In recognition of Fox News’ 25th anniversary, Chris Hayes and Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum came up with very clear-eyed analyses of the network’s tremendously destructive power on our democracy.
In a thoughtful piece called, “The Real Source of America’s Rising Rage,” Drum makes a compelling argument that the source is Fox News. This is far from his only evidence but it’s right on the money:
To an extent that many people still don’t recognize, Fox News is a grinding, daily cesspool of white grievance, mistrust of deep-state government, and a belief that liberals are literally trying to destroy the country out of sheer malice. Facebook and other social media outlets might have made this worse over the past few years—partly by acting as a sort of early warning system for new outrages bubbling up from the grassroots that Fox anchors can draw from—but Fox News remains the wellspring.
What makes this even worse is that many Republican politicians no longer respond to ordinary political incentives. As former Republican House Speaker John Boehner put it, it’s now all about appealing to Fox News and fending off primary challenges from right-wing fanatics. Referring to the first-term House class of 2010, he wrote in his recent memoir that “they didn’t really want legislative victories. They wanted wedge issues and conspiracies and crusades.” Modern Republicans, raised on a diet of Fox News, “were just thinking of how to fundraise off of outrage or how they could get on Hannity that night.”
And this is likely to get worse.
At least as depressing, Drum notes, “Liberals have been fighting Fox News for years with little to show for it.” I’d argue that it’s because they never understood just how pernicious the network always has been. And, as Drum suggests above, many still don’t.
Let me pause here to say that my objections to Fox have never been and still aren’t because it’s conservative but because of the way it weaponizes the news into poisonous propaganda. And the poison is now so toxic that it’s lethal to Fox's own viewers and life-threatening to the rest of us.
Friday night, Hayes laid all that out in a devastating and right-on-point commentary. He started by drawing a line from people screaming at parents with children wearing face masks to Tucker Carlson telling viewers that parents whose children wear face masks outside are engaging in “child abuse” and should be arrested.
HAYES: There is a direct pipeline from what appears on Fox News to the absolute worst manifestations, worst behavior, worst elements of our politics and society, input to output, clear and strong connection.
Just take a step back and survey the wreckage of the current moment, this unprecedented era in American politics. The first president in the country's history without any meaningful political or military experience, the first president impeached twice, the first deadly insurrection which tried to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power and overthrew the duly elected government since basically, the cannons firing in Fort Sumter during the Civil War.
There’s also a direct line from Fox News to Donald Trump and back again:
HAYES: Donald Trump, the monster they created [is] both an avid Fox News viewer and the network's quintessential talking head, the real-life case study of what happens when you try to govern the country based on the network's cynical and demagogic misinformation. … Donald Trump, the politician, and his racism, and nativism, authoritarian aspirations, almost entirely a creation of Fox News.
Citing the Drum article, Hayes sifted through 25 years of Fox’s fingerprints on our politics.
HAYES: From the insane spectacle the Clinton impeachment in the late 1990s, the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, which Gore won the popular vote of, its chaotic aftermath, to the racist destructive culture war madness of the post 911 era and the lead up to the Iraq war. When the country band then known as the Dixie Chicks were essentially removed from polite society for daring to criticize then-President George W. Bush and the House of Representatives cafeterias started serving "freedom fries" to protest France's opposition to the Iraq war, and of course, the war itself, which was touted as a huge success on the network, while its critics who were of course ultimately vindicated by history, were lambasted for their lack of patriotism. To the racialized backlash to Barack Obama's presidency, including birtherism, the racist conspiracy theory that says Obama was not born in this country, which was Donald Trump's first major foray into the political discourse. And that's the groundwork for the entire MAGA movement.
All this was fueled by Fox News in the perpetual conservative outrage machine. And it's not just speculation, there' been studies done of this. There's studies that have determined that Fox News is a real motivating factor in American politics.
HAYES: Elected Republicans obviously use Fox to disseminate pro-party propaganda. But we also cannot ignore the reverse wag-the-dog reality where increasingly Republican politicians are themselves avid Fox viewers. That's where they get their information. They follow the network's lead. Kevin Drum highlights one example of Fox leading the party in that great Mother Jones piece: "Starting in March, Fox mentioned critical race theory 1300 times in the space of just three months. By the end of June, 26 states had introduced legislation that restricted or banned teaching CRT and related topics."
And just when you think Fox can’t get any more pestilential, the network is literally sickening its viewers and prolonging the COVID pandemic for the sake of “owning the libs.”
HAYES: [A]s we continue to chronicle on this show, Fox News is pushing out a constant stream of public health misinformation that is getting people sick, getting them into the hospital, getting them killed and prolonging this pandemic.
It's unconscionably dark. It's the darkest, most extreme logical conclusion you can imagine for where this entire enterprise would end up. Where you've got these phenomenally rich, cosseted, elite Fox hosts sitting in their little studios, under the lights, with hair and makeup and expensive clothes, working for a company that mandates either vaccines or a daily testing regime, precisely the policy they're railing against. But they won't say that, they won't say anything about their bosses because they're too cowardly.
Instead, what they're doing is pushing poison into people's brains that gets them sick. This is where both the modern enterprise of Fox News and the conservative movement more broadly have ended up, the most acute threat to American democracy we have seen in 150 years. So, happy 25th anniversary, guys. You did it.
Drum closes his article with a call to action:
For the past 20 years the fight between liberals and conservatives has been razor close, with neither side making more than minor and temporary progress in what’s been essentially trench warfare. We can only break free of this by staying clear-eyed about what really sustains this war. It is Fox News that has torched the American political system over the past two decades, and it is Fox News that we have to continue to fight.
I urge everyone to read Drum's article and to watch Hayes’ commentary below, from MSNBC’s October 8, 2021 All In with Chris Hayes.
(H/T reader John M.)