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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, September 24th, 2020

Book Review: Brian Stelter’s “Hoax” offers a fresh look at how Fox corrodes democracy

With Fox Noise and oth­er print and broad­cast cre­ations, the media empire of mag­nate Rupert Mur­doch and his fam­i­ly has debased the cul­ture and polit­i­cal cul­ture of the Unit­ed States, Great Britain and Murdoch’s native Aus­tralia.

The fal­si­fi­ca­tions, excess­es and cov­er-ups have turned lethal with Fox’s cov­er­age of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic and the Trump administration’s response to it.

That is the mes­sage of “Hoax: Don­ald Trump, Fox News and the Dan­ger­ous Dis­tor­tion of Truth,” by CNN media crit­ic Bri­an Stel­ter.

We go back to March 6th.

Stel­ter writes:

“Fox’s longest tenured med­ical ana­lyst Dr. Mark Siegel told Han­ni­ty: ‘At worst, at worst, worst case sce­nario, it could be the flu.’ This was shock­ing­ly irre­spon­si­ble stuff – and Fox exec­u­tives knew it, because by the begin­ning of March, they were tak­ing pre­cau­tions that belied Siegel’s just-the-flu state­ment.”

“The net­work can­celed a big event for hun­dreds of adver­tis­ers, insti­tut­ed deep clean­ings of the office, and began to put a work-at-home plan in place.”

Fox also can­celed Rupert Murdoch’s 89th birth­day par­ty.

Yet, under host Lau­ra Ingra­ham on the bot­tom of the screen, the chy­ron screamed Left weaponiz­ing coro­n­avirus fears.

And the next night: Left try­ing to pan­ic Amer­i­cans.

Don­ald Trump knew the truth, as he told Bob Wood­ward on the tapes.

Yet, he was delib­er­ate­ly down­play­ing the threat.

So, obe­di­ent­ly, did Fox.

Book cover for Hoax

Hoax: Don­ald Trump, Fox News, and the Dan­ger­ous Dis­tor­tion of Truth, by Bri­an Stel­ter (Sep­tem­ber 2020; Simon & Schus­ter)

“This is their new hoax,” Trump told a Feb­ru­ary 28th ral­ly in South Car­oli­na. The coro­n­avirus would “go away” with the warmth of spring, fol­low­ers were told.

Efforts to warn the pub­lic about the nov­el coro­n­avirus con­sti­tute “yet anoth­er attempt to impeach the pres­i­dent,” Fox’s Trish Regan declared on March 9th.

On the morn­ing of the 13th, Fox’s Ains­ley Earhardt said “it’s the safest time to fly” after her com­pa­ny had pro­hib­it­ed all non-essen­tial busi­ness trav­el.

Fox has devel­oped an intense fol­low­ing. It is “an addic­tive sub­stance” to its audi­ence, Stel­ter writes, cogent­ly observ­ing: “For its biggest fans, Fox is an iden­ti­ty. Almost a way of life.”

The net­work dares not devi­ate from script.

When they do, Fox reporters and pun­dits get show­ered with nasty and obscene emails. So drilled in are the prej­u­dices – with a most­ly white, male and elder­ly view­er­ship – that the net­work is scared of its own view­ers.

How has it become “the Trump net­work?”

For­mer Fox pun­dit Lieu­tenant Colonel Ralph Peters, a stead­fast con­ser­v­a­tive, quit in 2018 with a memo describ­ing the net­work as “a pro­pa­gan­da machine for a destruc­tive and eth­i­cal­ly ruinous admin­is­tra­tion.”

“Fox isn’t immoral, it’s amoral,” he tells Stel­ter.

The vir­tu­al merg­er with Trump “was oppor­tunis­tic. Trump was just a gift to Fox. And Fox in turn is a gift to Trump.”

FNC is a $2 bil­lion mon­ey machine. Its holy grail, set down by founder Roger Ailes, are rat­ings. Tuck­er Carl­son can claim immi­grants make Amer­i­ca “dirt­i­er” and indulge in overt racism, but what counts is 4–5 mil­lion peo­ple watch­ing him.

