Resolute Square

Part 2: Fox News - Money Over Everything

Brian Daitzman writes, "Amidst a global health crisis, Fox News, under the leadership of Suzanne Scott, demonstrated a marked indifference to the human toll caused by its dissemination of misleading information."
Published:April 12, 2024
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By Brian Daitzman

Amidst a global health crisis, Fox News, under the leadership of Suzanne Scott, demonstrated a marked indifference to the human toll caused by its dissemination of misleading information. In her capacity as CEO, Scott's stance encapsulates a chilling disregard for the damage wrought by the network's falsehoods about public health measures and the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed nearly 1.2 million American lives.

 In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, she acknowledged adopting Rupert Murdoch's advice to "ignore the noise," a mantra that reflects a profound disconnection from the consequences of spreading disinformation. Scott's assertion that she "sleeps well at night," despite the network's role in fueling public mistrust and misinformation during the pandemic, starkly illustrates the callousness at the heart of Fox News' operational ethos. This approach has not only perpetuated confusion but has also critically undermined the response to a public health emergency, showing a preference for profit over the well-being of the public.

Adding to the dichotomy of Fox News’s public stance, Rupert Murdoch, the media baron and chairman of Fox Corp, received the COVID-19 vaccine in Britain, signaling his personal trust in the vaccine's safety and efficacy. This occurred a day before Fox News’s prominent opinion host, Tucker Carlson, expressed skepticism on air about the vaccine's marketing strategies, highlighting an adverse reaction case to undermine the public health campaign. This contradiction underscores the network's complex role in shaping public perceptions, where the personal actions of its leaders do not align with the narratives pushed by its influencers, further complicating the public’s challenge in navigating the pandemic that has already claimed numerous lives.

Moreover, despite the skepticism aired by some of its most visible personalities, over 90% of Fox Corporation’s staff were vaccinated against COVID-19, as revealed in a company memo. This internal adherence to health guidelines starkly contrasts with the public skepticism promoted by Fox News hosts, revealing a significant disconnect between the corporation's internal policies and its public messaging. This inconsistency highlights a critical gap in corporate responsibility, with Fox News promoting views that conflict with the practices it implements for its own employees’ safety, undermining efforts to combat a pandemic that has devastated communities across the United States.

The impact of this disinformation is not just theoretical but quantifiably deadly. Research linking political affiliation with COVID-19 outcomes shows a stark and disturbing trend: conservative media consumption, particularly of outlets like Fox News, has significantly increased vaccine hesitancy among Republicans, contributing directly to higher mortality rates in this group compared to Democrats. This ideological divide has been exacerbated by Fox News personalities who, despite the availability of vaccines, have continued to fuel skepticism. This campaign of misinformation has not only failed the network's viewership but also represents a failure of public trust, as right-wing elites choose ratings and political gain over the health and safety of their audience.

The tragic consequences of this disinformation are evident. As the pandemic raged, the United States saw excess deaths far surpass those of its peer countries, a grim piece of American exceptionalism driven largely by political ideology and media influence. The public health failure is compounded by data showing that conservative areas, heavily influenced by Fox News, continue to experience higher rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths, largely due to vaccine hesitancy fueled by the network's programming. These avoidable deaths reflect a stark betrayal by media and political leaders, whose responsibility to protect their followers has been overshadowed by the pursuit of personal and political advantage.

Fox and the Undermining of Public Health

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Fox News showed a disconcerting dissonance between its internal policies and the public narratives it promoted. 

While over 90% of Fox Corporation employees were vaccinated, reflecting an internal recognition of the vaccines' efficacy, Fox News outwardly sowed doubts about the safety and necessity of these health measures. This dichotomy between what Fox practiced internally and preached publicly significantly influenced public behavior, leading to increased vaccine hesitancy, particularly among its viewers.

This persistent spread of misinformation not only contradicted the predominant scientific consensus but also contributed directly to a broader public health crisis. 

