The Fox News cult
For its sins, Fox News has agreed to pay a staggering
settlement of $787.5 million to Dominion Voting Systems,
a company clearly defamed by the media company. Top
talent at Fox repeatedly told the lie — a lie within the Big
Lie that the 2020 election was stolen — that Dominion’s
voting machines aided a conspiracy to take votes away
from Donald Trump.
Despite the big check Fox will have to write, many of its
critics are unhappy that there will be no trial, which would
likely have required propagandists such as Tucker Carlson
to be questioned under oath about the falsehoods they
spread. Carlson and his colleagues weren’t even required
to issue on-air apologies.
An apology might have been a balm for those of us who
live in a fact-based universe, but it wouldn’t have changed
anything for those caught up in the Fox News cult. News
of the settlement will hardly even penetrate the thick fog
surrounding those who are breathing in the conspiracies,
xenophobia, transphobia and outright racism that Fox
peddles. The network knows its audience, and they are
addicted to its lies.
That was clear from the internal communications among
Fox anchors and executives that were revealed as part of
the legal discovery process. In a text exchange a week
after the election between Carlson and his producer, Alex
Pfeiffer, the producer noted that viewers were angry that
Carlson hadn’t focused more on alleged election fraud.
“It’s all our viewers care about now,” Pfeiffer wrote. But
Pfeiffer also reveals that he knows it’s all nonsense: “Its
like birtherism 2.0. A grassroots movement the GOP
leadership thinks they can control and go away but this
won’t.” Prescient, that.
In other digital exchanges, Carlson and his colleagues
were even more explicit in acknowledging the fabrications
that Trump and associates were peddling. About Sidney
Powell, the unhinged lawyer shilling for Trump, Carlson
texted host Laura Ingraham on November 18, 2020:
“Sidney Powell is lying by the way. I caught her. It’s
insane.” Despite that, Fox continued spreading the lies.
Rupert Murdoch and his underlings were worried they
would lose ratings to an even more loopy competitor,
Newsmax, if they didn’t fill their viewers with the drivel they
were used to. But the 2020 election season didn’t start the
Fox News habit of funneling disinformation. The late
Roger Ailes, the network’s first chief executive, was quite
comfortable dispensing rightwing falsehoods. Upon his
death, Jeffrey Jones, director of the celebrated Peabody
Awards, told The New York Times that Ailes “ushered in
the post-truth society.”
Research has borne out the perception that the Fox News
audience doesn’t enjoy a sturdy grip on facts. In 2012,
Fairleigh Dickinson University published a survey showing
that “someone who watched only Fox News” could answer
fewer questions correctly about domestic affairs “than if
they had reported watching no media at all.” Other studies
have also shown that Fox viewers are more likely to
believe ultra-conservative claptrap, such as harboring
doubts about the science of climate change.
Fox is just one part of a rightwing mediascape that feeds
its viewers a steady diet of misinformation, but it is the
most powerful part. According to The Washington Post,
more than 40 percent of Republican voters get their
information about government and politics from local news
This has a corrosive effect on a democratic system built on
the belief that citizens will be well-informed. The
falsehoods spewing from Fox News hosts affect not only
views about whether elections are legitimate but also
about the debt ceiling, immigration and public health.
The rightwing mediascape damages the public trust and
further rends the civic fabric. Take the inexplicable
shooting of Ralph Yarl, the black adolescent who
mistakenly rang the doorbell of 84-year-old Andrew Lester,
a white retired aircraft mechanic. His grandson, Klint
Ludwig, told The New York Times that his grandfather
spent considerable time in his living room chair watching
conservative news shows at a high volume. Fox News
certainly helps to create fear of people of color.
That is unlikely to change. Fox faces other lawsuits over
its fearmongering and falsehoods, but it can simply write
another big check. Its viewers are addicted, and Murdoch
intends to keep pumping out the poison.