Throughout its history, the United States has never had an official state TV such as one saw in Soviet Russia - and still see today under Putin - that's sole agenda is to support the regime and spread propaganda no matter how untrue or far fetched. At least, not until now. As a very long piece in The New Yorker lays out, Fox News has become a de facto arm of the Trump?pence regime and its tactics and "news" coverage looks like something out of Nazi Germany's Reich Ministry of Propaganda. Hannity and others at Fox News have become the equivalent of Joseph Goebbels. The damage being done to the fear and anger based lies spewed daily on Fox are simply without precedent, as are its ties to the Trump/Pence regime. From birtherism to fanning an untrue picture of immigration, Fox News seemingly has one goal (besides raking in money) which is to prop up the Trump/Pence regime. The piece is a long read, but should be read to understand the dangerous influence Fox has become. Here are article highlights:
In January, during the longest government shutdown in America’s history, President Donald Trump rode in a motorcade through Hidalgo County, Texas, eventually stopping on a grassy bluff overlooking the Rio Grande. The White House wanted to dramatize what Trump was portraying as a national emergency: the need to build a wall along the Mexican border. The presence of armored vehicles, bales of confiscated marijuana, and federal agents in flak jackets underscored the message.
But the photo op dramatized something else about the Administration. After members of the press pool got out of vans and headed over to where the President was about to speak, they noticed that Sean Hannity, the Fox News host, was already on location. Unlike them, he hadn’t been confined by the Secret Service, and was mingling with Administration officials, at one point hugging Kirstjen Nielsen, the Secretary of Homeland Security.
The pool report noted that Hannity was seen “huddling” with the White House communications director, Bill Shine. After the photo op, Hannity had an exclusive on-air interview with Trump. Politico later reported that it was Hannity’s seventh interview with the President, and Fox’s forty-second. Since then, Trump has given Fox two more. He has granted only ten to the three other main television networks combined, and none to CNN, which he denounces as “fake news.”
Hannity was treated in Texas like a member of the Administration because he virtually is one. The same can be said of Fox’s chairman, Rupert Murdoch. Fox has long been a bane of liberals, but in the past two years many people who watch the network closely, including some Fox alumni, say that it has evolved into something that hasn’t existed before in the United States. Nicole Hemmer, an assistant professor of Presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and the author of “Messengers of the Right,” a history of the conservative media’s impact on American politics, says of Fox, “It’s the closest we’ve come to having state TV.”
Hemmer argues that Fox—which, as the most watched cable news network, generates about $2.7 billion a year for its parent company, 21st Century Fox—acts as a force multiplier for Trump, solidifying his hold over the Republican Party and intensifying his support.
For both Trump and Fox, “fear is a business strategy—it keeps people watching.” As the President has been beset by scandals, congressional hearings, and even talk of impeachment, Fox has been both his shield and his sword. The White House and Fox interact so seamlessly that it can be hard to determine, during a particular news cycle, which one is following the other’s lead.
[M]any people who have watched and worked with Fox over the years, including some leading conservatives, regard Fox’s deepening Trump orthodoxy with alarm. Bill Kristol, who was a paid contributor to Fox News until 2012 and is a prominent Never Trumper, said of the network, “It’s changed a lot. Before, it was conservative, but it wasn’t crazy. Now it’s just propaganda.” Joe Peyronnin, a professor of journalism at N.Y.U., was an early president of Fox News, in the mid-nineties. “I’ve never seen anything like it before,” he says of Fox. “It’s as if the President had his own press organization. It’s not healthy.”
Nothing has formalized the partnership between Fox and Trump more than the appointment, in July, 2018, of Bill Shine, the former co-president of Fox News, as director of communications and deputy chief of staff at the White House. . . . Kristol contends that Shine’s White House appointment is a scandal. “It’s been wildly under-covered,” he said. . . . . “It’s astounding that Shine—the guy who covered up Ailes’s horrible behavior—is the deputy chief of staff!”
The Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, another conservative Never Trumper, used to appear on the network, but wouldn’t do so now. “Fox was begun as a good-faith effort to counter bias, but it’s morphed into something that is not even news,” she says. “It’s simply a mouthpiece for the President, repeating what the President says, no matter how false or contradictory.” . . . . Rubin told me, “It’s funny that Bill Shine went over to the White House. He could have stayed in his old job. The only difference is payroll.”
Shine is only the most recent Fox News alumnus to join the Trump Administration. Among others, Trump appointed the former Fox contributor Ben Carson to be his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, the former Fox commentator John Bolton to be his national-security adviser, and the former Fox commentator K. T. McFarland to be his deputy national-security adviser. (McFarland resigned after four months.) Trump recently picked the former Fox News anchor Heather Nauert to be the Ambassador to the United Nations, but she soon withdrew herself from consideration, reportedly because her nanny, an immigrant, lacked a work permit.
A Republican political expert who has a paid contract with Fox News told me that Hannity has essentially become a “West Wing adviser,” attributing this development, in part, to the “utter breakdown of any normal decision-making in the White House.” The expert added, “The place has gone off the rails. There is no ordinary policy-development system.” As a result, he said, Fox’s on-air personalities “are filling the vacuum.”
Axios recently reported that sixty per cent of Trump’s day is spent in unstructured “executive time,” much of it filled by television. Charlie Black, a longtime Republican lobbyist in Washington, whose former firm, Black, Manafort & Stone, advised Trump in the eighties and nineties, told me, “Trump gets up and watches ‘Fox & Friends’ and thinks these are his friends.
