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Tucker Carlson Tries To Start A 1/6 ‘Truther' Movement (Of The Stupid)

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

In the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks came the so-called "9/11 Truth" movement, whose adherents claimed that the attacks had actually been an "inside job" perpetrated by the U.S. government. This crackpottery had few prominent advocates, but enough Americans bought into it to lift up people like Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist radio host who has claimed that the feds used "controlled demolitions" to bring down the World Trade Center and whose website has described him as one of the "founding fathers" of the movement.

Nearly two decades later, the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by violent Trumpists has generated new cries of an inside job. But this time, the conspiracy theory is backed by the most-watched host on cable news, Fox News prime-time star Tucker Carlson.

On Tuesday, Carlson alleged that "some of the key people who participated on January 6 have not been charged," citing charging documents in which "the government calls those people unindicted co-conspirators." He then exclaimed: "What does that mean? Well, it means that in potentially every single case they were FBI operatives. Really? In the Capitol on January 6?"

Carlson was citing a report from Revolver News' Darren Beattie, who he then brought on. Beattie is not a credible source -- he left his job at the Trump White House after CNN asked about him speaking at a 2016 conference alongside well-known white nationalists. But even Beattie suggested that Carlson was taking his work too far -- when Carlson said that his piece explains that "the FBI was organizing the riots of January 6," he replied that it only "suggests that possibility."

In fact, this theory, which rests on the premise that "unindicted co-conspirators" are by definition "FBI operatives," collapses with the slightest scrutiny, and suggests that Carlson either a) lacks a basic understanding of federal investigations or b) thinks his viewers are rubes.

"Legal experts say the government literally cannot name an undercover agent as an unindicted co-conspirator," The Washington Post's Aaron Blake reported in a filleting of Carlson's segment, pointing out that better explanations for the unindicted conspirators include that they might be cooperating with the federal government. Blake noted that while it's not literally impossible that the government is violating that stricture, there's also no evidence to believe that is the case.

But Carlson doubled down on Wednesday, stating as fact, "The events of January 6 ... were at least in part organized and carried out in secret by people connected to federal law enforcement." Again, there's no evidence at all for this, but Carlson nonetheless said, "It's hard to think of a bigger potential scandal than this one." Taking the conspiracy theory a step further, he went on to allege that the government won't release Capitol surveillance footage of the riot because "people they know are on the tape."

Carlson is one of the most powerful figures in the modern right. He is the face of Fox and an increasingly influential force in Republican politics. When he takes a stand, others follow. His January 6 conspiracy theory quickly drew support from far-right influencers and media figures and even GOP members of Congress.

The Fox host's "false flag" theory fits into a broad and largely successful effort by elements of the GOP and right-wing press to confuse the public and shatter the initial, fragile consensus that the events of January 6 had been bad and reflected poorly on then-President Donald Trump and his supporters.

Carlson himself has sought to create an alternate-reality version of the events of the day, denying that it was an "insurrection" that featured the involvement of violent right-wingers including Proud Boys and white supremacists.

In his initial response to the riots, Carlson validated the concerns of the perpetrators, but nonetheless said that they went too far.

"What happened at the Capitol last Wednesday was wrong," he said on January 14. "We've said that very clearly at the time. We've said it very clearly every day since. And we'll continue to say it."

But he did not continue to say it. As those events passed further into memory, he shifted how he talked about them. Here's how he started his April 6 broadcast, in a monologue dripping with sarcasm:

Today is the three-month anniversary of January 6. For those of you who aren't good at dates or don't have calendars, this is the day that we pause to remember the white supremacist QAnon insurrection that came so very close to toppling our government and ending this democracy forever.
You saw what happened. It was carried live on television, every gruesome moment. A mob of older people from unfashionable ZIP codes somehow made it all the way to Washington, D.C., probably by bus.
They wandered freely through the Capitol like it was their building or something. They didn't have guns, but a lot of them had extremely dangerous ideas. They talked about the Constitution and something called their rights.
Some of them made openly seditious claims. They insisted, for example, that the last election was not entirely fair. The whole thing was terrifying.

And now, Carlson has become a founding father of the 1/6 Truth movement. It's winning him plaudits from his predecessor, Jones, who took credit on Wednesday for alerting Carlson to Beattie's story. That could be a lie -- Jones is a liar, after all -- but Carlson has previously sourced footage from one of Jones' employees, and he appeared regularly on Jones' show as recently as 2015.

"I made the decision not to get into this until it broke on Tucker because I thought he'd do a better job than I did," Jones explained. "He did. He did a great job."

Shortly after, he brought on Beattie to discuss the same theory he had detailed for Fox's audience.

With Murdoch’s Encouragement, Carlson Promotes White Nationalist ‘Replacement’ Theory

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

When Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch replied in April to the firestorm caused by his star Fox News host, Tucker Carlson, passionately invoking the "great replacement" conspiracy theory favored by white nationalists, Murdoch chose to lie.

"A full review of the guest interview indicates that Mr. Carlson decried and rejected replacement theory," Murdoch wrote. This was obviously and insultingly false. Carlson had explicitly endorsed its core tenets during the April 8 segment, saying that "the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World." White nationalists themselves knew better: They praised the Fox host for bringing their talking points to his massive audience.

His boss' dishonest comment was a green light for Carlson to continue to promote that conspiracy theory -- and the host took it as such. Over the past two months, as Carlson became the face of Fox, "replacement" has proven a dominant theme of his program. It also spread to other Fox personalities and, increasingly, to Republican political operatives and politicians as well. Given Carlson's sway over both his network and the GOP, that trend is likely to continue.

Here are eight examples of Carlson pushing the white nationalist "great replacement" theory in the two months since Murdoch claimed that he had actually repudiated it, most recently on Monday night. While Carlson is generally careful not to directly say that Democrats want white people replaced by nonwhite ones, his remarks -- referencing migrants from Congo, Haiti, and across the U.S.-Mexico border -- leave no one confused that that is what he is talking about.

June 7: "How did migrants get from Congo to Lewiston, Maine, and why?" Carlson asked about President Joe Biden's immigration policy. "Well, because [Biden White House adviser] Susan Rice and ideologues like her very much want to change Maine's demographics as well as the population mix in every other state in the union." He went on to accuse Democratic leaders of "importing huge numbers of new voters into the United States" because they "no longer believe in democracy as constituted, and they definitely don't plan to lose another election," calling this "the most radical possible attack on the core premise of democracy."

May 24: After the Biden administration extended temporary protected status preventing the removals of Haitian nationals residing in the U.S. who fled following a 2010 earthquake in that country, Carlson accused the Democrats of "trying to change the population of the United States, and they hate it when you say that because it's true, but that's exactly what they are doing." During the segment, a chyron read, "Dems want to import millions of new voters."

May 21: Responding to a guest who claimed that COVID-19 case counts were spiking in border states due to migrants spreading the virus, Carlson commented, "Public health doesn't apply when we're changing the demographic mix to favor the Democratic Party."

April 30: Carlson accused Democrats of "an attack on our democracy" because "they only care about stacking the electorate." He added: "They want to change who votes, so they win. They're diluting the votes of Americans, of all backgrounds, and that is an attack on democracy, period."

April 29: Carlson described the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 as "an assault on democracy, a permanent one." The law repealed the national origins quota system that "was designed to favor Western and Northern European countries and drastically limit admission of immigrants from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Southern and Eastern Europe," according to the Migration Policy Institute. Carlson explained: "That law completely changed the composition of America's voter rolls, purely to benefit the Democratic Party." (In fact, the bill passed by huge bipartisan margins, and Republican presidential nominees won five of the next six elections.)

April 21: After Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) responded to Rep. Scott Perry's (R-PA) invocation of the "great replacement" theory by tweeting, "with every passing year, there will be more people who look like me in the US," Carlson glossed Lieu's remarks as follows: "In other words, you're being replaced, and there's nothing you can do about it. So, shut up."

April 15: Carlson claimed that Democrats "are changing everything, whether we like it or not," including "a brand-new national population." He called that a "revolution" reminiscent of how "Germany got Hitler."

April 12: The day after Murdoch sent his letter claiming that Carlson had actually repudiated "replacement" theory, Carlson said on his program that "the secret to the entire immigration debate" is that "demographic change is the key to the Democratic Party's political ambitions. In order to win and maintain power, Democrats plan to change the population of the country." He added, "All across the country, we have seen huge changes in election outcomes caused by demographic change."

Over the same period, Carlson has also claimed that immigration "makes the country more volatile," that migration across the U.S.-Mexico border should trigger "a real insurrection," and that Democrats who supposedly support open borders "hate" America" and are "trying to destroy it."

Incendiary, xenophobic rhetoric like Carlson's can have dire consequences. Murdoch's statement came in response to a letter from the Anti-Defamation League's Jonathan Greenblatt, who noted that the theory Carlson espoused on April 8 is linked to "explosive hate crimes, most notably the hate-motivated mass shooting attacks in Pittsburgh, Poway and El Paso, as well as in Christchurch, New Zealand."

Indeed, those terrorist attacks came after Carlson and others at Fox embraced the same theory in 2018 and 2019.

Trump Aide Meadows Pushed Election Conspiracies On Justice Department

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

A new report provides more detail on how top officials in then-President Donald Trump's administration relied on the lowest dregs of the internet fever swamps following Trump's 2020 defeat, as they tried to use the federal government to leverage false conspiracy theories about voter fraud to nullify the results.

Trump himself had long consumed far-right media content, and after the election he promoted a bevy of fantastical lies from Fox News, OAN, Newsmax, and others purportedly providing evidence that the election had been stolen from him. His paranoid rants put American democracy at risk, and ultimately helped spur the January 6 riot aimed at preventing the certification of Joe Biden's victory at the U.S. Capitol.

