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Fox is a Far-Right Disinformation Machine and the GOP's Propaganda Arm
Taking on Fox starts with calling out its real roles in American politics and society
When the full history of the 2020-2021 coup attempt against American democracy is written, Fox will be a main protagonist. The Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit documents have put a spotlight on the network’s role at that time and the ongoing threat it poses to democracy. As a far-right radicalization machine and the de facto propaganda arm of the GOP, Fox is best understood through an authoritarian lens. Fox and the GOP are now closer than ever as they manage a massive coverup operation of their roles in trying to overturn the 2020 election and facilitating the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.
Every authoritarian takeover depends on enablers from business, religion, the law, industry, and the media. In return for profits and privileges, elites agree to tolerate and/or facilitate the rollback of rights, the spread of propaganda narratives, and the recourse to violence against state enemies. These participants in the destruction of democracy often go unpunished, even if the politicians at the center of that takeover are eventually prosecuted. This has been the case with Fox.
Fox has some of the highest-rated shows on American television, but its leadership is far less interested in informing the public than in making money and keeping Democrats who might pass dangerous social and economic reforms out of office. The network backs Republican politicians who seem most likely to meet its needs, and then turns on them if they don't deliver or become a liability.
Fox's man was former president Donald Trump, until he denied that he lost the 2020 election, presenting the network with a dilemma. "He could easily destroy us if we play it wrong," worried Fox's chief demagogue Tucker Carlson in late 2020. Playing it "right” entailed Fox doubling down on its commitment to Trump’s lies, even after his attempt to overthrow the government. "Anyone who calls Jan. 6 an insurrection is a liar," Carlson remarked in December 2021.
Then came the 2022 midterms, in which Trump-endorsed candidates fared badly. So, now the network is backing Florida Fascist Ron DeSantis, hoping he will wreck democracy in a more disciplined and orderly fashion, à la Carlson's Hungarian hero Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Even as the politicians come and go, falling in and out of favor, Fox remains. In Jan. 2023, the network staged a “takeover” of the Capitol, hosted by Sean Hannity, to remind us of its power.
That's why if we want to save American democracy, we must take on Fox as well as the GOP, starting with calling it out for what it is: a disinformation machine designed to destroy trust in democratic institutions, including the idea that America’s electoral system is free and fair. When Fox host Neil Cavuto cut away from a Nov. 2020 White House briefing that promoted election lies, Fox officials tellingly called Cavuto's decision to stand up for the truth a "brand threat."
Fox also serves as the GOP's de facto propaganda arm. While Fox does not directly make policy, it heavily influences GOP lawmakers, and Carlson styles himself as an enforcer of the party line. In Jan. 2022, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) was brought onto Carlson's show to apologize for calling Jan. 6 a "violent terrorist attack," a comment that contradicts Republican and Fox narratives about Jan. 6 as a "legitimate protest" at Joe Biden stealing the 2020 election.
The humiliation given to Cruz was part of a GOP-Fox joint coverup operation of their roles in attempting to overturn the 2020 election and inciting the assault on the Capitol. It continues now with GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy’s decision to give Fox unseen footage of Jan. 6 so the network can construct a false narrative that exonerates GOP conspirators in the public’s mind.
So, what can we do to counter Fox? As anyone with a loved one attached to Fox programming knows, it is difficult to convince Fox viewers to change channels —although a study in which Fox viewers were paid to watch CNN for a month produced promising results in terms of returning some viewers to reality.
We can support the campaign of VoteVets, a progressive veterans group, to have Fox removed from U.S. military bases for broadcasting disinformation. Those in military families might pass on VoteVets' latest ad to GOP and Fox sympathizers, reminding them that giving troops and officers a false picture of reality is dangerous to national security.
We can also organize pressure campaigns to speed the exits of Fox executives and their on-air propagandists from lucrative seats on boards of directors. Fox Business Network's Maria Bartiromo, whose election denial propaganda figures heavily in the Dominion lawsuit documents, sits on NYU's board.
We can also protest the presence of Fox propagandists at important conferences, where their lies and corruption are normalized and everyone decides to ignore the awkward fact that they are turning a profit from destroying democracy.
Why was Lachlan Murdoch invited to speak at Morgan Stanley's Technology, Media, and Telecom gathering? There, he merely continued to gaslight Americans by claiming that Fox reports the news "without fear or favor.” He also asserted that the Dominion lawsuit was "actually not about the law and it's not about journalism. It's really about the politics. Unfortunately, that is more reflective of our polarized society that we live in today." Sadly, none of the attendees of the clubby Morgan Stanley conference reminded Murdoch that Fox has been a main agent of that polarization.
Authoritarian dynamics help us to assess Fox's actual role in America today as it intensifies its partnership with a autocratic party. Both Fox and the GOP are complicit in the coup attempt, and both are desperately trying to shut down all damaging investigations and narratives. Fox’s actions resemble those of a media outlet owned by a crony of an illiberal politician. It is a network dedicated to demonizing the political opposition and indoctrinating viewers to blindly believe the party, no matter how destructive to society the consequences may be.