Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.
Fox News has again found itself in a firestorm over the abhorrent conduct of its prime-time hosts, this time over Laura Ingraham’s defense of Paul Nehlen, a prominent white nationalist and anti-Semite. The network is trying to bully, bluster, and gaslight its way out of potential fallout from advertisers with the ridiculous claim that Ingraham wasn’t actually defending Nehlen.
For years, right-wing commentators have levied bad-faith claims of anti-conservative bias against social media companies in an effort to work the refs. In the latest such salvo, Ingraham devoted a segment on Thursday’s show to what she termed progressives’ efforts to “silence conservative voices ahead of the 2020 election,” featuring conservative commentator Candace Owens, who made headlines earlier this year by suggesting that Adolf Hitler’s nationalism would have been “OK” if it had been confined to Germany.
During the segment, Owens said that efforts at “silencing and banning conservatives” would be counterproductive and would lead to Trump’s re-election. Ingraham agreed, saying people “know when they are being silenced, they know when they are being lied to, I think. Most people are onto this game.”
Ingraham then aired a graphic featuring eight people, including Nehlen, who have been suspended or claim to have had their activity impeded by social media companies (it also included the arch-conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and the disgraced white supremacist ally Milo Yiannopoulous). The graphic described the group as “Prominent Voices Censored On Social Media.” Ingraham went on to defend the group.
“Facebook, now, what do they monitor, quote, ‘hate’?” Ingraham said. “That sounds good until you realize hate — and these are some of the people they’ve shunned,” she added, referring to the graphic. After Ingraham and Owens shared a laugh over Owens being included on the graphic — indicating that they saw it — the Fox host characterized the “censored” voices as “people who believe in border enforcement, people who believe in national sovereignty.”
“Candace, I think this is going to be a moment, though, for us to stand up to these censors,” Ingraham concluded.
Fox ignored requests for comment as the story swept across the media before finally issuing an unsigned statement Friday afternoon:
It is obscene to suggest that Laura Ingraham was defending Paul Nehlen’s despicable actions. Some of the names on the graphic were pulled from an Associated Press report on best known political extremists banned from Facebook,” the network said. “Anyone who watches Laura’s show knows that she is a fierce protector of freedom of speech and the intent of the segment was to highlight the growing trend of unilateral censorship in America.
This is nonsense. Ingraham was clearly defending Nehlen — the point of the segment was to suggest that actions social media companies have taken against “prominent voices” like him were attacks on conservatives in general.
The list of eight “voices” was curated by Fox. The Associated Press article Fox was seemingly referencing lists six commentators Facebook banned. Someone at Fox selected four of those individuals for inclusion in the graphic (Nehlen, Yiannopoulos, Jones, and Laura Loomer), leaving out two (Paul Joseph Watson and Louis Farrakhan), and adding four other commentators who were not mentioned in the article (Michelle Malkin, Dan Scavino, James Woods, and Owens).
And neither Ingraham nor her graphic identified Nehlen or the other voices as “extremists,” as did the AP report. Instead, she mocked the notion that Facebook had been restricting people due to their hateful commentary, instead suggesting that they simply had garden-variety conservative views.
For her part, Ingraham offered up a ludicrous condemnation of people who had criticized her for defending Nehlen, suggesting that they had made him “very happy” by highlighting his bigoted comments.
✔@IngrahamAngleRetweeting screenshots of despicable old tweets by racists and/or anti-semites must make those racists & anti-semites very happy. Unfortunately it does zero to elevate the debate in America. cc. @CNN
The purpose of issuing a statement like this is to cloud the issue.
When its personalities get into trouble, Fox is often willing to simply remain silent and wait for the attention to fade away. But numerous Ingraham advertisers have fled over the last year due to her bigoted commentary, and the show remains vulnerable. Indeed, the Nehlen segment is already having an impact — the photo-finishing company Fracture said in a statement this afternoon it would pull its advertisement from her show rather than continuing to “support hate speech with our advertising dollars.”
If the network had remained silent, more advertisers could have dropped under pressure from activists. But if the network acknowledged what had actually happened, it would be admitting guilt and causing additional conflict with Ingraham and other network stars who hate to back down in the face of widespread backlash to their extremism.
So instead, Fox is throwing up some chaff and hoping to change the story. The network’s personalities, and perhaps some of its allies, can rally around the faulty notion that Ingraham has been wronged. The network’s critics will point out that Fox is bullshitting. But the result will be an argument, a cloud of dust that leaves people who are only marginally paying attention confused about what to believe.
Fox is hoping that the puzzled include its advertisers, and that that will be enough to keep them from dropping Ingraham’s show.