The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

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

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.

event

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.

Methodology

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.

Read Now Show less

Fox News Justifies Riotous Mob, Ensuring They Will Strike Again

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

"If you don't bother to pause and learn a single thing from it, from your citizens storming your Capitol building, then you're a fool," Fox News prime-time star Tucker Carlson said Wednesday night.

While his comments were a typical bad-faith jab at elites, he's absolutely right. But there's been no soul-searching on his network after violent insurrectionists tried to prevent the U.S. Congress from confirming President-Elect Joe Biden's victory over President Donald Trump, no on-air consideration of the role Carlson and his colleagues played in inciting that mob.

Read Now Show less

The Fox News Coup Turns Ultra-Violent

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

As I write this, the U.S. Capitol has been breached by a riotous mob of President Donald Trump's supporters who are bent on preventing the peaceful transition of power to President-elect Joe Biden. The House of Representative and the Senate, whose members had convened in their separate chambers after some Republicans objected to the counting of Arizona's electoral votes, are locked down, while Vice President Mike Pence, who was presiding, has left the area. Insurrectionists continue to stream into the building. It's unclear when or how the legislators will be able to proceed with their constitutional duty.

Read Now Show less

Culpable For Thousands Of Deaths, Fox News Is ‘Misinformer Of The Year'


Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

In 2019, the United States government ran a simulation of a global influenza pandemic. A draft report on the effort, published earlier this year by The New York Times, pointed to a host of flaws in the simulated response that now appear prescient as the country continues to grapple with the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. But one crucial element appears missing: No one contemplated that a major national news source would try to stymie the response -- or that the outlet could convince the president to take its side against the government's public health experts.

That's what Fox News did this year. The right-wing network has promoted coronavirus misinformation an estimated 13,551 times on its weekday programs over the course of the pandemic. And its lies had a deadly impact.

President Donald Trump spends much of each day watching and tweeting along with Fox. The network, long a uniquely destructive force in American political life, reinvented itself as his personal propaganda outlet over the course of his presidency. The Fox obsession shapes Trump's worldview, provides him with his most trusted advisers, encourages his worst impulses, and in 2020 thus far triggered at least 475 live tweets of Fox News and its sister network, Fox Business. Once a curiosity that served to explain his most bizarre tweets, this insidious Trump-Fox feedback loop came to set the course of our nation's politics.

And this year, the country has suffered the consequences of Fox's unrivaled influence on the president and federal government. The feedback loop fueled Trump's disastrous handling of a pandemic that has taken the lives of more than 300,000 Americans to date. It stoked bigotry and violence amid a national reckoning on racism and police brutality as the network's typically abhorrent treatment of Black Americans turned uglier than ever. And as the year came to a close, the feedback loop was powering Trump's attempt to overthrow the election, shaking our political system to its foundations.

For the first time, Media Matters is naming Fox News its Misinformer of the Year for 2020. While we have previously given that title to specific Fox leaders and employees, it has never gone to the network as a whole. But never before have its personalities and executives had the blood of this many Americans on their hands.

The Virus


Fox spent 2020 recklessly minimizing the pandemic as it took the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans. It's impossible to calculate how many might still be alive if the network had treated the coronavirus as a real threat to the health of its viewers and the general public rather than a political obstacle for its beloved president.

The network's viewers desperately needed credible information about the threat posed by the virus in late February and early March, as public officials sounded alarms about its first wave spreading across the country. Instead, they got propaganda.

Fox painted the virus as a minor problem, no more dangerous than the flu, and claimed that Democrats and journalists arguing otherwise were ginning up fears to damage Trump politically. Those raising concerns, the network's hosts told their audiences, were simply trying to "bludgeon Trump with this new hoax" in "another attempt to impeach the president."

How Fox News lied about the pandemic www.youtube.com

Fox briefly took the coronavirus somewhat more seriously after Trump declared a national emergency to slow its spread. But on April 7 -- around the time it became clear that the virus's victims were disproportionately Black and brown -- the network's prime-time hosts effectively declared victory, arguing that public health experts had exaggerated the danger it posed and giving their predominantly white viewers license to ignore the measures designed to curb it.

The U.S. outbreak was still in its early days, with only a tiny fraction of the current total of coronavirus cases and deaths recorded. But Fox's pivot to demands for ending public health restrictions and reopening the economy had already begun. The network's commentators never looked back for the rest of the year, undeterred by overflowing hospitals and soaring death totals as they preached the need to preserve businesses rather than people.

It's difficult to imagine what prime-time stars Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham might have done differently if they were deliberately trying to get as many Americans killed as possible. The hosts and the assemblage of kooks and cranks they brought on for supposed expertise used their massive platforms to wage a nightly, systematic assault against virtually every measure that public health officials supported.

