Fox & Friends and his syndicated radio show, he also hosts a three-hour Fox News radio show and a program on the network’s Fox Nation streaming platform called What Made America Great (which filmed one episode at the Museum of the American Revolution here in Philadelphia). Kilmeade will also be part of the network’s first annual Patriot Awards on Wednesday, a celebration the Tampa Bay Times described as “the Golden Globes of conservative media."

In an interview, Kilmeade discussed what it’s like having the president watch his show everyday and today’s political climate. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What’s it like having the president of the United States watch your show every single day, and what kind of pressure does that put on you as a host?

I don’t feel the pressure at all for a couple of reasons. Number one — the president was calling in when he was hosting The Apprentice for maybe eight to 10 years. The first time I knew him was when I was covering Tyson fights for Sports Phone when I first got out of college.

One thing about our relationship — and I don’t pretend to be as close as other people to him — is I think it’s respectful. He knows I disagreed with him when he went after Megyn Kelly. … He knows I went back at him when he said George W. Bush knew there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I said that’s absolutely not true. And when he first said ‘I’m going to pull troops out of Syria a year ago’ and [former Secretary of Defense James] Mattis quit, I thought that was one of the worst foreign policy moves since President Obama didn’t back the red line [in Syria].

Has Fox & Friends changed since Trump was elected president?

I don’t think the show has changed. I think that what he does is he creates [news]. For example, we had five legitimate headline stories today. … I think with a three hour show you’ve got to ride the news. So you can’t script it ...

So the show hasn’t changed. I think we just got bigger — more reporters, more journalists … I just think there’s more substance to it just because there’s more news in it.

Fox News has been widely criticized for being in the tank for Trump, a flip from when Fox News opinion hosts claimed it was MSNBC and CNN that were in the tank for President Obama.

The one thing consistent is this channel keeps winning [in the ratings]. And we’re not just winning in news, we’re winning overall. We beat everything from TNT to ESPN. So why are people taking shots at us? They should be learning from us. We put together programming that is desirable to the general American news viewer. ... And we did it in the middle of controversy that saw us losing the biggest names in the history of television news, and we still stayed number one.

Does it concern you when Trump talks about Fox News in terms of expecting the network to support him?

I think it’s a fair question, but I’ll tell you the reality of it. The second floor, which is where the management is, let’s us do our own thing. I mean, we check in, there are different events, but they just keep saying, ‘Do your thing. We like the show.’ ... No one ever says, ‘Wow, Brian was supportive or not supportive of the president so therefore we’ll use him.’

Recently you were seated next to Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, at the Al Smith Dinner. Was it cool to sit next to him from the standpoint of everything being so partisan and vitriolic right now?

Absolutely. … Mostly our conversation was off the record, but it was just fascinating just going into the inside story about what’s happening in Washington. Basically, he’s never seen anything like this, either. What we’re witnessing on the news side he’s witnessing on the politics side.