The house that Rupert built may not come tumbling down but it most assuredly is getting battered by strong winds coming from all directions. It may still be standing this time next year, but it will not be the same structure. Upheaval is in the air. It’s more or less expected that certain anchors will be gone, possibly Jeanine Pirro and/or Maria Bartiromo and Fox CEO Suzanne Scott is being tendered as Rupert Murdoch’s sacrificial lamb by many.
How did this happen? Conservative Mona Charen has a terrific piece in today’s Bulwark called “Please lie to me, Tucker.” It’s worth the read because it goes into how the right felt about the mainstream media before Fox News and how Fox was hailed as the answer. Only 7% of reporters were Republicans, is one statistic quoted. And so along came Fox News and it was hailed and loved by the right. Finally, the right would have its say. Hallelujah. And then it morphed into the monster that it is. This observation has more power coming from Charen than from any ten liberal journalists.
Like most conservatives, I initially welcomed Fox News to the airwaves. A media world that included Jennifer Griffin at the Pentagon, Neil Cavuto on Wall Street, and Charles Krauthammer every evening on Special Report was an overdue counterbalance. An enormous audience had been underserved, and Fox was able to exploit an opening.
But then things went sideways. While we can’t say the Fox News effect was entirely responsible—talk radio too played a role, as did social media—it started to become evident during the Obama years that the right’s impatience with press bias had curdled into something more ominous. Instead of seeking to fact check and balance coverage, Republican and conservative audiences demanded combat. Newt Gingrich turbocharged his anemic presidential campaign in 2011 by using the primary debates not as an opportunity to draw contrasts with his opponents but as a forum for attacking the press.
Not only a forum for attacking the press, but when Obama got into office, it became an organ almost exclusively focused on attacking him. Remember Sean Hannity’s “President Poupon” drivel, when Obama asked for Dijon mustard to put on his hamburger when he was at lunch one day with Joe Biden? That’s stretching for a news story. That’s performing contortions for a headline.
The revelations in the Dominion Voting Systems legal filings demonstrate the full corruption of Fox News. The channel that debuted with the tagline “fair and balanced” has become completely untethered to any standard of integrity. Its own bias bears no comparison to that of the “mainstream media.” CNN, ABC, and USA Today have their flaws, but at least remain within the bounds of reality. Fox is not a news channel—it is the right’s Pravda. Among the frank acknowledgments of what the channel had become were rebukes to reporters who attempted to tell the simple truth. When reporter Kristin Fisher noted on the air that Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell’s howler of a press conference on November 19 contained allegations that did not align with what Trump’s lawyers were pleading in court and were not supported by evidence, she was rebuked by higher-ups at the network and told to do a better job of “respecting the audience.”
Respecting the audience in Fox speak meant telling the audience exactly what it wanted to hear and nothing that would ruffle its delicate feathers. In private, Sean Hannity would confide that “Rudy is acting like an insane person,” but in public—to Fox’s vast audience—Rudy’s ravings were laundered and legitimized. In private, Tucker Carlson fumed that a reporter telling the truth—that the election had not been stolen—was “measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down.”
The executives and others who clung to their integrity, most notably Chris Stirewalt and Bill Sammon, were cashiered. Those who could “protect the brand” by lying were rewarded. Dominion’s thorough airing of internal communications reveals executives who were total cynics, ready to serve the rubes whatever was required to maintain their market share. Fox News President Jay Wallace, after catching a bit of Lou Dobbs Tonight, noted tartly that “The North Koreans do a more nuanced show.”
And that’s coming from an insider, folks. Not one of us, but the president of Fox News. This next paragraph has it in a nutshell. I wish we could photocopy this and give it to every Fox News viewer and every MAGA. This is what they’re missing.
We know what to think of Fox News hosts and executives. But what about the audience? All of us indulge the urge, at least sometimes, to hear news that confirms our own views. What Fox’s audience must grapple with is that choosing news is not like other consumer choices. It’s not like choosing country music in preference to hip hop or preferring Android over iOS. Getting the truth from a news source is more analogous to getting the straight story from your doctor or financial adviser or home inspector. If your financial adviser told you what you wanted to hear rather than the truth, you’d have a legal case. He or she has a professional responsibility not to mislead you. If your doctor assured you that your skin lesion was benign because he thought this would be more welcome than the news that it was melanoma requiring immediate treatment, the doctor would be guilty of malpractice and you wouldn’t thank him. When Fox News and its competitors lie to viewers, they are endangering not their physical health but their civic health and the good of the nation.
Spot on. Fox News has poisoned the political groundwaters for many years. And the network has poisoned itself. The author of this piece, Mona Charen, is correct in welcoming the talent that Fox News originally put on the air. Nobody has ever said that their news division was totally flaky. Roger Ailes did find some legitimate people back in the beginning.
But the opinion section, the propaganda people, Hannity, Carlson, Ingraham, might as well be working for Russian TV or North Korean TV. Greed overtook Rupert Murdoch and sensationalism overtook sense. Murdoch openly admitted in deposition, “It’s not blue or red, it’s green.” To quote Dylan Byers at Puck, “Once Trump established himself as the frontrunner and then as the nominee, Murdoch followed the green—all the way until he found himself deposed, on the eve of his 92nd birthday, trying to wipe off the horse shit.”
That’s where it has come to. The reign of Fox News, as we knew it, is over. I’m not saying the network will go out of business. I don’t believe it will. But I believe some major changes are afoot and we will be looking at something different over there in the near future.