It is hardly unprecedented for American media barons to go beyond their pages to try to influence the course of politics. . . . . But now a direct pipeline has been established between the Oval Office and the office of Rupert Murdoch, the Australian-born billionaire who founded News Corp and 21st Century Fox. Multiple sources told me that Murdoch and Trump often talk on the phone.
Murdoch could not have foreseen that Trump would become President, but he was a visionary about the niche audience that became Trump’s base. In 1994, Murdoch laid out an audacious plan to Reed Hundt, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission . . . . his creation would follow the unapologetically lowbrow model of the tabloids that he published in Australia and England, and appeal to a narrow audience that would be entirely his. His core viewers, he said, would be football fans; with this aim in mind, he had just bought the rights to broadcast N.F.L. games. . . . . “The genius was seeing that there’s an attraction to fear-based, anger-based politics that has to do with class and race.”
Trump’s arrival marked an important shift in tone at Fox. Until then, the network had largely mocked birtherism as a conspiracy theory. O’Reilly called its promoters “unhinged,” and Glenn Beck, who at the time also hosted a Fox show, called them “idiots.” But Trump gave birtherism national exposure, and, in a sign of things to come, Hannity fanned the flames. Hannity began saying that, although he thought that Obama had been born in the United States, the circumstances surrounding his birth certificate were “odd.”
In November, Hannity joined Trump onstage at a climactic rally for the midterm elections. Afterward, Fox issued a limp statement saying that it didn’t “condone any talent participating in campaign events” and that the “unfortunate distraction” had “been addressed.” Many Fox News reporters were angry, and provided critical anonymous quotes to the media, but Hannity didn’t apologize, saying that he had been “surprised yet honored” when Trump called him up onstage. This response was dubious: before the rally, Trump’s campaign had advertised Hannity as a “special guest.”
Murdoch’s views could scarcely be more at odds with Fox’s current diatribes about hordes of “illegal aliens” who are “invading” the U.S. and killing innocent Americans, leaving behind grieving “Angel Moms” and “Angel Dads.” Van Susteren told me that she wasn’t surprised by this rhetorical turn. “Don’t kid yourself about his support for immigration,” she said of Murdoch. “Rupert is first about the bottom line. . . . . Fox’s mile-by-mile coverage of the so-called “migrant caravan” was an enormous hit: ratings in October, 2018, exceeded those of October, 2016—the height of the Presidential campaign.
With Trump’s election, the network’s hosts went from questioning power to defending it. Yochai Benkler, a Harvard Law School professor who co-directs the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, says, “Fox’s most important role since the election has been to keep Trump supporters in line.” The network has provided a non-stop counternarrative in which the only collusion is between Hillary Clinton and Russia; Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is perpetrating a “coup” by the “deep state”; Trump and his associates aren’t corrupt, but America’s law-enforcement officials and courts are; illegal immigration isn’t at a fifteen-year low, it’s “an invasion”; and news organizations that offer different perspectives are “enemies of the American people.”
Most American news outlets try to adhere to facts. When something proves erroneous, they run corrections, or, as Benkler and his co-authors write, “they check each other.” Far-left Web sites post as many bogus stories as far-right ones do, but mainstream and liberal news organizations tend to ignore suspiciously extreme material. Conservative media outlets, however, focus more intently on confirming their audience’s biases, and are much more susceptible to disinformation, propaganda, and outright falsehoods (as judged by neutral fact-checking organizations such as PolitiFact).
Hannity has been allowed to spew baseless conspiracy theories with impunity. For more than a year, Hannity and other hosts spread the lie that the hacking of Democratic Party e-mails during the 2016 campaign was an inside job. Hannity claimed that the hacking had been committed not by Russian cyber-warfare agents, as the U.S. intelligence community concluded, but by a Democratic staffer named Seth Rich, who had been murdered by unknown assailants on a D.C. street. . . . . In 2017, after Rich’s parents demanded an apology and advertisers began shunning the network, Fox finally ran a retraction, and Hannity dropped the story.
Given Fox’s status as a dominant source of information for Trump, some people argue that the network should be especially vigilant about outside influence. Aki Peritz, a former C.I.A. analyst who is an adjunct professor at American University, has written that Fox News has become an inviting target for foreign spy agencies, because “it’s what the President sees.” But a source who spoke to me about Guilfoyle and Townsend says, “It’s even worse than a conspiracy of the dark Web, or something trying to manipulate Fox. It was just a guy in his underwear in Georgia who had influence over Fox News! And Fox News influences the President!”Gertz, of Media Matters, argues, “The President’s world view is being specifically shaped by what he sees on Fox News, but Fox’s goals are ratings and money, which they get by maximizing rage. It’s not a message that is going to serve the rest of the country.” Blair Levin, the former F.C.C. official, says that Trump and Fox are employing the same risky model: inflaming the base and intensifying its support, rather than building a broader coalition. Narrowcasting may generate billions of dollars for a cable channel, but as a governing strategy it inevitably alienates the majority. The problem for Trump, as one former Fox host puts it, is that “he can’t afford to lose Fox, because it’s all he’s got.”
Similarly, Fox has a financial incentive to make Trump look good. . . . Since the midterms, in which the Republicans lost the House, the Nielsen ratings for Fox’s evening lineup—Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and Laura Ingraham—have fallen by twenty per cent.
Jerry Taylor, the co-founder of the Niskanen Center, a think tank in Washington for moderates, says, “In a hypothetical world without Fox News, if President Trump were to be hit hard by the Mueller report, it would be the end of him. But, with Fox News covering his back with the Republican base, he has a fighting chance, because he has something no other President in American history has ever had at his disposal—a servile propaganda operation.”
Be very afraid.