Surveys and studies consistently showed that regular viewers of Fox News exhibited higher levels of skepticism towards vaccines, directly impacting the efforts to achieve herd immunity and prolonging the pandemic's toll on society. Furthermore, a Brown University and Microsoft AI Health analysis highlighted how widespread acceptance of vaccines could have dramatically reduced COVID-19 mortality rates, yet misinformation led to lower vaccination rates in predominantly conservative areas, significantly impacting public health outcomes.

Moreover, the network's politicization of COVID-19 exacerbated distrust in scientific and public health institutions, with Fox News playing a crucial role in fostering resistance to public health guidelines among its viewership. This resistance was not without severe consequences; research indicated a stark increase in excess deaths among Republicans compared to Democrats, closely correlated with levels of vaccine hesitancy fueled by conservative media consumption.

Fox News's coverage has had not only immediate health implications but also broader societal and economic impacts. 

Communities with higher viewership have faced greater challenges in managing the pandemic, demonstrating the critical need for accurate, evidence-based communication during health emergencies. 

Fox News’ Messaging Aligns With Russia’s Desire to Undermine U.S. Public Health

Fox News's campaign to undermine public health in the United States appears to align with similar operations by Russian entities aimed at achieving the same objective.

Russian operatives are known to exploit social media platforms to increase vaccine hesitancy in the U.S., a tactic that has deepened public divisions and contributed to health crises, including measles outbreaks. According to studies by George Washington University, this strategy aims to amplify anti-vaccine sentiments to erode trust in public health institutions and preventative medicine.

Similarly, Fox News has consistently provided a platform for skepticism and misinformation about vaccines, aligning its editorial stance with narratives that question the safety and efficacy of vaccinations. This approach has not only fueled vaccine hesitancy but has also mirrored the Russian objective of sowing discord within American society.

By persistently casting doubt on medical science and the recommendations of health experts, Fox News has contributed to an environment of mistrust and fear, which adversarial foreign entities could exploit to weaken national unity and health security.

Furthermore, Russian state media and proxy outlets have been reported to spread misinformation about other health-related issues, such as the alleged dangers of 5G technology, often without scientific support. This tactic of fostering baseless health fears finds a parallel in the sensationalist and sometimes misleading health coverage by Fox News, particularly in its amplification of unverified and potentially harmful theories.

While there is no proven collusion between Fox News and Russia in undermining public health in the United States, the similarities in their messaging and the mutual interest in destabilizing public confidence in scientific expertise and governance are strikingly parallel.

The Real-World Impact of Promoting Anti-Science Propaganda

Sheriff Robert LaMay and Joe Joyce were two individuals whose stories highlight the profound impact of media narratives on public perception and behavior, especially as it pertains to health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Each of these men suffered from the virus and eventually succumbed to it, providing a tragic commentary on the consequences of misinformation.

Robert LaMay

The Manipulation and Abandonment of Robert LaMay by Laura Ingraham
Robert LaMay, a former Washington state trooper, became a poignant symbol in the narrative against public health measures when he resigned over vaccine mandates, citing religious and personal freedom. His defiance was broadcast on Fox News, where Laura Ingraham and others lionized him as a hero bravely standing against government overreach. This portrayal not only aligned with Fox News's broader skepticism toward public health measures but also cemented LaMay as a figurehead in the culture war against perceived governmental intrusion.

LaMay's initial support from Ingraham was fervent; she praised his decision to resign, casting him as a spokesperson for millions and asserting his actions were awakening a "sleeping giant." In an interview, Ingraham enthusiastically stated, "What’s next for you — other than being a celebrity now — what’s next for you? ... All right, well, a sleeping giant, maybe a sleeping giant. We hope that that’s what’s happened here. We’ve awakened it slowly but surely. Robert, thank you for joining us. We really appreciate your voice and best of luck to you."

