What Haunts Me Most About the Latest Fox News Revelations
Murdoch had a fleeting thought to protect democracy, but chose profit margins instead
The lawsuit of Dominion Voting Systems against the Fox News Corporation has given us more documentation of the duplicity of Fox News leaders, who will happily destroy our democracy if they can keep up their ratings and profits. Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and other top hosts and executives publicly upheld Donald Trump's Big Lie about the 2020 election to keep the Fox viewer base happy, while privately dismissing and deriding Trump's claims of election fraud.
Tucker Carlson may have called Trump "a demonic force, a destroyer" in a Jan. 6 message to his producer Alex Pfeiffer, but he soon became the self-appointed authoritarian enforcer of GOP propaganda meant to cover up Republican attempts to overthrow the government. "Anyone who calls Jan. 6 an insurrection is a liar," Carlson remarked in Dec. 2021.
For those who study authoritarian takeovers and the propaganda operations that enable them, this is no surprise. These newly revealed documents are simply the media elite equivalent of the communications by GOP lawmakers that have periodically come to our attention. Politicians such as Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) went along publicly with Trump's election fraud disinformation, even working overtime with Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to try and find the evidence they needed. Privately, they expressed misgivings as the coup attempt gathered steam.
Here's what haunts me most from these latest revelations: the news that Fox News head Rupert Murdoch floated the idea that Ingraham, Carlson, Sean Hannity, and other top hosts trusted by the Fox audience should appear together on television in Nov. 2020 and state clearly that Joe Biden had won the election. As reported by CNN's Oliver Darcy, Murdoch wrote that presenting a united front "would go a long way to stop the Trump myth that the election [was] stolen."
Instead, Murdoch & Company went in the opposite direction to preserve audience size and profit margins. That decision had calamitous consequences. It created a state of exception in America that contributed to Trump’s Jan. 6 coup attempt, which further radicalized the GOP and involved it in a massive criminal coverup operation that goes on to this day.
What if those immensely popular hosts had presented a united front against Trump’s lies and upheld the integrity of American elections? Knowing that this option was considered and discarded fills me with sadness for our nation, as well as anger at the sheer greed and depravity of all those involved.
Of course Murdoch did not act on the momentary awakening of his conscience. The Fox brand, built up over decades as a disinformation and scaremongering machine designed to destroy trust in democratic institutions, would have taken a major hit. Trump’s lies had been Fox’s lies, too. So, the network went on "war footing" and supercharged itself in the other direction, losing no opportunity to embrace political extremism.
It's a reminder that any account of the decline of American democracy and the rise of polarization and political violence in this country must include Fox News as a protagonist. While Fox does not directly make policy, it heavily influences GOP lawmakers. And it indoctrinates millions to regard their fellow Americans as enemies and see autocrats as role models, whether in Brazil, Hungary, or Russia.
At a fateful juncture in American media and political history, Murdoch and his minions chose the path of hatred and division, inflicting incalculable damage on our political system and society.