Trump had help, as a Saturday New York Times report based on emails reviewed by the paper makes clear. In a January 1 email, Mark Meadows, Trump's chief of staff, asked Jeffrey A. Rosen, then the acting attorney general, to examine "Italygate," the conspiracy theory that "people in Italy had used military technology and satellites to remotely tamper with voting machines in the United States and switch votes for Mr. Trump to votes for Joseph R. Biden Jr.," according to the account.

The Times reported that Meadows' request "violated longstanding guidelines that essentially forbid almost all White House personnel, including the chief of staff, from contacting the Justice Department about investigations or other enforcement actions."

On what basis was Meadows willing to breach those restrictions? The Times further reported:

Mr. Meadows sent Mr. Rosen a YouTube link to a video of Brad Johnson, a former C.I.A. employee who had been pushing the theory in videos and statements that he posted online. After receiving the video, Mr. Rosen said in an email to another Justice Department official that he had been asked to set up a meeting between Mr. Johnson and the F.B.I., had refused, and had then been asked to reconsider.

Election Day ended with a "red mirage" showing Trump in the lead, only for there to be a "blue shift" afterward as key states counted ballots that heavily favored Biden, just as election experts had long predicted. But Johnson's theory, as detailed in a 13-minute video available online, is that Trump's early lead actually evaporated because nefarious forces changed the vote totals to swing the election to Biden.

This is a variation on repeated, baseless lies from pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell and her right-wing media allies. But while Powell and company attributed the supposed switched votes first to a U.S. government computer system called "Hammer" and a software program known as "Scorecard," and later to the election technology companies Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic (which she hinted may have been working on behalf of Venezuela), Johnson instead points to an operation revolving around a military satellite controlled by the Italian defense contractor Leonardo SPA, overseen by an anti-Trump State Department official in the U.S. Eembassy in Rome with the help of British and U.S. intelligence services.

"The U.S. elections were changed, the results were changed in those five or six key states," Johnson claimed, after initial results were "uploaded and sent to Rome" through the Leonardo military satellite. In Rome, that "raw data" was scrutinized by the conspirators, who are "the ones who said, 'shut down all those five states or six states,' at the exact same time, and the problem was that the algorithms were overloaded, that what they had planned on didn't work because Trump got so many votes."

"So they upload all of the stuff — it gives them time to analyze all of this and create new analogues that then would allow the vote to come out in favor of Biden," he continued. "And that, then, once they created all the new data and manipulated all the data that was there, they sent these new numbers back up through this military satellite, Italian military satellite, run and operated by none other than Leonardo."

"That blast of information is what everybody sees on those number charts where it shows all the votes, and it shows the red line and the blue line going up like this, and Trump's ahead, Trump's ahead, and then all of a sudden, boom, and up above goes all of those votes for Biden," Johnson concluded. "That blip is that data being retransmitted back down through this military satellite back down into these machines that were all hooked up to the Internet."

In reality, the "blip" Johnson describes in which the tallying of large numbers of Biden votes changed the leader in several states was the expected result of largely Democratic counties reporting their totals at once and states adding mail-in ballots, which skewed Democratic, to their counts.

Johnson's video circulated on right-wing conspiracy theory sites, and as my colleague Parker Molloy documented, variants of "Italygate" spread on far-right message boards and social media platforms. It doesn't seem to have broken through on Fox, or even lesser right-wing outlets like OAN or Newsmax -- but it somehow made its way into an official communication, from the White House chief of staff to the head of the Justice Department, seeking an official investigation.

This level of dangerous absurdity did not end with Trump's administration. The former president himself continues to lie about the election result, echoing what he sees on his television. But what is even more concerning is that his party and propagandists are turning the falsehood that the election was stolen into the GOP's core precept -- and driving out those, like Rosen, who won't play along.

New Book: Sean Hannity Wrote Trump 2020 Campaign Ad

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Fox News host Sean Hannity's role as an off-the-books political operative to former President Donald Trump extended to writing copy for one of the Trump campaign's commercials, according to a new report.

Mike Bender, the Wall Street Journal''s senior White House reporter, reports that Hannity played a role in scripting a Trump campaign ad in his forthcoming book, Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story Of How Trump Lost. According to a write-up in PunchBowl News, "The ad was known in the Trump campaign as 'the Hannity ad' and 'the one Hannity wrote,'" and Bender describes internal Trump campaign emails which "referred to the spot simply as 'Hannity'" or "the 'Hannity-written' spot."

The ad, like Hannity's show during the campaign, is a semi-coherent mashup of pro-Trump and anti-Biden talking points that lacks a clear narrative.

And indeed, according to Bender, the ad was widely mocked within the Trump campaign and aired only once, on Hannity's program, at a cost of $1.5 million.

Hannity vaguely denied writing the ad copy, telling Bender, "The world knows that Sean Hannity supports Donald Trump. But my involvement specifically in the campaign -- no. I was not involved that much. Anybody who said that is full of shit."

It's hard to know what to think about a statement like this from a notorious liar. But one reasonable interpretation is that this helps to establish an outer bound for the type of political behavior Hannity thinks his employer would let him get away with. The statement suggests that he believes that Fox would have a problem with him openly accepting responsibility for writing one of the former president's campaign ads.

This is, of course, an absurdly low bar for a cable news host. But as I noted last year, Hannity regularly violated basic tenets of journalistic ethics throughout the Trump years, with the network brass either ignoring his behavior or offering slaps on the wrist:

2016: Amid a presidential campaign that saw Hannity actively using his show to boost Trump's candidacy and promoteunhinged conspiracy theories about his opponent, Hillary Clinton, Hannity endorsed Trump in a promotional video for his campaign, leading to a stern statement from Fox.
2017: Hannity triggered an advertiser exodus and internal dismay when he tried to defend Trump against reports linking his campaign to Russian interference in the 2016 election by championing the Seth Rich conspiracy theory.
2018: Profiles in The Washington Post and New York magazinedetailed the scope of Hannity's White House influence and regular conversations with Trump. He was revealed as a secret client of Trump's longtime lawyer Michael Cohen, a fact the Fox host had not disclosed in his commentary on Cohen's case. And he appeared on stage and spoke at a Trump political rally on the eve of the 2018 midterm elections.
2019: Hannity was a central figure in the Ukraine disinformation plot that triggered Trump's impeachment by the House of Representatives.
2020: Documents uncovered by BuzzFeed News showed that Hannity had served as a backchannel between Trump and his associates under investigation during special counsel Robert Mueller's probe.

Since then, Fox has become even less ethical and more propagandistic. The network hired a slew of former Trump administration officials. The list includes 2024 presidential hopeful Mike Pompeo, as well as the former president's daughter-in-law, would-be Senate candidate Lara Trump. One Fox contributor, Newt Gingrich, is working with Trump to develop the GOP's policy agenda for the 2022 elections.

But taking ownership of a campaign ad appears to still be a step too far.

Fox News Is A Loaded Gun Aimed At Our Democracy

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

The Republican Party, Fox News, and the broader right-wing disinformation apparatus that revolves around them have responded to Donald Trump's 2020 defeat by institutionalizing his lie that the election was stolen and laying the groundwork to rig the next presidential election in favor of the GOP.

Fox is a primary source of information for the party's voters and a key Republican power base. That would make the network crucial to the future success of an anti-democratic GOP plot, just as it was when Trump tried to overturn the election in 2020. And Fox's propagandists appear eager to try again in 2024, relentlessly casting doubt on the 2020 results while helping to push out Republicans who refuse to support the party's authoritarian turn.

They are positioning the country on the brink of the abyss. Next time, political conditions may prove favorable enough to end the American experiment in electoral democracy.

Trump Tried A Coup In Broad Daylight — And Fox Had His Back.

Fox spent decades stoking the right's anti-democratic attitudes. Its commentators relentlessly highlighted and exaggerated extremely rare instances of voter fraud, priming their audiences to believe that Democrats were constantly trying to steal elections. They traditionally used those conspiracy theories to promote policies that make it more difficult to vote -- particularly for core Democratic demographics.

But Trump's authoritarian drive shifted that coverage in a more dangerous direction.

The then-president spent the months leading up to the election baselessly warning that the vote had been "rigged" by Democrats planning to "steal" it through mail-in voting, and his Fox propagandists echoed his conspiracy theories. This paved the way for the Trump campaign's despicable back-up plan: if Trump did not win key swing states outright, he would try to have the courts, under false pretenses, throw out enough legally cast ballots to change the results. (The disproportionate weight the U.S. political system gives to rural white voters, a Republican constituency, ensures that the party can carry the presidency without trying to appeal to a majority of voters.)

Election Day came, and Trump lost. But he nonetheless declared victory, falsely alleging massive fraud even as experts and officials said the election was remarkably free of election security problems. His legal team uncorked a ludicrous collection of lies and unhinged fantasies about the election, only to see judges repeatedly demolish their arguments and toss their cases. But it quickly became clear that Trump's team had a back-up plan to the back-up plan -- and it was providing cover for GOP partisans in states Biden had won. They hoped that even after legal avenues were exhausted, Republican election officials would refuse to certify results in key areas, that GOP state legislators in those states would overturn the results, and that GOP members of Congress would hand Trump the election. And they'd be able to point to the confusion Trump's legal team had created as their reason.

That seditious conspiracy to shatter the American democratic system relied on the impermeability of the right-wing information bubble. Trump needed his supporters, many of whom get their information almost solely from the elaborate disinformation network of partisan media outlets that Republican leaders propped up in place of mainstream outlets, to believe that the election had been rigged against him.

Fox and its associates did everything they could to support Trump's autocratic maneuvers. In the two weeks after media outlets called the race for Biden, Fox personalities questioned the results of the election or pushed conspiracy theories about it nearly 800 times. They put the credibility of the network behind deranged lies about fraud plucked from the internet fever swamps, beaming batshit fantasies out to a huge national audience. It worked -- polls following the election showed a majority of Republicans believed that the election was stolen from Trump.