They denounced social distancing, masks, quarantines, and increased testing as ineffective and dictatorial, while praising both the purportedly miraculous properties of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, which studies show is ineffective against the coronavirus, and the less-restrictive response of Sweden, which ultimately failed. They baselessly claimed at first that the coronavirus death toll had been inflated, and eventually stopped mentioning those figures altogether. They embraced protests against stay-at-home orders, valorized small business owners who flouted coronavirus restrictions, and denounced credible experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci. Over a single week in July, their shows combined to push misinformation about the virus at least 83 times.

But while those hosts stand out, the entire network has been complicit in its campaign of deception, with the network's purported "straight news" shows often hammering the samemisinformation as its "opinion" programming.


How Fox News dismissed the pandemic's death toll www.youtube.com

As the year came to a close, the U.S. daily death toll from COVID-19 had crested 3,000, a horrific rate that the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said could continue for two to three months. Fox, meanwhile, was hiding that staggering death toll from its viewers while encouraging them to violate coronavirus restrictions and gather together for the holidays.

This coverage had an impact. Fox's viewers consistently told pollsters they were less worried about the virus than did people who got their news elsewhere, triggering fears among party leaders that the network's programming was endangering the lives of the GOP base. And because of the nature of infectious disease, Fox viewers who did not change their behavior because they were convinced the virus was overblown also endangered those around them.

But Fox's unique hold on the president's attention, and his eagerness to seek out advice on how to handle a deadly pandemic from its personalities, pushed the impact of its coronavirus coverage far beyond its own audience.

Trump didn't just live-tweet Fox coronavirus coverage at least 89 times, or parrot the network's most unhinged coronavirus conspiracy theories, though he did do that. He ensured that the federal government's response would track the complaints, obsessions, and blind spots of its right-wing ideologues. The network's fingerprints are everywhere, from the lax attention paid to the virus during its early spread, when Fox was telling Trump it wasn't a problem; to the stockpiling of unproven and ineffective drugs; to Trump's unwillingness to serve as a positive example by wearing a mask and forswearing heavily attended indoor events; to his refusal to provide desperately needed funds to state and local governments.

Most dangerous of all, Fox's promotion of Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist and right-wing think-tanker with a contrarian take on the pandemic, attracted Trump's attention. Trump liked that Atlas told him what he wanted to hear -- that the virus was no big deal and he was handling it brilliantly -- so he gave him a position on the White House coronavirus task force. From that post, Atlas increased his power and reportedly called for deliberately allowing the virus to spread in order to reach "herd immunity." By the time he left office on December 1, the nation had completely lost control of the pandemic. A few weeks later, the day's death toll exceeded that of the 9/11 terror attacks.

The failure of Fox's pandemic strategy was predictable -- and indeed, Fox's executives knew better than to try to implement it for their own employees. Even as the on-air talent urged a premature return to normalcy, the network largely shuttered its offices and told its employees to wear masks.

But those executives refused to take responsibility for the network's output. During the spring, facing public outrage over Fox's pandemic disinformation, they parted ways with a handful of low-level employees who had made particularly egregious claims. But Fox stars who had produced virtually identical commentary avoided accountability and continued to lie to their viewers and downplay the pandemic.

For Fox, mass death was simply the cost of doing business.


The Protests

As Americans joined nationwide protests against racial injustice following the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd this year, Fox's response was vicious and divisive. The network painted Black activists seeking an end to police brutality as violent terrorists endangering the lives of its viewers and civilization itself, while Fox celebrated white, right-wing vigilantes as heroes, the true victims of law enforcement.


The network's coverage revolved around terrorizing its audience by fixating on instances of rioting, arson, looting, and property damage, at times citing hoaxes or other misinformation. Carlson in particular lashed out at the "thugs" of the Black Lives Matter movement and its supporters. The moment, he claimed at one point, "is definitely not about Black lives. And remember that when they come for you." "Vigilante justice," he suggested, might be needed against demonstrators in the streets. And when that inevitably came to pass, with lethal consequences, he praised its perpetrator.


Tucker Carlson's racist attacks on Black Lives Matter in 2020 www.youtube.com

Fox traditionally tolerates, and even rewards, on-air bigotry. But its coverage of the protests was so horrific that its Black employees reportedly began confronting executives. One staffer even told a reporter that executives "created a white supremacist cell inside the top cable network in America, the one that directly influences the president."

And indeed, the president was watching the network's coverage of the protests, live-tweeting its programming at least 58 times, and taking action in response. Trump stokedracial tensions, abandoned bipartisan police reform legislation and ordered federal law enforcement deployed to U.S. cities, put Carlson's demagogic message at the center of his campaign, and echoed Carlson's talking points by making the racist appeal to white suburbanites that Biden wanted to destroy their hometowns by importing low-income people.

The result was more indiscriminate violence, as law enforcement attacked protestors and reporters with impunity, cheered on by the president and his propagandists.

The Coup

As this piece was written, Trump was still seeking to overturn the results of a free and fair election because he lost. Even as his lawyers have been laughed out of court for alleging nonexistent election fraud, he continues to denounce the results as rigged and seek to toss out millions of votes and have himself declared the victor. For all intents and purposes, he's attempting a coup in broad daylight -- and his Fox propagandists are eager accomplices to his would-be authoritarian power grab.


