Fox News is up to its old tricks again of presenting right-wing activists as regular folks, this time in order to falsely paint their extremist views as popular and commonplace and to gin up Republican voters for the midterms.
Media Matters counted six blocks, totaling about 35 minutes of airtime, devoted to this charade on Fox & Friends yesterday.
The panelists posing as “parents” included former Trump official Will Estrada, members of the right-wing “Moms for Liberty” group and an activist affiliated with the conservative group Independent Women’s Forum, which spreads the claim that America today resembles Maoist China under the Cultural Revolution.
Cohost Brian Kilmeade opened yesterday’s Fox & Friends show by saying that the network sent Earhardt to Patrick Henry College, in Virginia, “so we find out what the people think.”
“We wanted to find out what their issues are,” Earhardt said, as if she didn’t already know not only their issues but that they had been booked just because of them.
To be clear, the right-wing culture war being waged on Fox, which is also part of a war on public education, is mostly background noise to parents, an NPR poll found in April. But trust in teachers is also plunging, The Washington Post reported last month. From the WaPo article:
On Fox News, meanwhile, teachers have become a favorite target. In July and August alone, Fox hosts called a teachers union “the KKK with summers off,” said teachers’ aim is to “groom children to exploit them for sexual purposes” and asserted teachers deserve low wages: “If you’re teaching them to be woke,” host Sean P. Duffy said on Aug. 17, “we shouldn’t pay them more.”
As if she was talking to a focus group, Earhardt asked how many in the group think education is the number one issue of concern. “Look at that!” she exclaimed, after everyone raised their hand.
Kilmeade asked where climate change ranks in their list of concerns. There was scornful laughter from the group, offscreen. One man said he was concerned about it, though.
Earhardt asked about abortion. A man who nodded emphatically that it was an important issue said, “It’s the sanctity of human life.” He added that he was glad the Supreme Court had recently overturned Roe v. Wade in its Dobbs decision.
“Mmhmm,” Earhardt murmured. “What about gender identity?” she asked.
Even worse, the supposedly “straight news” show, America’s Newsroom, presented clips from the panel, with an explicit effort to tie them to the midterm elections. Anchor Sandra Smith introduced the video by saying, “Polls showing education will be and is top of the mind for American voters come Election Day and it will be, could be the deciding factor in some of the nation’s key races. A panel of Virginia voters spoke with Fox & Friends earlier and here is what they had to say.”
In the video, we saw one woman complaining about “equity grading.” We also saw Xi Van Fleet, the Independent Women’s Forum activist, identified only as a “Loudoun County mother,” say, “I see more and more similarities between what’s happening here and what went on when I was a little girl in China and our school is doing exactly what the CCP and Mao did in China to prepare the students to be activists, to be revolutionaries. That’s why they’re doing all this indoctrination.”
Earhardt could be heard murmuring her horror.
Cheryl Onderchain, identified as “single mother of three,” is a member of the Moms for Liberty chapter in Loudoun County, Virginia, Media Matters noted. She made the topic explicitly partisan, which was A-OK for Fox’s “news” show, apparently. With unintended irony, Onderchain complained about "gaslighting." She said, “I am tired of the gaslighting, the gaslighting by the left, the gaslighting by this administration, telling us that the economy isn’t that bad. Well, I’ve seen my grocery bills go up, my car insurance just went up 50%.”
That last bit has nothing to do with schools but demonizing Democrats is always welcome on Fox News.
The clip ended there but Smith wagged her pen and added, “Don’t mess with parents. They want control over what their kids are learning in the classroom.”
She went on to gratuitously add her own right-wing messaging. “I always say I like to and I believe most teachers in this country want the absolute best for their students. But the unions have too much control and they did through the pandemic and a lot of parents were able to see what was happening in their classrooms and they want to get back to academics.”
This is far from the first time Fox has presented activists as “regular” Americans. Media Matters reminds that “The network employed the same strategy repeatedly throughout 2021 in the run-up to the Virginia gubernatorial race that year, during which the network actively promoted the successful campaign of Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin.”
Fox has a long history of disingenuously identifying guests. Republican Dick Morris was routinely introduced as a "former Clinton advisor;" "Democrat" Pat Caddell was once a regular Democrat-bashing guest. There was also "Democratic strategist" Harlan Hill, who was really a Trump operative.
You can watch Fox’s “Virginia parents” deceit below, from the October 14, 2022 Fox & Friends and the October 14, 2022 America’s Newsroom.
Multiple Right Wing pollsters, such as Rasmussen and “The Trafalgar Group”, regularly present blatantly tilted polling results as a way of trying to make the GOP candidates appear to be doing better than they are, as a way of depressing Dem voter turnout while goosing GOP voter turnout. This approach does work when the voters are not aware of who is presenting the numbers to them, or where the propagandists’ advocacy pays off in their people showing up in greater numbers.
What makes this scenario so dangerous is that angry Right Wingers are trying to literally create “facts” out of thin air and use those “facts” to bamboozle their way into real election victories that can have terrible consequences.