Fox in denial of 2020 election results

But hosts, contributors, and guests went further than simply lying to their viewers -- they pushed for action. They attacked Republican state officials for being insufficiently committed to Trump's scheme; called for the arrests of election workers; suggested that Republican state legislators in states Trump lost should "appoint a clean slate of electors" who support him; promoted fake Trump electoral slates for supposedly keeping Trump's "legal options open"; suggested a "do-over" election as "the only remedy"; called for congressional investigations; endorsed a lawsuit by Republican state attorneys general asking the Supreme Court to throw out results in four states Biden won; urged Republican governors not to certify unfavorable results; and denounced Republican members of Congress for "destroying the Constitution" by voting to count the electoral votes.

Fueled by these conspiracy theories, thousands of Trump supporters breached the U.S. Capitol on January 6 in an effort to prevent Congress from counting the electoral votes. They were lied to, they believed the lies, and they violently stormed a seat of governance in hopes of overturning the election.

Trump's plot failed. Biden won the Electoral College by too many states, and by too large a margin in those states; Democrats held the House of Representatives and some key state offices; and enough Republican officials refused to participate in Trump's election theft to thwart it. But the Republican base has been primed to question the results of any future elections the party loses -- and if there's another push for an antidemocratic solution in 2024, there's no telling whether those conditions will still hold.

Republican Leaders And Fox Personalities Want To Try Again

The dominant faction of GOP politicians -- including Trump himself -- continue to brazenly lie about the election results and the insurrection provoked by those lies. Those who criticize the party's authoritarian turn are being censured and purged from positions of power, while those who cast doubt on the election's validity are promoted. In states across the country, its partisans are changing voting laws in hopes of suppressing enough Democratic voters to win in the Electoral College.

If that fails, the party is preparing an alternative path to the presidency: It is building the political will to prevent the certification and counting of valid electoral votes and removing GOP officials who refused to take those steps in 2020. If a scheme like that were to succeed, legitimate election processes in the United States would become meaningless.

Fox's propagandists are getting ready. They are cheering on the GOP's purges of officials insufficiently committed to authoritarian rule in the U.S. They are validating and valorizing the Capitol insurrectionists as patriots simply "there to support the president of the United States and defend our republic" rather than a collection of extremists. They are falsely claiming that Democratic pro-democracy legislation before Congress would "destroy the credibility of all future elections," while defending Republican efforts to restrict voting rights in the states.

At the same time, they are promoting dire warnings about the radicalism of the Biden administration and its allies that would seem to legitimize virtually any action taken by Republicans to regain power. Under the apocalyptic portrait of the future painted by host Tucker Carlson, the face of the network, for example, the "abrupt change" the Democrats are supposedly pushing may force the right to support fascism.

And they are continuing to raise doubts about the validity of the 2020 election. On Fox over the last week alone, network contributor and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich claimed that there's "no question" states were "stolen" from the former president; contributor and Trump daughter-in-law Lara Trump promoted the "views of most Republicans" that there remain "a lot of questions about this election"; and Carlson asserted that "so many people are lying at such high volume about the 2020 election, it's hard to know exactly what happened," while introducing a Fox contributor to discuss her forthcoming book about the election, which is titled Rigged.

It's working.

Here's Where This Is Going

Republican voters are terrified at the prospect of continued Democratic control of the presidency. They are predisposed not to accept the results of the 2024 election as legitimate if their party's nominee loses. And they are primed to demand Republican politicians ensure a victory by any means necessary.

It's easy to imagine Fox teaming up with GOP leaders to try the 2020 playbook all over again if the party's nominee loses at the ballot box. The nominee simply needs to refuse to admit defeat, baselessly allege widespread voter fraud, and count on Fox to surface and distribute enough internet conspiracy theories to give party officials cover to overturn the results.

Fox and the Republican Party demolished all the guardrails in 2020, showing that they were willing to overturn the results of a legitimate election when it didn't go their way. The only question remaining is whether they can do a better job executing their plan.

Roger Stone Shilled For Gaetz (And Was Paid To Do It)

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Since cashing a check from the reelection campaign of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) in March, notorious political dirty trickster Roger Stone has furiously defended the congressman amid a firestorm surrounding a federal investigation into his activities. On his social media accounts and in an interview with Infowars' Alex Jones, Stone attacked the story as a conspiracy between the media and the "deep state" intended to derail a future Gaetz run for president.

The Daily Beast reported that federal campaign finance disclosures reveal Gaetz's campaign paid Stone's Drake Ventures $5,000 for "strategic political consulting" fees on March 24. It was the first time the campaign had ever made a payment to the firm. Six days later, the New York Times reported that Gaetz has been under federal investigation for alleged sex trafficking.

Hours after that story broke, Gaetz went on the program of Fox News' Tucker Carlson, an apparent personal friend of Stone's, to defend himself. The Florida congressman denied the report and alleged that he had been the victim of an attempted extortion. The interview went poorly, and Fox seemed to abandon Gaetz, who had built his political brand through appearances on the network, amid disastrous reports about his behavior which eventually triggered a House Ethics Committee probe.

But as Fox left Gaetz for dead, Stone came to his aid.

Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones interviewed Stone, a frequent guest on his Infowars show, about the Gaetz allegations on March 31, the day after the Times story broke and Gaetz went on Carlson's show.

Stone used the opportunity to offer a stalwart defense of the congressman as the victim of a conspiracy while praising him as the future of the Republican Party -- without acknowledging what we now know, that Gaetz's campaign had paid him thousands of dollars (Salon previously reported on the interview).

"If you had to name the single most effective member of the House in terms of fighting for the America First agenda, it would have to be Matt Gaetz," Stone claimed.

He described the allegations against Gaetz as "a search and destroy mission" and "a cheap political trick" intended to "derail his career." And Stone and Jones agreed that career could go quite far, with both praising him as a formidable presidential candidate in 2024 if former President Donald Trump does not seek another term.

"The left-wing nonjournalist fake news media are the most vicious, malicious, dishonest people that I've ever come across," he later added. "I think this is a good old fashioned smear because, let's face it, Matt Gaetz shows enormous promise and they know that. They don't want to face him at the polls in four years, or eight years, or 12 years, they want to finish his political career right now."

"Not because he's done something wrong," Stone continued, "because I don't believe he has, but because they control the media. They now control the Justice Department. That's a toxic combination."

Jones also pointed to a personal relationship between the Florida consultant and the congressman. Before the interview began, he said Stone is "good friends" with Gaetz, "helped him run for Congress," and was responsible for Gaetz's 2018 interview with Jones. (Gaetz subsequently said he would not return to that program because "the things that Alex Jones has said and done are so hurtful to so many people that a member of Congress should not grace that platform and legitimize it.")

Stone also rallied to Gaetz in a series of posts to his Gab account.

Stone mocked an image connecting him to Gaetz and others involved in the scandal as "a delusional left-wing conspiracy theory from nuts and haters"; wrote that he was praying for the congressman on Easter; posted a video denouncing CNN for reporting that Trump denied Gaetz a meeting that the congressman had requested; and denied a report that he was backing away from Gaetz.

"The only thing @repmattgaetz is guilty of is occasional bad taste in his wardrobe," Stone posted on Gab on April 14. "The drumbeat of 'leaks' against Gaetz from the DOJ are false allegations without evidence or proof."

On Telegram, he shared a link where followers could buy a "Matt Gaetz did nothing wrong" T-shirt.

Stone is a longtime Trump political adviser who at one point was banned from all three major cable news networks over racist and misogynistic commentary and conspiracy theories. Trump and his 2016 campaign tasked Stone to "obtain advance information about WikiLeaks's planned releases'' of Democratic Party emails stolen by Russian intelligence in 2016, and they believed he had succeeded in doing so, according to a Republican-led Senate committee's investigation. Special counsel Robert Mueller's probe ultimately led to his conviction on seven federal felony counts, but Trump commuted his 40-month sentence and ultimately pardoned him. Stone is also connected to the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Like Gaetz, Stone is currently in hot water with the Justice Department. On Friday, federal prosecutors sued him and his wife over an alleged $2 million in unpaid taxes and penalties. Stone claims there's a conspiracy behind that one, too.

Fox News Features 'Democrat' Naomi Wolf And Her Bizarre Pandemic Conspiracies

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

The feminist writer Naomi Wolf garnered fame during the 1990s for her book The Beauty Myth and her work as an adviser to the presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton and Al Gore. But in recent years, she's been better known for promoting an array of unhinged conspiracy theories, most recently regarding the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. This combination has made her a perfect guest for Fox News.

Fox is far more interested in turning coronavirus into a political cudgel than in giving users accurate health information. And so the network's hosts lean on Wolf's liberal credentials while giving her a platform to claim that the Democratic response to the pandemic is aimed at dissolving society and enacting a totalitarian state comparable to Nazi Germany.

Since mid-February, she appeared at least seven times on Fox to discuss her views on the pandemic: twice apiece on Tucker Carlson Tonight and The Revolution with Steve Hilton, and three times on Fox News Primetime, the most recent of which came Monday night. Wolf cited the notorious anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. during that interview to argue that Dr. Anthony Fauci, Bill and Melinda Gates, the state of Israel, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were engaged in some sort of nebulous but sinister vaccine conspiracy.

It is irresponsible for a news outlet to give Wolf that sort of credulous attention. Her social media channels are littered with absurd claims about the virus and its vaccines. Between her first and second Fox appearances alone, she tweeted that a new technology allowed the delivery of "vaccines w nanopatticles that let you travel back in time"; that the Moderna vaccine is a "software platform" that allows "uploads"; and that due to face masks, children now lack "the human reflex that they when you smile at them they smile back" and have "dark circles under [their] eyes from low oxygen."

On Sunday night, Wolf cited purported reports of women who "bleed oddly [from] being AROUND vaccinated women," pointing her followers to a Facebook group which at one point had been titled "All Vaccines are Fake."

Less than 24 hours later, she was back on Fox.