No one can say they didn't see this coming. Since the spring, Trump has been promoting Fox's warnings of inevitable election fraud as the network laid the groundwork for him to steal a close election. Unfortunately for the plan, Biden won in a relative landslide, with his victory confirmed by Fox itself.


Much attention has been paid to Trump's rage at Fox after its decision desk called first Arizona and then the election for Biden. But the network's "news" and "opinion" sides both trumpeted his baseless fraud allegations in the days following his defeat, with stars like Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, and Maria Bartiromo gleefully aiding the president's cynical effort to subvert the vote and usher in the end of American democracy.


Fox cast doubt on or pushed conspiracy theories about the election results nearly 600 timesover the nine days after the network declared Biden had won, and that treatment has not abated since. Trump himself has repeatedly promoted the network's election fraud lies on social media, apparently after watching his favorite shows. Indeed, dating back to the spring, he sent at least 89 live tweets calling the election's legitimacy into question in response to Fox programming.


Fox in denial of 2020 election results www.youtube.com


The result is that Fox's audience doesn't believe Biden actually won, while the network is responding to criticism by promoting increasingly unhinged lies about the election in order to tell its viewers that Trump's victory is imminent. The results could prove catastrophic, sending the nation into the abyss.

The Crisis

When historians look back at 2020 in the decades to come, it will likely also be remembered as yet another year in which the U.S. did not act to stop the climate crisis.

Fox's routine promotion of climate science denial was identified as a key obstacle to preventing change more than a decade ago. The increasing urgency of the impending calamity -- and the network's stranglehold on the president's attention span -- has only made its intransigence more critical.

In 2020, as massive wildfires stoked by the changing climate raged across the Australian interior and American west, Fox responded by ignoring, downplaying, and denying the situation. Trump, in turn, continued to contradict science and refuse to act, as the threat grew.

The Misinformer

Fox's misinformation had a direct impact on the lives of every single American this year, whether they watched the network or not. Its propagandists helped wreck the response to a deadly pandemic that killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, tried to drown a movement for justice out of racism and fear, and, as the year came to a close, waged an assault on America's democracy.

This year was a low point in the network's shameful history, and none of its employees should ever live it down. They betrayed their viewers and endangered their fellow Americans because they wanted to protect the president and preserve their position as his state TV outlet of choice.

Fox News is 2020's Misinformer of the Year.

Right-Wing Media Figures Still Refuse To Admit Biden Won

The new era of competition between Fox News and its would-be rivals, Newsmax and One America News Network, appears to be fueling an unwillingness by commentators at all three networks to accurately describe Joe Biden as the president-elect, even after the Electoral College met this week.

Since losing the election, President Donald Trump has increasingly trained his criticism on Fox News. He has ranted that his personal propaganda outlet has proven insufficiently supportive of his illegitimate effort to overturn the results based on phony voter fraud claims, urging his supporters to instead watch Newsmax or OAN. Fox has aggressively course-corrected in hopes of maintaining its audience, while the smaller networks have lashed out at the dominant player in hopes of ripping away more of its viewers.

Read Now Show less

The Staggering Human Cost Of Trump’s Scott Atlas Debacle

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

Dr. Scott Atlas resigned from his post on the White House's coronavirus task force on Monday, ending an experiment in governance by Fox News that has caused skyrocketing COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, with even darker weeks ahead.

Atlas' appointment in August represented the purest example of the disastrous impact of the feedback loop between President Donald Trump and Fox's propaganda. An unqualified ideologue launched to power because the president liked his Fox hits, under his guidance Trump oversaw a predictable and horrifying surge in the virus that repeatedly reached the White House itself.

Read Now Show less

How A 'Disinformation Bubble’ Enables The Trumpist Coup Plot

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

President Donald Trump and his supporters are actively working to overturn the results of the election he lost to President-elect Joe Biden in order to keep him in power. Their despicable plot revolves around disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of Americans, in large part voters of color, on the grounds that their ballots were fraudulent. Their claims have been thoroughly demolished in legal proceedings finding no evidence that widespread fraud took place, because it did not. Top federal, state, and local officials have said that there were no election security problems, and the president's legal team at times has acknowledged in court that no fraud took place.

Read Now Show less

Fox Will Still Control Republicans, Despite Trump’s Anger

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters

The first Fox News president will serve only one term. But President Donald Trump's defeat at the hands of President-elect Joe Biden was close enough to show there might be a second one.

Fox had more influence over Trump than any news outlet has ever had over any president, with its former contributors filling the ranks of his administration, key hosts serving as a shadow cabinet of advisers, and major policy decisions rising and falling based on the whims of its commentators and bookers. And so the network bears partial responsibility for his failure to win reelection. "Fox dragged Trump to this point," as The Washington Post's Greg Sargent put it.

Read Now Show less