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.
“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.
“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.”