Wolf's coronavirus rantings are consistent with her recent remarks on a host of other topics. In a series of 2014 Facebook posts, she suggested that videos showing Islamic State group terrorists beheading Americans might have been fabricated by the U.S. government; that the government was trying to create an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. as part of a plot to bring about a totalitarian state; and that the results of the Scottish independence referendum had been faked. That spate provoked critical revisitings of her prior commentary during the Bush and Obama administrations from both the left (The Daily Beast's Michael Moynihan: "From ISIS to Ebola: What Has Made Naomi Wolf So Paranoid?") and the right (National Review's Charles C. Cooke: "The Fevered Delusions of Naomi Wolf").

Then in May 2019, Wolf suffered through an embarrassing radio interview during which the interviewer explained to her that a central premise of her latest book, Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalization of Love, was false. Wolf had claimed that dozens of men were executed for having sex with other men in Victorian Britain. But the interviewer pointed out that she had misinterpreted a legal term that means that the subject had been pardoned as if it meant that they had been put to death. Her U.S. publisher subsequently canceled the book's release.

Fox is aware that Wolf is not credible -- indeed, Tucker Carlson himself mocked her over the radio interview shortly after it aired. At the time, he suggested that her failure undermined all her past work.

"Wolf learned live on air that her book, which she supposedly wrote, was a total sham, built on bogus assumptions," Carlson sneered.

"This woman calls herself Dr. Naomi Wolf," Carlson later told Fox's Melissa Francis (Carlson mocks people he disagrees with who ask to be addressed as "doctor" when they have a Ph.D. rather than an M.D.).

"She's advised presidential candidates, Al Gore, most famously," he continued. "She was a Rhodes Scholar. You and I were raised to believe that she was really impressive, but she's really not."

But a few days after President Joe Biden was victorious in the 2020 election, Wolf tweeted, "If I'd known Biden was open to 'lockdowns' as he now states, which is something historically unprecedented in any pandemic, and a terrifying practice, one that won't ever end because elites love it, I would never have voted for him."

And mirabile dictu, Carlson's faith in her was immediately restored.

While discussing her comments on his November 10, 2020, show, Carlson described her as "a woman called Naomi Wolf -- a pretty famous Democrat actually; if you're older than 30, you remember her." He praised her "surprisingly blunt, insightful, and honest observation."

A few months later, Wolf had apparently redeemed herself enough in Carlson's eyes to garner a slot on his show. He opened his February 22 broadcast by running through the same credentials he had previously suggested did not prove she was impressive.

"You've heard the name Naomi Wolf before," Carlson said. "She has been a prominent person in this country and a prominent Democrat for more than 30 years. Wolf is one of the founders of third-wave feminism. She worked for Bill Clinton. She advised Al Gore, famously. Late last year she voted for Joe Biden. You've almost certainly seen her book. She's written a lot of them."

Carlson did acknowledge that he had previously criticized Wolf on the show. But he pretended that this had been a matter of ideological disagreement, rather than that he had suggested she lacked credibility due to a significant and sloppy analytical error. Indeed, he celebrated her faculties, saying that her tweet about Biden showed that "whatever her preconceptions, Naomi Wolf has been paying attention."

During the interview that followed, Carlson nodded along as Wolf told him and his audience that "under the guise of a real medical pandemic, we're really moving into a coup situation, a police state situation" in which "autocratic tyrants at the state and now the national level are creating a kind of merger of corporate power and government power, which is really characteristic of Italian fascism in the 20s" such that "we are turning into a version of a totalitarian state before everyone's eyes."

At the conclusion of the interview, Carlson thanked Wolf for the "eye-opening pleasure" and said he hoped she'd be back. And a few weeks later she was, returning for a March 17 interview in which she complained that Twitter had twice locked her account until she deleted her unhinged coronavirus tweets. She described this as "It's really a very kind of CCP [Chinese Communist Party] type of conditioning to kind of conform and watch our words."

That kicked off a string of appearances in which she discussed her dystopian coronavirus views on other Fox shows.

  • She claimed that vaccine "passports" could lead to "literally the end of human liberty in the West" with governments rounding up "dissidents and opposition leaders" as in Nazi Germany on the March 28 edition of The Next Revolution.
  • She argued that "totalitarian, Chinese Communist Party-style methodologies" are being "directed at young adults and at the academy, in every part of civic life right now" such that "we're really, you know, grooming the next generation to be subjects to a totalitarian regime, not America at all" on the April 1 edition of Fox News Primetime.
  • She described vaccine "passports" on the April 4 edition of The Next Revolution as follows: "We'll just let private industry discriminate against Americans based on their biological characteristics, which was exactly what Nazi Germany did."
  • And she said of coronavirus restrictions impacting religious services on the April 5 Fox News Primetime: "We have to face where we are if we're going to survive it. There is a war on humanity, there is a war on religion, there is a war on human assembly. Big Tech wants to drive everyone indoors and dissolve the bonds between people."

Notably, while Carlson stressed Wolf's work for Clinton and Gore in the 1990s to suggest she is a rank-and-file member of the Democratic Party, she has proven much more heterodox in recent years. She spoke, for instance, at a 2008 rally in support of archconservative then-Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), during which she claimed that she had not received letters from her daughter at sleepaway camp because the government was intercepting her mail.

Former Gaetz Fan Hannity Leaves Him For Dead

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) owes his political rise to Fox News. Politicians gain powerin the modern GOP by grabbing and holding the attention of the base, and the easiest way to do that is through its most trusted media outlet. The Florida backbencher understands this structure and gained a national profile in his first two terms by fervently supporting Donald Trump and denouncing the former president's foes in near-constant appearances on the right-wing network. He also won the favor of Trump himself, who watches Fox regularly and appreciated the Congressman's zeal.

It seems, however, that Fox has now abandoned Gaetz at his moment of greatest need.

Gaetz has been engulfed in scandal following The New York Times' March 30 report that he has been under federal investigation for alleged sex trafficking. The congressman has spent the last week denying that he had sex with a minor or paid women of legal age for sex, declining to comment on reports that he showed nude photos of women he claimed to have had sex with to other members on the House floor, and drawing lackluster defenses from colleagues speaking on the record and descriptions of "cartoonishly scandalous" behavior anonymously. But Fox devoted a mere 45 minutes to the Gaetz saga through Tuesday -- and nearly three-quarters of that coverage came in the first 24 hours, with the network providing sparse coverage of subsequent revelations.

Perhaps the most notable absence from Gaetz's defense is prime-time host Sean Hannity. Even as Gaetz responded to the allegations by spinning the sort of convoluted tale of deep state conspiracy and right-wing victimhood that seems tailor-made for Hannity's program, the Fox star has seemingly left him for dead.

Gaetz is a Hannity fixture. Since August 2017, he made 127 appearances on the program, roughly 41 percent of the 310 interviews he gave the network overall (including a disastrous turn on Tucker Carlson Tonight to respond to the initial Times report), according to Media Matters' database of weekday programming. Gaetz is the eleventh most-frequent Hannity guest over that period, and ranks second to Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) among guests who have not served as paid Fox contributors.

Yet the Fox star has not mentioned the embattled Congressman's travails -- not on his prime-time TV show, not on his nationally syndicated radio show, not on his website, and not on Twitter.

Moreover, Hannity's relationship with Gaetz extends beyond the congressman's constant presence in his show's green room. He campaigned with Gaetz and then-Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), who successfully ran for governor, on July 2, 2018, in stops at Fort Myers, Tampa, and Pensacola. The Fox News host promoted the events online, while Gaetz's campaign posted a promotional video of Hannity praising him on Fox to its Facebook page (the video was later removed).

During the campaign event in Pensacola, Gaetz said of Hannity:

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): I've got to thank Sean Hannity, you know, because, you know, you all just gave me this job about 18 months ago. I took the position. And you probably don't see too many freshmen members of Congress out there as frequently and working as hard and making sure that we're holding people accountable. But Sean Hannity gives me a platform almost every night to get out there and tell it like it is. And I thank him for that.

Hannity, in turn, repeatedly described Gaetz as the Mickey Mantle of Congress, a reference to the legendary New York Yankees slugger, and said:

SEAN HANNITY: We have as a result of the policies that these two men have also fought, and I know because I'm working the phones every day and it's the Freedom Caucus, it's this young Mickey Mantle over here. And it's your next governor over there. They're the ones fighting the hardest for the president, it's not -- listen, I'm pretty disappointed with a lot of Republicans. I'll be honest. There are a lot of RINOs, yes. The Freedom Caucus literally is the lifeblood of what is making Congress work today, and they're in the heart of it. And I'm very thankful to both of you for what you do every day, which is why it's an honor to share the stage with both of you.

Earlier in the day, Hannity also spoke in Fort Myers, where he referred to Gaetz offstage as "a rising rock star. That's why The Washington Post wants to write about his girlfriend in sixth grade."

Gaetz subsequently claimed to have won "the endorsement of Sean Hannity" in a post-event Facebook post.

Campaigning for politicians in this manner technically violated the ethics rules Fox would later claim it had for network employees, but its enforcement for stars like Hannity has proven haphazard at best.

Hannity, who spent the Trump administration operating as a sometime political fixer for the then-president and his associates, has also strategized with Gaetz behind the scenes. Texts between the two, revealed by the House Ethics Committee during its investigation of Gaetz's February 2019 tweet threatening former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen with retaliation on the eve of his House testimony, show Hannity counseling the congressman on how to respond to the mounting furor. The Fox host praised Gaetz for quickly deleting the tweet and suggested he lay low for "a while."

Trump himself, after a week of ignoring Gaetz's scandals while his former aides anonymously savaged the congressman, finally weighed in on Wednesday after the Times reported that Gaetz had sought a blanket pardon from him in the waning days of his presidency. "Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon," Trump said in a statement. "It must also be remembered that he has totally denied the accusations against him."