However, the narrative took a tragic turn when LaMay contracted COVID-19 and died from complications related to the virus. Despite his previous prominence on her show, Ingraham conspicuously ignored his death, highlighting a disturbing pattern within certain conservative media circles: inconvenient truths are often sidelined to maintain a particular ideological narrative. This omission exemplifies a broader issue where Fox News, while publicly dismissing the severity of the pandemic, enforced strict health safety measures internally, revealing a stark dissonance between their public rhetoric and private actions.

The handling of LaMay's story by Ingraham reflects a manipulative media practice where individuals are celebrated for their defiance against public health policies when it suits the narrative but is quickly disregarded when the consequences of that defiance turn tragic. This practice not only undermines public health but also treats the network's audience as expendable, shifting the narrative away from the human toll and focusing instead on ideological victories. Commentators and social media criticized Ingraham and Fox for their handling of LaMay’s death, highlighting the hypocrisy and potential harm caused by their initial promotion of his anti-vaccine stance. Critiques included poignant remarks on social media, noting, "Something’s telling me Laura Ingraham is not going to mention the Covid death of Robert LaMay on her show," and "Laura laughed and applauded when Mark Milley contracted Covid. Laura celebrated Robert LaMay for quitting rather than vaxxing. LaMay contracted COVID a month ago and died yesterday from complications due to it."

This selective reporting and omission of crucial developments, especially adverse ones like LaMay's death, underscore significant ethical concerns about the responsibilities of influential media figures and networks in covering public health crises. The narrative use and disregard for the consequences of their advocated positions exemplify the potential influence media figures have on public perception and behavior, raising urgent questions about the role and responsibility of the media in a democracy.

The Tragic Tale of Joe Joyce

Joe Joyce, the cherished owner of JJ Bubbles, a popular tavern in Brooklyn, was a community cornerstone for over forty years. A former Vietnam veteran and gym teacher, Joyce was known for his sociable nature and generosity. He was a devoted father, with his children attending prestigious institutions like Harvard and Brown.

His tragic experience with COVID-19 underscores the deadly consequences of misinformation. Influenced heavily by the misleading and downplayed information broadcasted on Fox News, particularly by Sean Hannity, Joyce’s perception of the pandemic was dangerously skewed. Hannity’s early dismissal of the virus as a hoax aimed at undermining then-President Trump played a crucial role in Joyce's decision to proceed with a planned Mediterranean cruise, thus exposing himself and others to the virus.

Despite warnings from his children about the looming threat, Joyce was reassured by the misleading coverage on Fox News. His daughter Kristen reflected on this, noting, "He watched Fox and believed it was under control." Hannity, in early March, infamously downplayed the virus on air, claiming the American public was being frightened "unnecessarily" and describing the situation as a means to "bludgeon Trump with this new hoax." Kristen poignantly speculated that had the President displayed serious precautionary measures, her father might have reconsidered his travel plans: "If Trump had gone on TV with a mask on and said, ‘Hey, this is serious,’ I don’t think he would have gone."

Upon his return, Joyce contracted COVID-19 and ultimately succumbed to its complications. His story did not end with his death; it also affected his community deeply, as a longtime employee passed away from the virus the day after Joyce.

Research indicates that Hannity’s portrayal of the pandemic likely contributed to a greater spread of COVID-19 among his viewers compared to shows that provided more accurate information, such as Tucker Carlson's. Areas with a higher viewership of Hannity experienced increased rates of infection and deaths, highlighting the tangible impact of misinformation.

Despite the public facade of downplaying the virus, Fox News internally took the pandemic seriously, implementing safety measures for staff and encouraging remote work. This internal-external contradiction points to a stark dichotomy in Fox News' approach to the pandemic, indicating a disregard for the well-being of their most loyal viewers in favor of maintaining political narratives.

Joe Joyce's story is a somber testament to the dangers of misinformation during a global health crisis. It exemplifies how trusted media sources failed to protect their audience, treating them as expendable in the process of political and ideological maneuvering. This disregard for loyal viewers like Joyce, who trusted these figures to their detriment, underscores the pressing need for responsible journalism and accurate reporting, especially during times of public health emergencies.

