It has been clear for a while now that Fox News is nothing more than a propaganda arm for Donald Trump. But the recent report from Jane Mayer adds some important depth to that story line. Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that in October 2016, a Fox New editor killed a story Diana Falzone had been working on for seven months about Trump having an affair with Stormy Daniels.
But Falzone’s story didn’t run—it kept being passed off from one editor to the next. After getting one noncommittal answer after another from her editors, Falzone at last heard from LaCorte, who was then the head of FoxNews.com. Falzone told colleagues that LaCorte said to her, “Good reporting, kiddo. But Rupert wants Donald Trump to win. So just let it go.”
Ronan Farrow got that scoop in February 2018, long after the election was over.
While we’re all caught up talking about Fox News, this might be a good time to recognize that there’s another side to the story about the organization: what impact does the propaganda have on its viewers? Back in 2011, a self-described conservative, Richmond Ramsey, wrote about that in an article titled “Fox Geezer Syndrome.”
Over the past couple of years, I’ve been keeping track of a trend among friends around my age (late thirties to mid-forties). Eight of us (so far) share something in common besides our conservatism: a deep frustration over how our parents have become impossible to take on the subject of politics. Without fail, it turns out that our folks have all been sitting at home watching Fox News Channel all day.
Here’s how Ramsey described what happened to his own parents.
Even though we’re all conservatives, I found myself having to steer our phone conversations away from politics and current events. It wasn’t that I disagreed with their opinions – though I often did – but rather that I found the vehemence with which they expressed those opinions to be so off-putting.
Then I flew out for a visit, and observed that their television was on all day long, even if no one was watching it. What channel was playing? Fox. Spending a few days in the company of the channel…it all became clear to me. If Fox was the window through which I saw the wider world, for hours every day, I’d be perpetually pissed off too.
We can pair that with Aaron Hanlon’s experience of being a guest on Tucker Carlson’s show, which airs on Fox News. He says that the actual interview is the easy part.
When I went on Tucker—first time on live primetime TV—I stuttered a bit at one point, but overall I was my normal self, i.e. does this guy even have a pulse?…But as soon as the mic cut off my phone was blowing up with thousands of completely batshit slurs, insults, sexual fantasies, Nazi images, and—I can’t put too fine a point on this—so was the PRESIDENT OF MY COLLEGE’S PHONE. Sooo many people tried to get me fired and make me seem beyond the pale. For months I was getting calls and threats. The Fox media machine knows they do this. They put out a Bat[shit] Signal and people come for you.
What Fox News does is develop an audience that is devoid of facts and perpetually pissed off—to the point that they attack anyone who veers from their script. That is why, when Fox starts talking about “Second Amendment remedies” and a new civil war in this country, it is so incredibly dangerous.
The question raised by Mayer’s piece is whether we’d have a President Trump if not for Fox News. We can debate that one. If the Access Hollywood tape didn’t end his candidacy, I’m not sure that an affair with a porn star would have.
The situation right now is even more dire. We have a president who is obviously mentally unstable with a whole host of criminal behavior being investigated. In the midst of all that, we have Fox News dishing out propaganda that keeps his supporters uninformed and ready to respond at a moment’s notice to their bat[shit] signal.
There is no historical precedent for that. Nixon was a crook, but he wasn’t as mentally unstable as Trump and he didn’t have the Fox News propaganda machinery to back him up. While it was slow to unfold, our constitutional system was able to handle that one.
Our founders couldn’t foresee the current situation, which is why they didn’t prescribe a remedy that fits the occasion. The only thing we can do right now is keep our eyes open to the reality of what’s happening—and not be lulled into normalizing it in any way. Since Trump got elected, I’ve been saying that things won’t get better, they can only get worse. I suspect that we’ve still got a ways to go before that is no longer true.