Perhaps that will be the spark that gets Hannity to finally address Gaetz's predicament. Or perhaps Hannity will stick with the advice he texted Gaetz amid the Cohen drama: "It will pass. Attention span of people is zero."

Research contributions from Rob Savillo

GOP's 'Working Class' Agenda Is A Feeble Echo Of Fox News Obsessions

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Political parties often respond to electoral defeat by spending time contemplating, with varying degrees of seriousness and success, why they lost and how they need to change their approach to win in the future. Following President Barack Obama's 2012 reelection, for example, the Republican Party commissioned and published a 100-page report which pinned the blame on Mitt Romney's weakness with Hispanic voters and called for a more benign policy toward undocumented immigrants. But the party backed off after a revolt by prominent right-wing media commentators, and in 2016, Donald Trump seized the GOP nomination and eventually the presidency with a nativist campaign that both halves of the 2012 Republican ticket criticized as racist.

GOP leaders are trying to avoid a similar scenario in the wake of Trump's 2020 defeat. They are circulating a memo that seeks to chart the party's course by keeping it closely aligned with the former president -- and with Fox News.

The document represents another datapoint in the ongoing merger of the right-wing media and Republican politics. Under Presidents Bush and Obama, Fox served as the GOP's communications arm. With Trump's ascent, the feedback loop between the network and the administration gave Fox unrivaled influence. Now, the Republican Party seems to have completely capitulated to the whims of its propagandists.

Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), the chair of the arch-conservative Republican Study Committee, writes in the memo that thanks to Trump, the GOP is now "the party supported by most working-class voters." He calls for a continued embrace of the former president, a rebranding as the "Party of the Working Class," and a focus on five issue areas he claims will "appeal to working-class voters" and bolster the GOP going into the 2022 midterm elections.

Banks' argument is muddled at best. Exit polls show that contrary to Banks' claim that Trump built a working-class coalition, he lost union households and voters making less than $100,000 while winning those making more by 12 points. What's closer to the truth is that Trump held a sizable advantage among white voters without college degrees, a demographic significantly overrepresented in the U.S. electoral system due to its geographic distribution.

But what Banks' memo does is keep the GOP on the same page as Fox's stable of right-wing stars. The agenda Banks highlights as a winner for the party is largely composed of cultural issues that receive heavy coverage on the network, rather than the political ones the network has downplayed. And like Fox's hosts, Banks is more invested in sneering at "Democrat elitism" than in describing policies that would concretely improve the lives of working-class voters.

An Issue Platform Ripped From Fox News

Banks is effectively urging his colleagues to try to bolster the GOP coalition not by proposing popular economic policies, but by bashing perceived members of the Democratic coalition -- migrants, college professors, corporations whose executives espouse views that Republicans disagree with, and the like -- thus providing news hooks for the ravenous right-wing noise machine.

Notably, one of Banks' five agenda items is "anti-wokeness." Banks does not bother to define what, exactly, "wokeness" is, though he calls it an "official part of the Democrat Party platform" which "encapsulates Democrats' elitism and classism" and ties it to "identity politics." But it amounts to turning the right-wing media's venomous, unending outrage cycle over culture war issues into a major portion of the party's platform. It's a big country -- there will always be someone for them to be angry about.

A denunciation of "regressive coronavirus lockdowns" -- a frequent subject of incendiary Fox segments -- also makes Banks' list of issues, under the culture-war frame of "Main Street vs. Wall Street" that floats government retaliation against companies that don't espouse right-wing values.

So does "Trade," which focuses not on actual policies but on Fox-friendly attacks on the Democratic Party's purported "coziness with China."

"Big Tech" is also on the menu, following years of dishonest claims about anti-conservative bias in that industry.

And after weeks of bigoted, cruel, inflammatory, and misleading Fox attacks on migrants seeking to cross the U.S. southern border, "Biden's Border Crisis" is part of the agenda.

You can see this synergy between the GOP and its communications apparatus playing out in real time.

After Georgia Republicans responded to Democratic victories in the state and Trump's false claims of a rigged election by passing a new voting law last week that curtails ballot access and shifts power to the overwhelmingly Republican state legislature, major corporations condemned it. Those companies are now coming under withering criticism from the right-wing press, stoked by calls from Republican politicians to use state power to target them for retribution.

What's Missing From This Vision For The GOP?

The Republican Study Committee traditionally focuses on a rigidly orthodox right-wing agenda of economic and budget policies. But Banks' memo includes little to no mention of taxes, spending, deficits, debt, or government regulations.

Those are startling omissions given Biden's recent passage of a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, his subsequent unveiling of a $2 trillion jobs and infrastructure plan financed with tax increases on corporations, and forthcoming legislation which will address health care, education, and paid leave. Together, those bills amount to a historic investment in the material prospects of working-class Americans.

That tracks with the right-wing media's lackluster response to Biden's economic agenda. The commentators have opposed those bills, just like the GOP legislators who voted as a bloc against Biden's coronavirus legislation and have signaled similar treatment of his other packages.

But everyone involved seems more interested in talking about the likes of Dr. Seuss' purported cancellation than in challenging wildly popular Democratic economic policies. Fox commentators are more practiced at demagoguing about cultural issues, its audience has come to expect and enjoy hearing about those topics, and GOP officials would rather stoke those fires than try to fight them.

Indeed, the lines between right-wing media and political figures have become increasingly blurry. Congressional Republicans alternatively use Fox's coverage to bootstrap their political ambitions or seek to join the network or its cable news competitors. They openly acknowledge that they build their offices around communications, not legislation, or moonlight as podcasters.

This is no way to run a country. It's not good for one of the two major parties to be generating its platform based on the rantings of divisive demagogues who are paid for their ability to keep members of the base from changing the channel.

The GOP no longer has a Fox-watcher in the White House. But the party is as wedded as ever to the network's brand of politics.

Fox News Mocks Pandemic Health Rules But Enforces Masks, Tests, Distance For Staff

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Fox News executives, up to and including Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, have allowed the network's commentators to risk the lives of their viewers by downplaying the danger posed by the novel coronavirus. At the same time, those executives implemented serious public health measures -- the likes of which Fox personalities have denounced on-air -- to protect their staff and themselves from COVID-19.

Over the last year, Fox's on-air programming often discouraged its viewers from taking steps to protect themselves from the pandemic that has now killed more than 550,000 Americans -- and polls show those viewers listened.

Network commentators eagerly championed protests against business closures and social distancing measures; turned face masks into a culture war flashpoint; denounced urgent government warnings about how to stay safe over the holiday season; and expressed skepticism about vaccination.

But while Fox's on-air talent has told their audience that they need not take the pandemic too seriously, the network brass has responded with urgency.

Here are some of the steps Fox's corporate leadership took since the pandemic began to protect themselves and their employees, even as they profited from an audience that had been urged to disregard the virus.

On-Camera Distancing, Home Studios, Closed Offices

Fox personalities have repeatedly suggested that social distancing is ineffectivein preventing the spread of the coronavirus, and they have aggressively promoted protests against such measures.

But the rants of the on-air talent have come under socially distanced conditions enforced by Fox executives. Since mid-March of last year, Fox hosts have anchored their programs either from home studios, from trucks filled with studio equipment outside their homes, or from Fox studios retrofitted to allow substantial distance between participants.

In early May, Fox hosts were declaring the crisis over and rallying behind then-President Donald Trump's push to "reopen the country" by ending business closures enacted to slow the spread of the virus.

At the same time, Fox executives were pushing back plans to fully reopen their own offices, with only a skeleton crew working at Fox News headquarters to keep the network on-air. "A Friday memo from Fox Corp chief operating officer John Nallen extended the company's work from home directive through June 15," CNN's Brian Stelter reported on May 12, 2020.

He added, "On that date, at the earliest, Fox Corp properties like Fox News will begin a gradual reopening of offices. The date could very well be delayed further." It was.

Indeed, Fox's parent company, Fox Corp., has continued to push back the date at which it would reopen its offices. Lachlan Murdoch, Fox Corp.'s CEO, wrote in a internal memo last month that because "the health and safety of our workforce has remained my priority," the company's return-to-work date would come "no earlier than September 7, immediately after Labor Day."

Mask Wearing At Fox Offices

Some Fox personalities, particularly Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, have frequently used their shows to cast doubt on the effectiveness of face masks in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Trump, a frequent Fox viewer, adopted that view, and polls show a swath of the network's audience did as well.

But masks are required in the common spaces at Fox's headquarters for those who do work in person, according to a network memo.

"We'd like to remind all employees to also don a face covering in Fox News Media shared spaces, particularly when you're not at a socially distanced workstation," the June 18, 2020, memo stated. "For your safety and the safety of others, the CDC as well as state & local officials have asked everyone to wear a face covering when unable to maintain 6-feet of social distance between one another."

Strict Rules For Live Audiences

When Fox tapes shows before a live audience, those participants agree to an array of pandemic measures. CNN's Oliver Darcy noted in response to a posting about tickets for the upcoming Fox program Gutfeld!:

Other Fox programs featuring live audiences have similarly required social distancing and mask usage.


Rupert Murdoch Immediately Vaccinated

Carlson has emerged in recent months as perhaps the nation's foremost coronavirus vaccine skeptic, using his massive platform to argue that the vaccines are less effective and more dangerous than advertised. He's been rewarded for that commentary, becoming the undisputed face of the network since the 2020 election. His prime-time colleague Ingraham has adopted similar themes.

One person who does not share Carlson's vaccine skepticism is the Fox host's foremost patron, network founder Rupert Murdoch. The Fox Corp. co-chairman was among the first people on the planet to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, receiving his first dose in December, a few months before turning 90.

"I would like to thank the key workers and the NHS (National Health Service) staff who have worked so hard throughout the pandemic, and the amazing scientists who have made this vaccine possible," Murdoch said in a statement at the time, adding, "I strongly encourage people around the world to get the vaccine as it becomes available."

