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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Fox News has traditionally treated bigotry as a core part of its business model. But since the political rise of President Donald Trump, the network’s commentators have adopted talking points that had previously been the province of hardcore white supremacists. The reported manifesto of the gunman who murdered 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, TX, on Saturday is all but indistinguishable from transcripts ripped from its prime-time shows. This shift is not an accident but a programming decision, one the network has pursued even as its hosts’ racist rhetoric has triggered costly ad boycotts.

Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan Murdoch are ultimately responsible for this toxic programming. Rupert, chairman of parent company Fox Corp., laid the foundation for the shift. He then ceded much of the day-to-day authority to Lachlan, who maintained that heading as the Fox Corp.’s executive chairman and CEO.

Fox is feeding its audience a poisonous stew of bigoted, xenophobic conspiracy theories because that is what the Murdochs want the network to do.

A New York Times Magazine investigation found that in recent years, the Murdochs’ media empire has been “instrumental in amplifying the nativist revolt that was reshaping governments not just in the United States but also across the planet,” with their outlets fueling xenophobia and ethnonationalism to achieve political aims in the U.S., the United Kingdom, and Australia.

In the United States, that meant taking advantage of a rare opportunity to reshape Fox News following the removal of network co-founder Roger Ailes and the swift departures of longtime network hosts Bill O’ReillyGreta Van Susteren, and Megyn Kelly.

Stepping in as acting CEO to replace Ailes, Rupert responded to the vacancies by giving Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham their own prime-time shows.

Carlson, a Rupert favorite, had already amassed a staunch following among white nationalists for his denunciations of diversity and fervent airing of white grievances.

Ingraham had also fixated on the perils of immigration and multiculturalism, using her platforms as a talk radio host and Fox contributor to push the Republican Party to the right on those issues.

As prime-time hosts, Carlson and Ingraham turned their shows into clearinghouses for white supremacist talking points about an “invasion” of migrants, screeds about the systematic “replacement” of white Americans by people of color through immigration, and dire warnings that if something wasn’t done soon, the nation would be imperiled.

In short, Rupert thrust two of the network’s most anti-immigrant personalities into its biggest spotlight and they’ve performed as expected, moving the network closer to Lachlan’s reported goal of solidifying the family’s empire as “an unabashedly nationalist, far-right and hugely profitable political propaganda machine.”

The result has been programming that courts high viewership from Fox’s core audience but also repeatedly led major companies to pull their ads rather than risk associating their brands with bigotry.

Lachlan has been the public face of the company, defending Fox amid criticism from other journalists and advertiser boycotts.

Ingraham’s show drew controversy and bled advertisers throughout 2018, particularly after she tweetedan attack on Parkland, FL, school shooting survivor David Hogg, compared detention centers for immigrant children to “summer camps,” and warned that thanks to immigration, “massive demographic changes have been foisted upon the American people, and they are changes that none of us ever voted for, and most of us don’t like.”

Asked about the criticism the network was taking during a November appearance at The New York Times’ DealBook conference, Lachlan claimed that the “biggest critics of Fox News are not watching Fox News” and argued that people should be more tolerant of the opinions of the networks’ hosts.

Just a month later, Carlson embroiled the network in a firestorm after he argued that immigration makes the United States “poorer, and dirtier, and more divided.” When the dust had settled, two dozen companies had pulled future spots on his show and its ad load was slashed.

The cycle repeated itself earlier this year.

In March, as Fox prepared for an unprecedented early sit-down with ad buyers, controversies involving bigoted comments by Carlson and fellow Fox host Jeanine Pirro brought more devastating headlines and fleeing advertisers.

Two months later, Lachlan again defended the company, telling Wall Street analysts that the ad boycotts were having no effect and that even if they did, “it wouldn’t affect the way we program that channel.”

And now there’s a national debate over how Fox’s inflammatory programming was echoed in a white supremacist terrorist’s manifesto — one that has triggered not internal reflection at the network, but a circling of the wagons. Earlier this week, Carlson delivered another defensive rant on his show, asserting that the idea that white supremacy is a problem in America is a “hoax” and a “conspiracy theory used to divide the country.”  The Murdochs stayed silent.

The Murdochs appear to have been every bit as supportive of their hosts’ bigoted commentary in private as they are in public. After Carlson drew criticism for claiming that immigrants make this country “dirtier,” Lachlan reportedly sent him “personal text messages of support.” Rupert reportedly criticized Ingraham last year — for apologizing for her comments about Hogg, which he thought made her appear “weak in the face of negative public sentiment.”

So the Murdochs are the reason Fox’s weeknight prime-time block features segments that are distinguishable from white supremacist YouTube videos only in their production values. The harder question to answer is why. The family has built an international media empire that wields substantial political power on three continents.

Are they actual nationalists who truly agree with Carlson and Ingraham that an invading force of minorities is putting the nation at risk? Or are they simply motivated by instrumentalism, happy to have their employees make those arguments because it bolsters their influence over right-wing governments which then support policies that bolster their own economic standing?

In the end, it hardly matters: Fox has spent the last few years diving ever deeper into a cesspool, and there’s no sign the network plans to change course.

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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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