Callous Indifference To Suffering

The callous indifference of Fox News to the potentially lethal consequences of its coverage during the COVID-19 pandemic starkly highlights a grim reality. As the virus began to claim thousands of lives across the nation, key figures at Fox News not only downplayed the crisis but actively spread misinformation. This deliberate dissemination of misleading information had fatal ramifications for its audience, many of whom, like Joe Joyce, trusted the network to provide them with factual news.

Suzanne Scott, the CEO of Fox News, epitomized this dismissive stance. In her own words, Scott expressed a pointed disregard for the controversies surrounding her network's handling of critical public health information, claiming that paying attention to such matters would impede her work: "If I wasted any time reading stories about myself or social media posts or what have you, I wouldn't be able to get my job done," she asserted. Further reinforcing her detachment, she stated, "I sleep well at night," a chilling remark given the context of a global health emergency exacerbated by her network's programming.

Sean Hannity, one of Fox's leading personalities, was instrumental in shaping the dangerous complacency that infected Fox's viewership. In early March, at a time when prompt and accurate information could have saved countless lives, Hannity declared on air that the American public was being scared "unnecessarily" and branded the escalating pandemic as "like, let’s bludgeon Trump with this new hoax." This narrative, suggesting the virus was a mere tool against the former president, was not just irresponsible—it was potentially lethal.

Hannity's influence was vividly illustrated in the tragic case of Joe Joyce, who, according to his daughter Kristen, believed the virus was "under control" because of what he watched on Fox News. This false sense of security led him to proceed with a high-risk travel plan, ultimately contributing to his death and the loss of others in his community.

Similarly, Laura Ingraham engaged in a form of reckless cheerleading when she praised Robert LaMay, a Washington state trooper who resigned over a vaccine mandate, celebrating him as a "sleeping giant" and a hero for the cause. Ingraham's encouragement of defiance against public health measures not only fed into the wider narrative of pandemic denialism prevalent on Fox News but also highlighted the network's broader strategy of prioritizing ideological battles over factual reporting and public safety.

These instances reflect a pattern of behavior at Fox News, where the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic was consistently undermined. The network's prominent hosts leveraged their platforms to propagate dismissive and misleading information, which not only contradicted the overwhelming scientific consensus but also visibly influenced viewer behavior towards health precautions negatively.

The consequences of such misinformation were not abstract. They were measured in the lives of viewers like Joyce, who paid the ultimate price for the trust they placed in a network that prioritized political narratives over the health and safety of its audience. As Fox News executives and hosts continued their programming with minimal regard for the fallout, their actions serve as a stark example of the destructive power of misinformation in the hands of influential media.

“The Most Dangerous Man in the World”

In 2021, President Joe Biden reportedly described Rupert Murdoch as "the most dangerous man in the world," a depiction driven by Murdoch's profound impact on public discourse and his ability to influence democratic processes through his control of Fox News. This characterization points to a deep-seated concern about the dichotomy between Murdoch's personal actions and the public narratives promoted by Fox News, especially regarding public health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Murdoch was quick to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, showcasing a personal trust in the science behind it, yet his network's prominent personalities openly sowed doubt about the vaccine's safety and efficacy. This hypocrisy highlights a significant ethical breach: while Murdoch ensured his own safety, his network played a crucial role in fueling vaccine hesitancy among millions of viewers. At the same time, Fox Corp implemented a strict vaccine regime for its employees, demanding frequent testing and vaccine verification, which starkly contrasts the skepticism aired on its broadcasts.

Suzanne Scott, the CEO of Fox News, has maintained a stance of indifference towards the misinformation broadcasted under her leadership, focusing on the network’s profitability and audience ratings over the potential human costs. This approach aligns with Murdoch's strategy of prioritizing business objectives over journalistic integrity and public health, reflecting a broader contempt for the consequences of the network’s influence.

The juxtaposition of Murdoch’s personal health decisions and the public health narratives pushed by Fox News not only undermines public trust in health institutions but also exemplifies the dangerous power dynamics at play. By fostering a culture of misinformation that directly contradicts his own actions and the internal policies of Fox Corp, Murdoch has contributed to a public health crisis that has seen preventable losses and suffering.

