Like a Fox — How a TV Channel Is Tearing America Apart

Donald Trump, Tucker Carlson, Ilhan Omar, Fox News
Trump's daily mind meld. Photo credit: DonkeyHotey / WhoWhatWhy (CC BY-SA 2.0) See complete attribution below.
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A little over 20 years ago, Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes concocted a profitable way to tap into the white supremacist ideology still bubbling below America’s surface. 

They started a “news” network that, instead of providing actual news, gave white, conservative viewers the news they wanted to hear: that they, their families, and their values were under attack by minorities, gays, women, liberals, socialists, Muslims, atheists, the media, etc. and therefore their biases were justified.

It’s been a lucrative strategy. However, just making a buck wasn’t enough for them. They also wanted to shape the fortunes of the country they were dividing. Here, too, they had tremendous success.

And that is what is getting lost amid the outcry over Donald Trump’s latest round of racist tweets: The US president is often just parroting what he sees on Fox News.* His racism and distorted view of reality are a direct reflection of what this conservative network decides to put on the air.

While regimes throughout history have used propaganda outlets to get the word out and spread their ideology, in the US it is now very much a two-way street. Fox News is both a tool and a puppeteer, manipulating events directly and indirectly. In many cases, the network drives the conservative agenda with its programming. Then, when Trump and his allies pick up on it, Fox News gives them a platform to broadcast that agenda with no fear of criticism or being fact-checked.

Then, with the message already amplified, Trump tweets clips from the network primarily clips of its many conservative commentators or tweets promotions for its shows.

The president’s recent racist rants are a perfect illustration of how this works: Trump’s tweets directed at four Democratic Congresswomen in July followed an attack from Fox News host Tucker Carlson on one of them, US Rep. Ilhan Omar (MN).

Last week, the target of another racist Trump tirade was Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD). Again, the tweets seemed to have been triggered by a Fox News segment on the lawmaker’s district in Baltimore.

This symbiotic relationship between the president and his favorite TV channel is also reflected in the revolving door between Fox News and the Trump administration.

Former White House communications director Hope Hicks now works as a senior PR executive for the network’s parent company, Fox Corp. Just last month, she was joined by former White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah. In addition, former Trump campaign and administration officials, such as deputy campaign manager David Bossie and acting ICE director Thomas Homan, appear on the network as analysts or contributors.

At the same time, lots of Fox News contributors and staff have found a home in the Trump administration. John Bolton is national security adviser, Ben Carson is secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Morgan Ortagus is the State Department spokesperson. In addition Richard Grenell (Germany), Scott Brown (New Zealand), and Georgette Mosbacher (Poland) now serve as ambassadors. And those are just some of the Fox News alumni currently serving in the US government.

The well-worn path between Fox News and the White House also includes the network’s former co-president Bill Shine, who worked as White House deputy communications director and left to take a job with Trump’s reelection campaign. Right-wing nutjob Sebastian Gorka was a Fox News contributor, then a deputy assistant to the president before going back to Fox News, and then leaving again. Mercedes Schlapp, a former Fox News contributor, first served as White House director of strategic communications and now works for Trump’s reelection campaign.

And all this only scratches the surface, because, through their programming and sometimes in person, the network’s top personalities, such as Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, Carlson, or the Fox & Friends crew, are effectively Trump advisers. The only difference between them and official White House staffers is that they are not subject to any transparency and accountability rules and they are paid better. 

The president is not the only political figure getting cues from Fox News. Following the Mueller hearings last week, a clip made the rounds showing that the opening remarks of Rep. Devin Nunes (CA) the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee exactly mirrored the rhetoric of Hannity.

For two decades, Fox News operated under the laughably false motto of “fair & balanced” until ending that charade in 2017. That’s like McDonald’s advertising the Big Mac as “the world’s healthiest food.”

In fact, the network has been a subsidiary of and a driving force behind the GOP and the alt-right for some time. Its viewers are presented with an alternative reality, and it’s no surprise that they vote accordingly. They don’t live in a land of facts but rather in a country of conservative make-believe in which Trump is a messiah.

Not surprisingly, the network’s right-wing propaganda is having an impact. A 2017 study published in the peer-reviewed American Economic Review estimates that if Fox News had not existed in 2000, the overall Republican presidential vote would have been 0.46 percentage points lower. Just as a reminder, George W. Bush won Florida by 537 votes. It’s not a stretch to argue that the network put a Republican in the White House that year for the first time.

In 2004, this “Fox effect” had jumped to 3.59 percentage points and in 2008 it was 6.34 percentage points.

It’s only gotten worse since then. A study in 2012 by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind showed that people who did not follow the news at all were more informed than people who watched Fox News

Since then, the network’s misinformation campaign has reached new heights, culminating in the election of Trump.