Sean Han­ni­ty can indulge in con­jured con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries, yet he has the high­est rat­ings in cable­land, and a direct pipeline to the occu­pant of the White House.

“The Mur­dochs are mer­ce­nar­ies,” a for­mer anchor tells Stel­ter, even more than was Roger Ailes. The bot­tom line is every­thing. Hence, with the Repub­li­can Par­ty becom­ing Trump’s par­ty, Fox became Trump’s state tele­vi­sion.

Despite pri­vate reser­va­tions about Trump’s sta­bil­i­ty and tem­pera­ment, Han­ni­ty has become the president’s sound­ing board as well as ther­a­pist.

“Fox was the gas sta­tion where Trump stopped to fill up his tank of resent­ment,” Stel­ter writes. At one point, a fawn­ing Han­ni­ty asks, “Do you think the news media in this coun­tryand their cov­er­age on this, owes you an apol­o­gy?”

“Well, they do owe me an apol­o­gy, a big one,” Trump replies.

“They owe you an apol­o­gy.”

Stel­ter has writ­ten a gos­sipy book, filled with the back­ground frus­tra­tions of those inside who want Fox to be a more hon­est oper­a­tion.

The book fol­lows a quar­tet of Fox reporters and anchors – Carl Cameron, Shep­ard Smith, Brett Baier and Chris Wal­lace – who rep­re­sent or rep­re­sent­ed the “straight news” side of the oper­a­tion. They are repeat­ed­ly out-Foxed by the prime-time mouths. Man­age­ment refus­es to con­demn even the most out­ra­geous excess­es.

Cameron and Smith would even­tu­al­ly leave the net­work.

So would Meg­yn Kel­ly, nev­er on sol­id ground after direct­ing a blis­ter­ing debate ques­tion to Trump about his treat­ment of women, and back­ing up the sex­u­al harass­ment com­plaint that caused Ailes’ down­fall. Wal­lace has sur­vived, and will mod­er­ate the first gen­er­al elec­tion Trump-Biden debate next week.

The incen­tive to stay in place at Fox, and to keep Fox in its place, is that bot­tom line. Lach­lan Mur­doch has set­tled into a ten acre, $150 mil­lion estate in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Papa Rupert lives with fourth wife Jer­ry Hall (ex-Mrs. Mick Jag­ger) in a $77 mil­lion Man­hat­tan town­house.

Sean Han­ni­ty has a $10.5 mil­lion Long Island man­sion, close to the airstrip where his Gulf­stream is parked, and has digs in Flori­da.

Roger Ailes received a $40 mil­lion pay­out, and Bill O’Reilly got $25 mil­lion, when the harassers were forced to leave.

Ex-net­work big­wig Bill Shine was still receiv­ing a $2.5 mil­lion a year set­tle­ment while work­ing as White House com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor under Trump.

For­mer House Speak­er Paul Ryan is paid $330,000, a rel­a­tive pit­tance, for part-time work as a Fox direc­tor.

Tuck­er Carl­son has digs in Flori­da.

In a rare decent act, he sought to warn Trump of dan­gers from the loom­ing pan­dem­ic. He drove across the Sun­shine State in ear­ly March, arriv­ing at Mar-a-Lago just in time for a $150,000 gala hon­or­ing the birth­day par­ty hon­or­ing Kim­ber­ly Guil­foyle, girl­friend of Don­ald Trump, Jr.

Trump con­tin­ues to com­pare COVID-19 to the com­mon flu. As Stel­ter notes, “Sev­er­al peo­ple who were at Mar-a-Lago on the 7th were sick by Fri­day the 13th.”

The big names at Fox have done well, but they have not done good. They have helped cre­ate a con­fronta­tion­al pol­i­tics from which civil­i­ty has van­ished.

“This sto­ry is about a rot at the core of our pol­i­tics,” Stel­ter writes.

“It’s about an ongo­ing attack on the very idea of a free and fair press. It’s about the dif­fer­ence between news and pro­pa­gan­da. It’s about the dif­fer­ence between state media and the fourth estate.”

“So excuse me if I swear a lit­tle – but I am alarmed, and you should be too.”

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