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Fox News is not news. I have been saying and writing this since Rupert Murdoch launched the network in 1996, but today, it is more important than ever to understand. Fox is, and always has been, a right-wing propaganda outlet disguised as a cable news network.
Sure, CNN, MSNBC, and the network news programs are often filled with all manner of nonsense and misinformation. Indeed, Donald Trump likely would not be in the White House if Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN, hadn’t aired Trump’s falsehood-filled speeches and hired know-nothing flacks to flatter the candidate in a mindless dedication to “bothsideism.” While other networks may be craven and insufficiently concerned with accuracy, Fox is different. It is specifically designed to disinform its viewers and distort our national discourse.
With the largest and most devoted audience in cable news, Fox’s commitment to deluding its audience has long been a barrier to intelligent discussion. Fox has devoted itself to climate denialism, racist attacks on immigrants, and the celebration of economic inequality, to name just three. During its first two decades, Murdoch could depend on the late right-wing ideologue and television impresario Roger Ailes to navigate Fox’s ideological direction. But since Ailes’s 2016 departure following a bevy of sexual harassment and exploitation scandals, its unofficial program director has been Donald J. Trump.
During the Trump presidency, Fox has joined the president and the Republicans—and sometimes led him and them—in scapegoating the most vulnerable members of our society. But few Fox viewers have seen children caged and separated, often forever, from their parents. Few are victims of violent ICE raids.
What is different about the current crisis is that Trump’s unique combination of dishonesty, conspiracism, and rank incompetence are right in front of all of us. Everyone has friends and family members who are losing their jobs or getting sick. This is not the kind of “he said/she said” situation where viewers have no vantage point from which to judge who is lying and who isn’t. This time, Fox’s misinformation is in our face. Eric Boehlert’s excellent newsletter, “Press Run,” points to just a few of recent examples of when Fox has “downplayed and minimized the novel coronavirus and assured viewers it was likely a partisan Democratic, ‘Deep State’ plot to take down Trump just like impeachment” as it was simultaneously “spreading blatant public health disinformation.”
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This is particularly alarming, he notes, because Fox viewers skew old. The median age is 67 , and the audience is heavily concentrated in rural areas and red states where health and medical facilities are more likely to be few and far between. Survey after survey has consistently demonstrated that Fox viewers are among the worst-informed of all sentient citizens. One team of political scientists addressed this question in December 2016 with a detailed multivariate analysis of the level of accurate information individuals possessed about current events. After surveying more than 3,000 people, the researchers concluded that “relying on Fox News as a major news source significantly decreased a person’s score more than relying on any other news source.” In the past, that made them sound stupid and self-satisfied. This time it might kill them. As CNN reported, “Polls from both Gallup and Pew Research revealed that Republicans—who are largely distrustful of mainstream news organizations and primarily turn to Fox News and other right-wing sources for information on current events—were much less likely to take the risks of the coronavirus as seriously as their Democratic counterparts.”
Just in case there is any overlap between Fox viewers and Nation readers, I feel it is incumbent to let them know, that no, despite the claims of the likes of Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and the (now benched) Trish Regan, the non-Fox news media is not seeking to inspire “mass hysteria” by acting as “panic pushers,” via an imaginary “media-Democratic alliance.” Hannity is wrong, ladies and gentlemen, when he insists that “all the talk about coronavirus being so much more deadly [than the flu] doesn’t reflect reality,” and when he predicts, “hopefully four to six weeks, max,” the country “can get back to life as normal.”
It wouldn’t be Fox if America’s problems were not being blamed on some conspiracy theory featuring a foreign, nonwhite villain. Cue Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr showing up on Fox & Friends to explain that North Korean and Chinese scientists created the virus; a notion that none of the show’s goofball hosts felt compelled to challenge. Meanwhile, Fox viewers looking to put the crisis in context found a friend in Sean Hannity, who told his viewers, “Twenty-six people were shot in Chicago alone over the weekend. I doubt you heard about it. You notice there’s no widespread hysteria about violence in Chicago. And this has gone on for years and years. By the way, Democratic-run cities, we see a lot of that.”
Consistent with Fox’s weird codependent relationship with the Trump administration (countless individuals have shuttled back and forth between the two), it was Fox News host Tucker Carlson who somehow convinced the president to do his job—at least a little, at least for a moment. As The Washington Post reported: “Carlson attended the birthday party of former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is dating Donald Trump Jr. It was at the party, at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, that Carlson spoke personally to the president, as first reported by The New York Times, and encouraged him to take the coronavirus outbreak seriously.”
Fox Corp recently announced that it would now offer unlimited access to a free stream of Fox News to any and all platforms. In this way, it hopes to further spread its particular information virus, which continues to infect our body politic with its deadly stream of malevolent misinformation and pro-Trump propaganda. Scientists are still said to be searching for a cure.