And after his inauguration, Fox News basically became a part of the White House communications department. Its coverage now is every bit as partisan and deceptive as that of Pravda and TASS in the old Soviet Union.

While Fox News likes to cloak itself in a mantle of patriotism, it actually does Americans a great disservice. Its coverage is often blatantly racist, it hypes an anti-immigrant agenda, and it exploits other divisions in society.

For example, in 2018, when a group of asylum seekers made its way toward the border ahead of the midterm election, Fox News covered the “caravan” as though it were a harbinger of the end of days. When an immigrant commits a crime, Fox News covers it endlessly, but the threat of radical white supremacists is hardly discussed.

The ad nauseam coverage of the danger immigrants supposedly pose stands in stark contrast to the coverage of an actual threat to the US: the interference in its election by Russia. Since such interference was done on behalf of Trump, you won’t hear much about it on the network. Instead, its top host peddles conspiracy theories to deflect from what Russia did.

Here is the bottom line: People getting their information from Fox News and Trump’s Twitter account are increasingly detached from reality and facts. In turn, this is leading to their ideological radicalization, which is not only troublesome, but also potentially dangerous, for example if Trump loses the 2020 election and refuses to leave — claiming that his victory was stolen. 

*Fox News, simply put, is a right-wing propaganda tool,  not a serious media outlet that deserves to have the name “news” in its name. However, for reasons of clarity, we refer to it as a news organization and use the name Fox News, however misleading it may be, in this editorial. It should also be noted that a handful of people and a small share of the programming is dedicated to something that could even remotely be referred to as “objective.” And when that happens, Trump is quick to call them out over it.

Correction: Following publication of this editorial, Fox News contacted us to point out “several inaccuracies” in it. Specifically, Fox News noted that Hope Hicks and Raj Shah work for Fox Corp., the parent company of Fox News, and not the network directly. Fox News also said that Sebastian Gorka is no longer a contributor.
This editorial was updated accordingly.

The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: Tucker Carlson caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), flags (Ryan Godfrey / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), watch (Joe Haupt / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), chain (Housing Works Thrift Shops / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), Ilhan Omar (Lorie Shaul / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), and robe (Thorsten Krienke / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0).


Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from U.S. Department of State / Flickr.

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23 responses to “Like a Fox — How a TV Channel Is Tearing America Apart”

  1. Aaron Sheets says:

    Sorry, I watched the videos, read the articles of the other news people. I don’t get it, what are you trying to get me to see? What am I supposed to be seeing? or hearing. I don’t hear the racist talk, nor do I hear the racists rants. I hear conservatism, and liberalism “facts” of the news. We the American People rely on the news for information, We cannot be everywhere, when news happens, so We depend on the facts not on opinions. So, what do we do? I say to all news agencies, give us “JUST THE FACTS” and let us determine our opinions…

  2. Photocrazy says:

    If you could show most Fox News viewers what they would be now, 30 years ago they themselves would be disgusted. They have been brainwashed over time starting with Limbaugh on the radio, then on TV.

    Roger Ailes and Newt Gingrich instagated this by getting the Reagan Administration to get rid of the Fairness Doctrine since it was only a rule and not a law. It said that you had to give all sides equal time to express their views and that news must be true. This opened the door to the propaganda they wanted to spew.. Fox News is registered as an Entertainment Channel, they don’t qualify as news.

    Most people who started watching in 1996 when FN hit the air were sucked in slowly. When it first started it was a right leaning channel that slowly over time became the brainwashing propaganda machine it has become. I have watched friends and family go from being happy reasonable people to become angry hateful unreasonable people who as I said would not believe before 1996 that this is what they would become.

    Fox News and the GOP are the cause of this divide in the country and it was deliberate. It is all about divide and conquer because it is the only way they can win. The GOP is now the 3rd place party behind the Dems and Independents because so many have left the party because of what they have become, so they now have to cheat even more, even of it means taking help from Putin and our other enemies.

    • Jeff Clyburn says:

      agreed… good post.

    • AndTheSlithyToves says:

      Excellent comment, Photocrazy! I’d forgotten about the Fairness Doctrine. If you haven’t read it, the New York Times Sunday magazine section carried an in-depth piece titled “Planet Fox: Inside Rupert Murdoch’s Empire of Influence,” on April 7th this year.

  3. Dwight says:

    The network by weaving such a tight ideology is creating a type of ideological psychopathy in many people. Fear, paranoia, lying about and demonization of the “other” is resulting in loss of empathy, cruelty in rhetoric and policy, anger and among some, violence as we saw this weekend.

  4. AndTheSlithyToves says:

    Great points. Propaganda, indeed!

  5. John says:

    This article is misleading and based on a biased opinion. Since Fox News Channel and OAN we only had CNN, BBC and others telling us what they wanted us to know and how we should think. They are not promoting hate, they are giving us insight and more fact based reporting. The media is liberal and are tools of the left to promote an agenda. IMHO only! Convince me I’m wrong.

