It’s been a rough couple of weeks for the handful of indefatigable optimists who took a Susan Collins–like posture on the prospects that Fox News might have learned some newsgathering lessons from its $787.5 million settlement with Dominion News over the election lies it aired in the wake of the 2020 presidential balloting. Yes, Fox cut ties with white nationalist hate merchant Tucker Carlson, purportedly over a private text communication in which he remained a bit too true to the bit even for the jaded and Caligulan Fox executive class. But there’s been no broader institutional reckoning with the network’s flagrant mendacity—indeed, without missing a beat, the network that has aired endless variations on the War on Christmas and a steady stream of James O’Keefe–grade election-season agitprop has resumed fabulizing about virtually every facet of public life in the United States.
First, in early May, there was dayside Fox host Jesse Watters’s claim to have espied an “illegal immigration family” digging through a streetside pile of recycling on his way into work. When his cohosts professed skepticism over how a harried anchorbot could divine someone’s immigration status by sight, Watters pronounced himself a “city guy” who could “just tell.”
This was also apparently the same reporting standard behind an even more truth-averse Fox-branded dispatch that claimed to document how Democrats cleared out unhoused veterans from homeless facilities in the New York metro area to make way for, you guessed it, undocumented migrants bused into the city. The scandal first came to light when it was blared across the pages of the Murdoch-owned New York Post. In no time, it was in heavy rotation at Fox, with no less than 15 different shows recycling the saga, and Fox reporters claiming to have independently substantiated the whole thing.
Except there was no such story. As the upstate New York Mid-Hudson News reported, some unhoused tenants at area hotels said that Sharon Toney-Finch, head of a nonprofit group called the Yerik Israel Toney Foundation, had offered them cash, food, and alcohol to attend a promised meeting with elected official—only then to be told that they should act as though they were recently displaced unhoused vets, destined to serve as the Fox-Post culture-war victims du jour. Laura Ingraham issued a shamefaced disavowal of the non-story at the end of her show, claiming she had “no clue” why the sketchy nonprofit that had served up the tale would have resorted to inventing it out of whole cloth.
Of course, Ingraham knows exactly why someone would do such a thing. For starters, just this kind of immoral and ideologically driven entrapment of vulnerable populations was the MO behind the stunt transport of indigent migrants to liberal municipalities engineered by Ron DeSantis, Jim Abbott, and other right-wing political leaders. And Ingraham herself had, after all, been among the prime-time Fox ghouls who’d lavished airtime on the false claims of 2020 election deniers such as Sidney Powell while privately denouncing her as “a complete nut” and saying the case Powell, Rudy Giuliani, and others were making for widespread election interference was something “no serious lawyer could believe.”
The only thing aberrant about the vet-displacement frenzy was that Fox was gradually hounded into admitting that it had been hoodwinked—something it has yet to do in the Dominion case or in regard to scores of other political urban legends it has platformed for the sake of market share. And sure enough, scarcely had the faux-bewildered on-air apology rushed out of Ingraham’s mouth than Fox was called out in yet another fabrication—only this time, it was apparently the network’s own Fox and Friends correspondent Gianno Caldwell, who was doing the news-cooking. As Jim Daley reports at The Triibe, Caldwell had enlisted two men affiliated with Chicago mayor hopeful Paul Vallas (one as a field operative for Vallas’s campaign, and another as an employee at a nonprofit whose director had endorsed Vallas) to appear in a segment. The two men—Lavondale Glass and Andre Smith—had been told they’d be interviewed on urban violence in advance of the taping (which in another defiance of journalistic verisimilitude, took place not in Chicago but in the suburban town of Napierville, some 30 miles north). Instead, they were quizzed on the impending inauguration of Brandon Johnson, who’d defeated Vallas in April’s election, and their replies were edited to appear as though they were voicing regular-guy apprehension over Johnson’s term in office. (Even though they were in Napierville, Caldwell and his producers still filmed the segment in a diner, that universally understood venue of prole authenticity among media producers.)
Glass explained to Daley that the segment represented pretty much the opposite of his actual sentiments. “Don’t take me up to be like I’m against Brandon Johnson,” he said. “He’s a Black man; I hope he does well. Make sure you put that in. We’re gonna wait and give him a chance.”
Reviewing Fox’s post-Dominion tour of falsehood, it’s clear that the network’s charge is a universe or so removed from reporting the news without fear or favor. Rather, it is hewing maniacally to a template of culture-war folklore devised to titillate and frighten a viewing audience long inured to hearing that their own Real America is imperiled by other-than-white bad actors lurking at every stretch of public life. These could be randomly designated “illegal immigration families,” roving migrant vet-displacers, or Brandon Johnson, who dared to exercise enough civic agency to acquire real power in a major American city. Clearly, there’s no lie too credulity-defying to be aired about such people; Fox is blithely devoting what’s left of its reporting talent—the network’s investigative unit was, hilariously, terminated in the wake of the Dominion suit—to fabricating accounts of dissatisfaction with liberal political rule even before the liberal executive in question has taken office. Call it the War on Christmas in May.