Lachlan Murdoch Departs For COVID-Free Australia

Lachlan Murdoch was so eager to get away from the coronavirus that he fled the country last month.

The Fox Corp. executive chairman and his family left Los Angeles, where he and other top executives had been based, for their $50 million home in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia.

Why might he try to manage a cable news network from the other side of the globe? The country has some of the world's lowest coronavirus rates -- in part due to its strict quarantine procedures.

Trump’s Propaganda Channel Confronts Biden’s New Reality

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Ask not for whom the world's tiniest violin plays — it plays for Fox News. Three months ago the network's hosts enjoyed unprecedented political power and privileged access to President Donald Trump, the subject of their propaganda. Now its employees are reduced to whining about President Joe Biden not calling on their correspondent during Thursday's press conference, as their lies on behalf of his predecessor's effort to steal the election draw a $1.6 billion lawsuit.

Fox's pity party launched roughly two minutes after the press conference concluded and remained a regular facet of the network's coverage of the event into Friday morning. Eleven different programs have combined to mention how Biden did not call on Fox White House correspondent Peter Doocy at least 24 times as of 10 a.m. ET, according to a Media Matters review. (Only two programs didn't mention the supposed snub during this time frame.) If you tuned into Fox during the network's 2 p.m., 3 p.m., 4 p.m., 5 p.m., 6 p.m., 7 p.m., 9 p.m., or 10 p.m. hours on Thursday, or the 5 a.m., 6 a.m., 8 a.m., or 9 a.m. hours on Friday, you heard about it.

While the complaint is featured on "news" and "opinion" programs alike, their arguments are contradictory.

The "news"-side staffers claim that Doocy had reasonable questions that deserved a public response.

Doocy himself paged through a binder which he said included important questions "nobody else asked about" during an on-air appearance shortly after the press conference ended.

Fox anchor Dana Perino commented that if she were still working at the White House, as she did as President George W. Bush's press secretary, "I would have told the president to call on Peter Doocy," who she said had "good questions."

"Why make Peter Doocy a story, right? Just take his question and move on," she added, as her network geared up to make him a story.

Anchor Martha MacCallum likewise highlighted Doocy's "excellent questions, all ready to go," and lamented that he "was not given an opportunity to ask them," perhaps because other reporters had asked too many follow-ups.

Meanwhile, the network's right-wing "opinion" commentators are saying that a Fox News question would have sandbagged Biden in a way the supposedly "liberal" press refuses to do.

Jesse Watters called Biden "chicken" for not calling on Doocy at the end of a rant about how the reporters who did ask questions are "activists" who want Biden to "nuke the filibuster so we can drive home socialism."

Sean Hannity's complaint that Doocy didn't get to ask a question led to his observation that "none of the other reporters even dared to ask about the wind knocking Joe Biden down three times climbing up Air Force One" or "his struggles cognitively."

Even Trump himself got into the act, contrasting Doocy's plight with the "easy questions" Biden supposedly fielded from other reporters in an interview with Laura Ingraham.

"Mr. President, where was their Jim Acosta," Ingraham asked, referring to CNN's White House correspondent during the Trump years. "They would have Acosta in your face every day."

It goes without saying that normal news outlets do not do this.

Biden called on 10 reporters on Wednesday, meaning that many other journalists did not have the opportunity to ask him their questions. The president didn't call on The New York Times correspondent either, and somehow today's paper is not filled with complaints about it.

But of course, Fox isn't a normal news outlet.

The network spent four years operating as an extension of the Trump White House, allowing its commentators to moonlight as presidential advisers while its "news side" provided disgusting propaganda in support of his administration's most corrupt and authoritarian actions.

In the wake of Trump's defeat, top network executive Lachlan Murdoch openly described Fox's role as the "loyal opposition" to Biden's presidency. The network has subsequently purged insufficiently ideological "news"-side employees and filled up airtime with additional hours of right-wing commentary.

It's good that after years of hiding behind its "Fair and Balanced" tagline, Fox is now openly admitting that it operates as a right-wing propaganda network. But that makes the network's complaints about not getting privileged access all the more pathetic.

Meanwhile, reality is catching up to Fox.

As Doocy's daddy's morning show Fox & Friends was featuring complaints about him not getting to ask a question, news broke that Dominion Voting Systems had filed a $1.6 billion lawsuit against Fox. Dominion argued that the network, in repeatedly airing inaccurate claims that the company's voting machines had altered votes to rig the election for Biden, "sold a false story of election fraud in order to serve its own commercial purposes, severely injuring Dominion in the process."

Fox's Dominion lies were part of the network's all-encompassing effort to support Trump's attempt to steal the election with fabricated claims of voter fraud.

Claims on Fox News that cast doubt or pushed conspiracy theories about Biden's victory

It's too soon to say whether Dominion will prevail. Fox said in a statement it would "vigorously defend against this baseless lawsuit in court."

But it isn't the first time the network's overzealous Trump support has landed it in hot water. After Fox personalities repeatedly promoted false conspiracy theories about the death of former Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich in a ghoulish attempt to defend Trump over Russian interference in the 2016 election, Rich's family sued.

After first claiming that the network would be vindicated in court, Fox eventually settled for a reported seven-figure sum, coming to terms shortly before scheduled depositions of Fox executives and stars.

Now the bill for Fox's lies and propaganda that helped spur an insurrection may have come due. And rather than face up to that reality, the network is busy complaining that the Biden administration is being very mean and unfair to Peter Doocy by not calling on him at a press conference.

Kremlin Assets Aided Pro-Trump 2020 Documentary Featuring Caputo, Nunes

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Russian government proxies "helped produce a documentary that aired on a US television network" as part of the Kremlin's wide-ranging effort to influence the 2020 presidential election by falsely accusing President Joe Biden of corruption in Ukraine, the U.S. intelligence community revealed in a report Tuesday.

The report does not explicitly identify the documentary or network in question. But the timeline and subject matter match The Ukraine Hoax: Impeachment, Biden Cash, and Mass Murder, which the pro-Trump One America News Network aired in late January 2020. Former Trump aide Michael Caputo hosted that one-hour special, which featured separate interviews with a former Ukrainian official later sanctioned by the federal government for his role in a Russian influence operation and with Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), at the time the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

According to the report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized Russian influence operations aimed at undermining Biden's campaign and supporting then-President Donald Trump during the 2020 election cycle. The report assesses that Russian intelligence services and their Ukraine-linked proxies -- including "Russian influence agent" Konstantin Kilimnik and Ukrainian legislator Andriy Derkach -- sought to use U.S. media outlets and prominent Americans to launder allegations of corrupt ties between Biden, his family, and Ukraine, and to falsely accuse Ukraine of interfering in the 2016 presidential election.

The report does not specify which Americans or media outlets were caught up in the Russian plot. But it's clear to anyone who followed political news in 2019 that the intelligence community is referencing Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani's anti-Biden disinformation campaign. Giuliani sought to bolster Trump's reelection by working with shady Ukrainians, some with links to Russia, to dig up dirt on Biden and then spread itthrough right-wing writer John Solomon, Fox News, and OAN. The effort blew up in Trump's face when the then-president's corrupt effort to pressure the Ukrainian government to open an investigation into the Bidens became public, triggering his first impeachment by the House of Representatives later that year.

According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, as part of the effort by Kilimnik, Derkach, and their associates to use U.S. media outlets to damage Biden's political standing on behalf of the Russian government, the Russian proxies "helped produce a documentary that aired on a US television network in late January 2020."

That timeline matches the release of The Ukraine Hoax, which first aired on January 25, 2020. Moreover, the content of Caputo's film echoes the Kremlin-backed narratives described in the report, as well as other Russian government talking points.

OAN CEO Robert Herring Sr. described the special as "exactly what our One America News Investigates series is all about" in a press release announcing its premiere. That's undoubtedly true -- in keeping with his network's general aesthetic, The Ukraine Hoax is an hour of conspiracy theories united by slavish devotion to Trump. Caputo argues that Trump's impeachment is an unjust persecution that emerged from U.S. meddling in Ukraine, corrupt dealings by the Bidens, and joint efforts by Democrats and Ukrainians to stop Trump's election that resulted in Robert Mueller's special counsel probe. He concludes, "as Democrats pursue Trump, they're destroying America and Ukraine."

Caputo denied Russian government involvement in his film and said he had not talked to Derkach or Kilimnik, the proxies named in the report, in an interview with Mother Jones.

But Caputo's star interview is with Andrii Telizhenko, a former low-level Ukrainian diplomat and Giuliani ally who the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned in January for his role in a "Russia-linked foreign influence network associated with" Derkach.

Treasury's press release describes Telizhenko as a member of Derkach's "inner circle" and states that he participated in Derkach's disinformation campaign aimed at influencing the 2020 U.S. presidential election. According to the release, Telizhenko "orchestrated meetings between Derkach and U.S. persons to help propagate false claims concerning corruption in Ukraine." Telizhenko previously sought to distance himself from Derkach.

In his interview with Caputo for OAN, Telizhenko falsely claimed that the Ukrainian government, with the encouragement of the Obama administration, interfered with the 2016 U.S. presidential election on behalf of Hillary Clinton.

Telizhenko became a fixture in right-wing media circles for that allegation because it allowed Trump propagandists to argue that Clinton, and not Trump, had been the real beneficiary of foreign interference in the 2016 election. The intelligence community report released Tuesday describes the effort to "falsely blame Ukraine for interfering in the 2016 US presidential election" as one of the aims of the Russian proxies.

The documentary also features an interview with then-House Intelligence Committee chairman Nunes. Nunes was one of several Trump allies that congressional Democrats said received materials from Derkach aimed at smearing Biden during the impeachment push.