    • Jeff Clyburn says:

      when was the last time a conservative was “convinced” he was wrong, no matter how thoroughly he was beat over the head with facts that show just how wrong he is? … Lazily offering passages like “the media is liberal” completely eliminates you from serious consideration.

  6. Jimmy Williams says:

    It is commentary from Fox- has never said it was news.

  7. Scott Fulmer says:

    Republicans lie and shout. Democrats silence dissent. Come on. This article is way behind. Nothing about media deregulation handed down by the Clinton administration, or The Might Wurlitzer. You can’t take this machine down with partisanship. What we have is a niche-marketed totalitarian media regime. If only working people could talk to each other. Our leaders sure won’t allow it.

    • Meremark says:

      Surprise. trolls

      Here and ‘around in other sites,’ looks to be all-hands-crisis-intervention stations, full-speed cognitive infiltration deflecting ‘racist,’ ‘FOX puppet,’ ‘white supremacist,’ ‘bigotry,’ ‘gun registration,’ terms and similar media in all their assigned channel watches.

      Good going,whowhatwhy.

  8. Executor says:

    This article is absolutely correct. Anybody who denies the pernicious impact of Fox”News” is living in a bubble. It’s as obvious as the nose on Rupert Murdoch’s face: Fox has never been a news organization; it has forever been a purveyor of bias and lies. Read “The Loudest Voice in the Room” for a more complete picture of this propaganda outlet.

  9. Roy says:

    I echo MacKenzie’s question. This is a brilliant breakdown of FOX. But CNN seems to be its counterpart with all its just as deliberate bias and BS. Meanwhile, my point of view is rarely heard. How about an analysis of the yin and yang as they creates the ill-informed and divisive American world view?

  10. Lin says:

    You are so far out in left field with this article. I agree with Jim
    you are full of it…..

  11. MacKenzie says:

    In the author’s opinion, should CNN and MSNBC be considered “news” or “left-wing propaganda”?

    • Executor says:

      MSNBC has a clear progressive bias, but at least they don’t traffic in blatant lies, which has been the stock in trade of the Fox network since its inception.

    • MacKenzie says:

      Does the name Brian Williams ring a bell?

    • Jeff Clyburn says:

      So you had to harken back 4.5 years to find an MSNBC example, while the same kind of deceit goes on hourly at Fox. As always, degree matters. Tendency matters. And your side’s strategy of false equivalency isn’t fooling anyone.

    • MacKenzie says:

      First, in response to your comment that “your side’s strategy of false equivalency isn’t fooling anyone”, my criticizing MSNBC for hiring Brian Williams is not a defense of FOX. I also don’t have a “side” other than truth. And I don’t trust any of the major news networks (regardless of whether they’re considered to be “conservative”, “liberal” or “progressive”).

      You’re saying I had to “harken back 4.5 years to find an MSNBC example”. However, it’s pretty bad that MSNBC not only hired a known liar (Brian Williams) but they have him in a very prominent role. To me, that’s a major red flag. Is there really nobody else more trustworthy that they could have hired?

      Also, if you want a more recent example (and assuming you trust Glenn Greenwald), on 3/3/2019 “The Intercept” published an article titled “MSNBC Yet Again Broadcasts Blatant Lies, This Time About Bernie Sanders’s Opening Speech, and Refuses to Correct Them”.

    • MacKenzie says:

      MSNBC hired a known liar and now have him (current day, not 4.5 years ago) in a very prominent role at the station. That should tell us all a lot about the credibility of MSNBC.

      But if you want a more recent example, how about Glenn Greenwald’s article from March 3, 2019 titled “MSNBC Yet Again Broadcasts Blatant Lies, This Time About Bernie Sanders’s Opening Speech, and Refuses to Correct Them”

      Separate from this, people can search for an article (since WWW doesn’t allow links) titled: “Glenn Greenwald: CNN and MSNBC Are Like ‘State TV’ With Ex-Intel Officials As Contributors” which was published March 26, 2019.

  12. Jim says:

    Love your stuff, but your full of crap here.

    • Executor says:

      Not really, and it’s easy to check. In fact, the links are right there in the article. The author provides two examples, of who knows how many? It’s not hard to draw the lines:

      “The president’s recent racist rants are a perfect illustration of how this works: Trump’s tweets directed at four Democratic Congresswomen in July followed an attack from Fox News host Tucker Carlson on one of them, US Rep. Ilhan Omar (MN).

      “Last week, the target of another racist Trump tirade was Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD). Again, the tweets seemed to have been triggered by a Fox News segment on the lawmaker’s district in Baltimore.”

    • Russ says:

      I watch all ‘news’ shows and Fox is the one that acknowledges it’s an op-Ed show.
      CNN msnbc certainly don’t.