Fox News has been going through a rough patch of late, and it's entirely due to the lawsuit brought against them by Dominion Voting Systems for Fox's promotion of election "fraud" hoaxes after Donald Trump's 2020 election loss. The lawsuit uncovered a trove of top Fox executives and network hosts acknowledging to each other that yes, the network was absolutely spreading false information. Everybody was quite clear on that. And then they kept doing it, and even took steps to punish network journalists who told viewers what things were untrue.
You'd think all of this would pose a challenge to the network's very existence, but nobody in the cable industry seems too worried. The Fox advantage, argues an unnamed cable executive in a new New Yorker piece, ain't exactly the sort of intellectuals who are going to be put off by learning that their network is lying to them.
[A] cable executive I spoke with seemed confident that the network would remain largely unaffected. “The audience is not going anywhere,” they said. “Fox may be forced to read an apology on air or something, but the audience still loves the product. It’s basically the W.W.E. for this kind of world.”
The audience doesn't want accurate news. They want Sean Hannity to tell them that banks are failing because of wokeness; they want Tucker Carlson to tell them that there was no pandemic, there never was a pandemic, and all their dead relatives actually just were sent to a farm upstate. They want to be told that it's not that their own bigoted and paranoid worldviews are unpopular, there's just an enormous "globalist" conspiracy to hide just how popular their own fantasies are.
While it may seem like this unnamed cable executive is unfairly belittling the Fox News audience, there's simply no question that they're right. Fox News viewers love being lied to.
As evidence, here's Fox host Maria Bartiromo still peddling anti-vaccine hoaxes today. "[The government] needed the emergency [vaccine] authorization to get the vaccines down everybody’s throats. But in order to do that, they had to prove that there was nothing else on the market that could actually treat covid when we all know ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine were effective, weren’t they?"
That's flatly untrue; ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine are not effective treatments, and were shown to be ineffective early in the pandemic. Bartiromo's lie here is also quite dangerous; a recent Vice article exposes an online group catering to the parents of children with autism in which the use of ivermectin is encouraged even as side effects like "sporadic blurry vision and sometimes headaches" signal overuse to the point of toxicity.
People are poisoning themselves and their children with continued fake claims that a deworming medication has unreported powers defeating a newly emergent virus, and Fox News hosts are still on air giving credence to the lies responsible for the poisonings. In any reasonable news organization Bartiromo's dangerous quackery would be met with a stern note by executives to, at the very least, stop encouraging Americans to do things which have a reasonable chance of killing them.
A "normal" outcome of a news host promoting dangerous hoax treatments would be public outcry, a network response distancing themselves from the advice, a cratering of public trust in that particular talking head and a subsequent firing or transfer of the host into the timeslot equivalent of Siberia. At Fox News, viewers simply do not care if hosts suggest that horse paste cures COVID. Why would they? According to other Fox hosts, the pandemic was mostly a ruse to distract us from conservatism's awesomeness.
Fox hosts could tell viewers that they can cure diabetes by licking gold coins with Trump's face on them and the network's only move would be to book more gold coin commercials in that time slot. The Fox texts show that the network is not just eager, but obsessed with telling their most brickheaded viewers what they want to hear. Tucker Carlson and other Fox figures believed that journalists debunking the Trump camp's hoaxes was an existential threat to the company because if journalists did pop that bubble, their viewers would flee to other, more explicitly conspiratorial and fascist networks like Newsmax and OAN.
Fox isn't worried one bit about losing viewers who feel lied to. They're much more concerned about losing viewers who don't feel lied to enough.
There's some polling on this now, and it's not terribly dire. After the exposure of internal messages among Fox News executives and hosts, about 20% of Fox viewers say they now trust Fox less than they did before the revelations. Less than half of that number is actually watching less of the network, however, and considering we've just come out of an election year and into the post-election doldrums that's not necessarily a sign of anything at all.
What's not evident in the polling is any sign that the Fox distrust is specifically because of the news that Fox Hosts knew they were spreading disinformation. One of the most conservative-publicized revelations from the Fox texts is the news that Fox host Tucker Carlson hates Donald Trump "passionately," and the network's hard-right and hoax-addicted base could quite possibly be more outraged about that than about the news that the network's top hosts knew the election hoaxes their guests were spewing were nonsensical garbage.
So if you're expecting Fox News to change its ways, you're going to be alone on that one. No industry experts seem to sincerely believe that Fox will tamp down on falsehoods or that the company even has a financial incentive to; while lawsuits from Dominion and from Smartmatic may well cost the company billions, it has billions to spare. It may draft up new rules explaining that hosts must refrain from peddling false claims about companies that can afford top-tier legal teams, but Fox hosts aren't likely to be told they should no longer encourage viewers to suck down horse dewormers.
The Fox network is a 24-hour wrestling match, and viewers both want and fully expect the most outrageous participants to win. If they wanted to know that Joe Biden won Arizona's 2020 presidential election and it wasn't particularly close, they wouldn't be tuned to Fox.
That leaves the rest of us with an obvious question; how do we even approach this situation, one in which a major American "news" network is glibly and eagerly spreading lies, even ones intended to undermine constitutional elections themselves?
Fox News spread hoaxes meant to undermine an American election so that Republicans could then nullify that election under a generic claim of "fraud." The ballooning hoaxes were then used to rally a mob of violent seditionists who attacked the U.S. Congress as it was certifying the election's results. Flatly, that's something that would likely not have happened had Fox News heads encouraged and protected network journalists willing to push back against the lies.
But they're happy with that, their viewers are happy with that, and a now-fascist Republican Party is extremely happy with that. Network heads are giving every indication that, so long as they can skirt corporate lawsuits, they're fully willing to assist the next seditious hoax if and when it arrives.
Is that a news network? If their journalists are operating under executive pressure requiring them to not debunk Republican hoaxes, how does that still count as a "news" network?
Why are these reporters even in the White House briefing room when the network's news and opinion leaders alike are quite clear that the network is not here to report news, but to coddle their viewership with more pleasing lies? Maybe they should not be?
And why, after the news that Fox News doesn’t just lie but provides Democratic ads to Republican campaigns the network heads favor, are Democratic officials still appearing on the network and backing up the fiction that it deals in "news?"
Texts show how Fox News blocked journalists from disproving the hoaxes that led to Jan. 6 violence
Dominion lawsuit exposes new low in Big Lie coverage: Source said she might be a 'ghost'
Court records show Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch directing hosts to 'help' Trump and McConnell
Leave Tucker Carlson alone