In his interview, Nunes criticized pro-democracy organizations backed by American philanthropist George Soros, saying that they "have agendas" and that Soros "is extreme left-wing and he supports extreme left-wing causes." He apparently agreed with Caputo's claim that Soros was "building an extreme left-wing government" in Ukraine. Nunes also lashed out at "the Russia hoax," saying that "if people are not held accountable, you're going to have generations of Americans, part of the Republican Party, who will never trust the FBI, the Department of Justice, the CIA."

Elsewhere in the film, Caputo described the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, in which protesters ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, as a violent coup instigated by the U.S. government and Soros.

The description of the revolution as a U.S-backed coup echoes language used by Putin in defending Russia's invasion of Ukraine later that year, while the Russian presidentand Russian-backed governments have for years targeted Soros over his pro-democracy efforts.

Caputo also revived the false right-wing smear that as vice president, Biden improperly pushed the government of Ukraine to fire Viktor Shokin, the country's prosecutor general, to stop the investigation of a Ukrainian company and benefit his son Hunter Biden. The Ukraine Hoax includes clips from Shokin himself making that claim.

In fact, Shokin had been widely faulted by Western governments and Ukrainian anti-corruption activists for failing to prosecute corruption, including corruption by the company's founder; the probe had reportedly been "shelved" under Shokin; and his successor acknowledged that there is no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens. The intelligence community report appears to reference this false claim, stating that the Russian proxy network "sought to discredit the Obama administration by emphasizing accusations of corruption by US officials."

After producing a pro-Trump documentary, allegedly with Russian assistance, Caputo went on to bigger and better things. Less than three months after OAN aired his special, Caputo joined the Trump administration as assistant secretary for public affairs in the Department of Health and Human Services. He subsequently drew criticism for politicizing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports about the coronavirus pandemic, and took a leave of absence after his Facebook video accusing CDC scientists of "sedition" became public.

In an interview promoting his special with OAN correspondent and Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec, Caputo bemoaned that some of the people he wanted to interview "ghosted" him during the filming process. But apparently he found help from other sources.

Fox News Buried Trump’s Endorsement Of Vaccination Campaign

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Former President Donald Trump urged Americans to take the coronavirus vaccine on Tuesday night. "I would recommend it to a lot of people that don't want to get it — and a lot of those people voted for me, frankly," he said during a Fox News interview with Maria Bartiromo. "It is a safe vaccine and it is something that works." While Trump caveated his comments by saying that "we have our freedoms and we have to live by that," his comments were nonetheless significant because, as he indicated, polls show Republicans are particularly hesitant to take the vaccine.

But Trump's remarks will have an impact only if his supporters hear them. And while his comments originally aired on Fox, that network -- by far the most popular and influential among Trump voters -- has largely ignored them since.

In the 36 hours following Trump's vaccine endorsement, Fox devoted only about six and a half minutes to the remarks. Only a handful of programs covered the remarks; flagship "straight news" broadcast Special Report and popular opinion shows The Five, Tucker Carlson Tonight, and The Ingraham Angle are among those that have not aired or referenced the comments.

Sean Hannity became the only Fox prime-time host thus far to discuss Trump's vaccine endorsement when he briefly mentioned it (without playing the clip) on Wednesday night. But that aside came in the context of criticizing mainstream media for "chastising" Republicans for not wanting to get vaccinated.

Hannity, to his credit, said that he personally plans to get the shot and acknowledged Trump's comments, but then pivoted to arguing that "it isn't really anyone's business" who gets vaccinated and that "you need to make your own decision" no matter what liberals say.

It's not hard to tell when Fox's hosts and executives want the network's viewers to hear a politician's comment -- the clip will air over and over again across the network's programming, interspersed with segments dissecting it.

That's what happened when President Joe Biden described Republican governors who lifted COVID restrictions, including mask mandates, as engaged in "Neanderthal thinking" on March 3.

Fox ran roughly 1 hour and 20 minutes of coverage about the purported controversy over the following 36 hours — 12 times as much coverage as it later devoted to Trump's vaccine endorsement. The "Neanderthal" commentary spanned almost the entire Fox lineup during that timespan, with several shows featuring multiple segments of discussion.

Fox could have treated Trump's comments with the same urgency that it did a random Bidenism, using the network's megaphone to encourage their viewers to be safe. But Fox's hosts are apparently more interested in making their audiences feel victimizedthan they are in keeping viewers healthy and alive, and its executives, including the Murdochs, are willing to let them as long as the money continues rolling in.

Bar chart comparing Fox coverage of Trump endorsing vaccines vs. its coverage of Biden's "neanderthal" comment

I keep coming back to this because it's true: Fox has a unique moral responsibility, having successfully convinced viewers not to believe anything mainstream news outlets report. There are vanishingly few other vehicles available to reach the network's audience with critical public health information. The network could be trying to create a permission structure to help viewers decide to take safe, effective shots in order to drastically reduce their personal risk from a deadly virus that has killed more than 530,000 Americans.

But Fox is instead failing its viewers, as it has throughout the pandemic. The network's most popular hosts would rather pander to anti-vaxxers for ratings and clout than tell their viewers, "I am going to get vaccinated, just like our founder Rupert Murdoch did, and you should too."

It's disgusting and cowardly and everyone involved should be ashamed.


Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on Fox News Channel for any variation of the term "vaccine" within close proximity of the term "Trump" from March 16 through 8 a.m. EDT March 18, 2021.

We also searched the transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on Fox News Channel for the term "Neanderthal" from March 3 through March 5, 2021.

We timed any segments, which we defined as instances when either story was the stated topic of discussion or when we found "significant discussion" of either topic. We defined "significant discussion" as instances when two or more speakers discussed either topic with one another. We also timed teasers for segments coming up later in the broadcast, and we timed passing mentions of either story, which we defined as instances when a single speaker mentioned either topic without another speaker in the same segment engaging with the comment.

We included any instances that fell within the first 36 hours after Biden and Trump's comments. We rounded all times to the nearest half-minute.

Research contributions from Lis Power and Rob Savillo

Punishing The Murdochs For Carlson’s Racist Poison

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Tucker Carlson is responsible for the vile rhetoric he spews to the Fox News audience every night. But it is Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan, the billionaires who pay his salary, who decided to make him the unaccountable face of their right-wing propaganda network.

Carlson turned his show into a clearinghouse for white nationalist talking points, denouncing the immigrant "invasion" he claimed was ushering in the systematic "demographic replacement" of Americans and making the country "poorer, and dirtier,"because that's what the Murdochs wanted.

After the Fox host spent 2020 pushing lies about the novel coronavirus that endangered the lives of his viewers, spreading bigoted invective about Black activists seeking an end to police violence, and encouraging violent right-wing vigilantism, the Murdochs promoted him.

So when he denigrates pregnant active duty U.S. service members, then lies about the massive backlash he received from rank-and-file members of the military, veterans, the brass, and the Pentagon in order to paint himself as a victim, he does so knowing the Murdochs will have his back.

Carlson is now Fox's lodestar. He has its highest-rated show, his commentary is regularly injected into the rest of the network's coverage, and his work is the lynchpin of Fox's new push to generate sign-ups for its Fox Nation streaming platform. Like his colleague Sean Hannity during the Trump administration, Fox treats Carlson as too big to fail, too important to restrain.

The Murdochs made Carlson the face of Fox even as advertisers have abandoned his program. Its commercial blocks now effectively consist of spots for a right-wing pillow company; ads the network is purchasing from itself; and tumbleweeds. Thursday night's show featured a single ad break with a total of six commercials, one of which was a Fox promo.

Changing the calculus for the Murdochs means ensuring that Carlson's brand is no longer an asset to their other revenue stream.

That means encouraging corporations that don't want their own brands tarnished with his bile to remove their advertising from the entire Fox network. And it means that people who don't want to be inadvertently supporting Carlson should push their cable carriers to stop financing his bigotry.

The Murdochs care about money. The best way to reduce Carlson's malignant influence is to make him less profitable for them.

Fox News Promoted Virus Spread — And Now Hinders Vaccination Campaign

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Far-right anti-vaccine extremists succeeded in shutting down a major coronavirus vaccination site in Los Angeles for nearly an hour on Saturday. These individuals, who strategically concealed their support for former President Donald Trump even as they bore signs highlighting their belief in QAnon-adjacent conspiracy theories, represent the leading edge of a broader right-wing opposition to vaccination. Only 45 percent of Republicans are willing to receive a vaccine for a virus that has already killed over 440,000 Americans, compared to 83 percent of Democrats, according to a recent Gallup poll.

Fox News has a moral responsibility to change those numbers. The coronavirus vaccines are safe and incredibly effective, and their broad and rapid distribution will save lives and allow the country to resume normal activity. But mainstream news outlets can't successfully reach skeptical Republicans with those facts thanks to the all-too-effective campaign by Trump and Fox to delegitimize them. It's Fox that has influence over that group -- and the network should use it to convince its audience to take the vaccine.

Fox should treat vaccination with the same urgency it typically devotes to Democratic pseudoscandals or nascent right-wing protest movements. Its hosts should get the shots in their arms -- live on their shows -- as soon as they meet the local criteria for receiving them. The network should air public service announcements featuring Fox stars urging their fans to get vaccinated. And its reporting should regularly reflect that the drugs work and that it is in the interest of viewers to take them. Fox is a propaganda outlet that relentlessly brainwashes its viewers. This is a way the network can use that power for good.

Fox's executives know that vaccination is important -- network founder and head Rupert Murdoch reportedly received it -- and could compel any recalcitrant hosts to behave responsibly for the sake of their viewers. But so far, that hasn't been reflected in the network's coverage, which has veered between demands that Trump receive more praise for purportedly ensuring vaccine development and warnings about their supposed downsides.

Tucker Carlson regularly dabbles in anti-anti-anti-vaccine commentary, snarling at the "too slick" pro-vaccination campaign as an effort in "social control" by would-be dictators practicing "eugenics." Laura Ingraham has claimed that vaccination might not be necessary in some places and hosted a guest who warned her audience the drugs were "downright dangerous" and will send you "to your doom." And Sean Hannity recently opined that he is "beginning to have doubts" about whether he will personally get the vaccine because half of his friends "wouldn't take it in a million years" and he doesn't "know who to listen to."