President Biden’s comment encapsulates the peril posed by Murdoch’s actions: a single individual, through immense media influence, has the capacity to shape public perceptions and actions in ways that are fundamentally at odds with public safety and truth. This manipulation for personal and corporate gain starkly showcases why such concentrated media power is viewed as a significant threat to democratic health and governance.

This behavior, characterized by a blatant disregard for the ethical responsibilities of media leadership, underscores the need for stringent regulatory oversight and accountability in journalism. It also highlights an urgent need for fostering media literacy among the public to critically assess the motivations behind the information they consume. Murdoch's legacy, marred by the prioritization of self-interest over public good, indeed positions him as a pivotal figure in contemporary discussions on media ethics and democratic stability.

The operations of Fox News, under Rupert Murdoch's guidance, stand as a glaring indictment of ethical malpractice in journalism. By systematically prioritizing profit over factual integrity and engaging in manipulative broadcasting techniques, Fox News has not only compromised the trustworthiness of journalistic endeavors but also posed significant threats to public health, national security, and the foundations of democratic society. This business model, which sacrifices truth for financial gain, fuels misinformation, deepens societal divisions, and undermines the public's faith in democratic processes and institutions.

This brand of journalism—marked by a callous manipulation of facts and a disdain for the audience's well-being—raises urgent questions about the role and responsibility of the media in a democracy. As Murdoch's empire continues to peddle lies and misinformation, the need for accountability and ethical standards in journalism has never been clearer. The legacy of Murdoch and his executives, far from champions of the common people, will be remembered as architects of division and purveyors of harm, betraying the trust of their audience and the journalistic mission to inform and educate.

Addressing the detrimental impact of Fox News's practices necessitates a multifaceted approach that extends beyond the realm of media criticism. It calls for a concerted effort from policymakers, industry stakeholders, and the public to enhance media literacy, critically evaluate information sources, and foster an environment where ethical journalism is not just encouraged but demanded. Furthermore, the implementation of stringent regulatory measures to ensure accountability and transparency in news broadcasting is imperative to safeguard the information landscape from being exploited for profit at the expense of public interest and welfare.

Conclusion

In a world gripped by a global health crisis, the conduct of Fox News under the leadership of Rupert Murdoch and CEO Suzanne Scott has spotlighted a disconcerting prioritization of profit over public well-being. Amidst the chaos, these media leaders demonstrated a stark dichotomy: personally adhering to health guidelines such as vaccination while simultaneously allowing and endorsing a platform for widespread misinformation about these very measures. This hypocrisy has not only misled the public but also fueled a broader climate of distrust and division, effectively aligning with adversarial tactics similar to those employed by Russian propaganda designed to destabilize trust in public health systems.

The essence of Murdoch’s strategy—securing personal safety while his network's pundits disparaged public health initiatives—embodies the dangerous influence attributed to him by President Joe Biden, who reportedly called him "the most dangerous man in the world." This remark underscores the perilous nature of Murdoch’s capacity to shape public perceptions and actions through his media empire, fostering a scenario where misinformation can flourish unchecked, with real-world, fatal consequences.

The alignment of Fox News’s editorial agenda with Russian disinformation campaigns, particularly concerning vaccine skepticism, further exacerbates the network's culpability in eroding public trust. By broadcasting skepticism and fear, Fox News has mirrored the objectives of those who seek to undermine democratic resilience and public health security, highlighting the dire need for a reevaluation of journalistic ethics and accountability in media practices.

As the pandemic continues to claim lives, disproportionately so in areas influenced by conservative media, the role of Fox News in this public health debacle stands as a grim testament to the dangers posed by prioritizing misinformation for profit. The network’s mixed messaging on COVID-19 vaccines—publicly questioning their safety while privately acknowledging their necessity—reveals a profound betrayal of the journalistic duty to inform and protect the public.

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