Back when most people, myself included, thought a Trump victory impossible, I used to worry that under a Hillary Clinton presidency, her former antagonist and debate-stage stalker would found a new far-right television network that would immediately shift the center of political gravity to the point where CNN would try even harder to mimic Fox News, even as Fox sought to position itself as the “responsible” center.
But now Trump is president, and Fox is even worse than before. (So, for that matter, is CNN.) Sure, Rupert Murdoch has always used his “news” network as a two-way pipeline for deliberate disinformation designed to promote his business interests and ideological obsessions. For years, it has encouraged racism and sexism on the air, especially directed against the Obamas. In the process, it has corrupted many other media institutions by demonstrating that right-wing ideology combined with tabloid journalism’s taste for invented scandal is a guaranteed formula for both massive profits and political influence.
I have known all this for years; we all have. But even I underestimated Fox’s awfulness. For instance, it never occurred to me just how far Murdoch and company were willing to go to cover up the sexual harassment of women by the channel’s most powerful executives (Roger Ailes, among others), along with its most famous anchor, Bill O’Reilly (also possibly among others). The company has secretly paid tens of millions of dollars in hush money to keep its victims quiet and quiescent and to keep the rest of us from knowing the full story. Nor was I aware that it was a workplace where racist insults and discrimination were both tolerated and encouraged, according to lawsuits filed by 13 plaintiffs, all of them people of color who are either current or former Fox News employees, including an anchor and individuals who have worked with O’Reilly.
We also now know that Fox was much more deeply involved in helping to plan Trump’s presidential campaign than was previously reported. After some initial misgivings, both Murdoch and Ailes—before he was cut loose with a $40 million sweetener—were more than happy to turn Fox into a round-the-clock televised political rally for Trump. According to a detailed report in Politico, Ailes and Trump “spoke on the phone frequently during the campaign, sometimes several times a week.” Whenever Trump went too far off the rails, according to an unnamed Fox host, Ailes would “tell him, ‘Hey, Donald, settle the fuck down.’” Trump repeatedly expressed his admiration on Twitter: “Roger Ailes just called. He is a great guy & assures me that ‘Trump’ will be treated fairly on @FoxNews. His word is always good!”