This rhetoric is poisonous for Fox viewers who count on people like Carlson, Ingraham, and Hannity to be -- as the network's current "opinion"-side branding goes -- "the voices America trusts." But it might be good -- in the short term, at least -- for the network's ratings. Fox's executives and hosts are desperate to win back viewers who have switched to fringe-right rivals or stopped watching cable news since the election. They've sought to rebuild the network's appeal by defending white supremacists, QAnon adherents, Proud Boys, and other far-right groups, and so it's not surprising they would also make a play for the right-wing anti-vaccine audience.

But competing like this with outlets like One America News -- which has portrayed the coronavirus and its vaccine as part of a "population control" conspiracy by global elites -- or Infowars -- which has waged a campaign of misinformation and conspiracy theories about the vaccines -- comes with a terrible cost. In the absence of more credible information, Fox's viewers are easy prey for far-right social media conspiracy theorists. Some will likely die because they refused to get the vaccine when they could.

Fox has consistently failed its viewers throughout the pandemic. The network's on-air talent claimed the nascent virus was no worse than the flu as it spread across the country, and they depicted concerned Democrats and the press as implementing a "hoax" to hurt Trump. They went on to champion anti-malaria drugs later found to be ineffective in fighting the virus as a miracle cure, turn mask wearing into a culture war flashpoint, promote protests against social distancing measures, and lift up political hacks as experts to the point where one ended up running the White House pandemic response. The results were devastating.

Vaccination poses the last opportunity of the pandemic for Fox to demonstrate that it cares about keeping its viewers alive. All its hosts need to do is show a fraction of the excitement they gave to hydroxychloroquine.

Trump’s Departure Drives Fox News Deeper Into Fever Swamps

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Fox News spent the last four years remaking itself as President Donald Trump's personal propaganda tool. Until the very end, it was a remarkably effective strategy: The network's audience swelled to record heights while its hosts achieved unprecedented influence as personal advisers to the Fox-obsessed president. But Trump's reelection defeat -- and his subsequent turn against Fox for acknowledging it -- has left the network in a precarious position at the dawn of Joe Biden's presidency, scrambling to recapture lost viewers and build a new identity without its key audience in the White House.

Trump's feud with Fox has the right-wing network facing real competition for the first time in years. The network lost its decades-long dominance of the cable news ratings war as viewers answered the president's call for his supporters to switch to its fringe-right rivals, Newsmax TV and the One America News Network, or tuned out from cable news altogether. Pro-Trump outlets that once accepted Fox's primacy in right-wing media are now trying to grab market share by positioning themselves against it. And mainstream commentators on the center-left and center-right are denouncing Fox's election fraud lies and calling for corporate action to stymie its reach.

This conflict will shape the right-wing media ecosystem and the Republican Party during the Biden administration. And the network's likely strategy to regain its edge can already be seen in its post-election decisions.

Fox's 2020 coverage helped stymie the response to a pandemic that has killed more than 400,000 Americans to date and triggered an insurrection in which pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol. What comes next will be worse. In response to sagging ratings, network executives are taking steps to increase Fox's reliance on incendiary right-wing propaganda, while weakening the internal faction that had at least a nominal commitment to reality.

The result will be a race to the bottom of the fever swamp, as Fox competes with its rivals for viewers by promoting ever-more-unhinged conspiracy theories and using increasingly apocalyptic rhetoric that encourages more violent insurrections. And that irresponsible behavior will court a backlash from the corporate interests that make the network's bigotry and lies a profitable endeavor.

Fox's Faltering Business Model

Fox has a two-track business model. The network attracts its audience with right-wing demagoguery. But it monetizes those viewers through payments from advertisers and cable carriers.

Those companies are rightfully uneasy about associating their brands with the network's worst excesses, and advertisers have largely abandoned its most controversial properties. Fox executives traditionally keep them from dropping the network entirely by highlighting their "news" hours, which they claim are independent and credible, while occasionally cutting tieswith low-level commentators when their inflammatory rhetoric draws too much attention.

Trump made that strategy untenable by denying the network its "news"-side fig leaf.

The president watched Fox's programming constantly and lashed out whenever he saw the "news" side producing coverage he considered insufficiently supportive. He raged against the network in November after its decision desk declared first that Biden had won Arizona and then that he was the president-elect. And over the following weeks he increasingly consumed, touted, and promoted programming from Newsmax and OAN, which refused to acknowledge Biden's win, bolstering their ratings at Fox's expense.

Fox executives had two potential pathways in the wake of Trump's defeat, each with perils to its business model. They could try to reinforce the "news" side and compete for current CNN and MSNBC viewers by producing credible journalism, even if it cost them with the network's traditional right-wing audience. Or they could double down on the right-wing propaganda of the "opinion" side in hopes of winning back pro-Trump viewers, but risk an advertiser revolt.

Every public move since Election Day suggests that they prefer the latter strategy. They are rewarding the "opinion" side for its years-long effort to lie to its audience in support of Trump, while purging the "news" side of individuals who tried to keep viewers at least somewhat tethered to reality.

Fox "opinion" hosts spent the weeks furiously promoting internet conspiracy theories about voter fraud costing the president the election. That full-throated endorsement of feverish nonsense got the network into potential legal trouble, triggered embarrassing on-air corrections, and led to the violent pro-Trump insurrection of January 6. Those same commentators responded to the storming of the Capitol by validating the rioters' concerns and repeating the lies that incited the mob.

Meanwhile, the network's executives broke their tacit agreement to use Fox's "news" programming to protect blue-chip advertisers from their right-wing ideologues. Fox's purportedly independent "news" hours began featuring clips from the "opinion" hosts, promoting their prime-time shows, and running ads in which they cast doubt on the election results.

A staffing shakeup reportedly ordered by Rupert Murdoch is now underway. Fox is cannibalizingone of the network's highest-profile "news" shows in favor of another hour of right-wing commentary. The potential "opinion" hosts receiving tryouts in that time slot include Brian Kilmeade and Maria Bartiromo, both fanatically loyal Trumpists who pushed absurd conspiracy theories about election machines flipping votes from Trump to Biden.

As it promotes its "opinion" hosts, Fox is conducting what insiders describe as a "purge" of the network's "real journalists." The layoffs are reportedly masterminded by former Sean Hannity executive producer Porter Berry, who oversees the network's digital operation, as part of Fox's "larger effort to pivot its website from straight-news reporting to right-wing opinion content in the mold of Fox's primetime programming." Political editor Chris Stirewalt is the highest-profile victim -- an apparent casualty of Trump's war on Fox's decision desk -- while senior vice president Bill Sammon is retiring; both were longtime members of the "news" side.

In the months to come, this ratings pressure from the right will continue sending Fox down fringe-right rabbit holes. And its programming, in turn, will influence the way the Republican Party responds to the post-Trump era.

Fox's Choice Will Shape Right-Wing Media -- And The GOP

Fox has always mimicked the attributes of the leading elements of the era's Republican Party. It was founded by former Nixon adviser Roger Ailes as a pro-GOP network to push back on what conservatives saw as a hostile, liberal press, and it both shapes and reflects the party it supports. Fox was a jingoistic, pro-war network during the Bush administration; rebranded as an anti-tax, anti-spending, tea party-booster after President Barack Obama's election; and morphed into a state TV outlet under Trump.

The network's executives would likely prefer to move on from Trump and pivot back to its Obama-era brand, becoming the "voice of opposition" to the incoming Biden administration. The network could focus its programming on smearing Biden officials, conjuring up Biden pseudo-scandals, stalling or blocking Democratic proposals, and bolstering anti-Biden political movements and Republican challengers. That was a unifying message for the right in 2009 that garnered huge ratings for the network. And Republican leaders would doubtless appreciate new Benghazis and "death panels" as cudgels to use against the incoming Democratic administration.

At the same time, Fox's on-air talent will come under tremendous pressure to rebuild its once-record audience. The clearest path to that goal will be to give the recalcitrant Trumpist viewers what they want: more lies that Trump actually won, more unhinged conspiracy theories about Democrats, more paranoid fantasies about the left, and more apocalyptic culture war rage. That will incentivize the rest of the right-wing media to do the same, in hopes of either snagging guest appearances on the network or pulling away some of its market share.

And with Trump refusing to cede the stage, the network may be unable to cut him loose. Fox could face constant loyalty tests from Trump to keep him as the network's main character, which competitors like OAN, Newsmax, and others would eagerly exploit in order to build their audiences.

The result could be that Fox, and the Republican Party it shapes, remain firmly planted in an alternate reality and functioning as Trump's state TV outlet and personality cult. Indeed, the network's propagandists are already trying to purge the party of leaders it views as insufficiently loyal to Trump.

This reckless strategy could win back Fox's faltering viewership. But it also poses serious risks for the network's business model. It sends a clear message to the network's advertisers and the cable providers that carry it that Fox is unwilling to reform from within, that it will only get more dangerous, and that it is no longer willing or able to provide them with cover. That puts the onus squarely on Fox's corporate enablers to stop rewarding the network for its dangerous behavior.

Fox Isn’t Even Pretending To Be A ‘News Channel’ Now

Fox News faced a stark choice in light of President Donald Trump's defeat and the January 6 storming of the Capitol that followed his -- and the network's -- constant lies about election fraud costing him the election.

Fox could have committed itself to journalistic principles, enhanced the influence of its "news" side, and competed for viewers with CNN and MSNBC by offering conservative-leaning but reality-based programming. Instead, its executives have sided with its rabidly pro-Trump "opinion" side, signaling that it intends to compete with fringe-right Newsmax and One America News Network by doubling down on the inflammatory propaganda and conspiracy theories that incited its viewers over the last four years, culminating in January 6's attempted coup by pro-Trump rioters.

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