By Stuart Stevens
For all the attention on the Dominion lawsuit, I think there is a complete misunderstanding of how Fox News operates. There is a general belief, and even a need, to believe that Fox News changed the Republican Party. That is like blaming the Afrikaans' press for apartheid. Fox News didn't create today's Republican Party. The Republican Party created Fox News.
The truth of this is revealed in the Dominion lawsuit documents, but the meaning of it seems to be overlooked. Fox News was panicked that if they didn't support the Big Lie, they would lose viewers. Fox News was chasing its viewers, not leading them.
Had every Republican official who knew within days of the election that Joe Biden had won a decisive victory taken the simple step of congratulating the president-elect of their country, none of what unfolded after the election would have been possible. Trump would have been isolated, and his rantings would have become increasingly irrelevant. The coverage of Fox News would have followed. So where does the blame lie? No one at Fox News took an oath to uphold the Constitution. The Republican Senators and Members of Congress did. Fox was servicing the market that the Republican Party created.
Republicans would like to say that Fox News and the media ecosphere on the right just balance the liberal tendencies of the "mainstream media." They point to surveys showing less than 7% of the working press is Republican. But this is a deliberately constructed false paradigm.
For decades as a Republican operative, I spent more time than most sane people arguing with reporters and editors of the hated liberal press. I won some of those arguments and lost most, but it was possible to deal in a world of agreed-upon facts and accepted truth. It was often frustrating, sometimes infuriating but never did I feel like I was living in a world of “alternative facts.” The journalists operated under professional editorial standards of fact-checking, a commitment to truth, and an aspiration of objectivity. There was a system of checks and balances imposed by the news organizations.
The checks and balances on Fox News and right-wing media are the Republican Party itself and the leading politicians within, not some professional standard of journalism
This is the dividing line between press sympathy for liberal Democrats and the right media’s devolution into propaganda. Had John Kerry claimed the 2004 race was a fraud, no major media organization would have supported him. Had Barack Obama attacked Muslims as a converted Christian and called for a religious ban, he would have been held accountable by the same newspapers that later endorsed him. And if he had done so, it is difficult to imagine Obama winning their endorsement.
This was and is the essential difference between the dominant “liberal” media institutions of America and the Fox News version of “news.” Truth and facts do have a place in the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, and all the media that the right most loves to hate. Propaganda views truth and facts as obstacles to be navigated, not values to be honored. Fox News is a propaganda wing of the Republican Party. It's difficult to imagine two more different candidates than Mitt Romney and Donald Trump. But Fox News was happy to support both.
The ability of Fox News to affect the Republican Party is grossly exaggerated. In 2008, 2012, and 2016, Fox News favored Republican presidential candidates who did not win the nomination. But it had little impact. Now they are doing everything they can to secure the nomination for Ron DeSantis. It is likely to fail, and once again, they will support Donald Trump. It's the party, not Fox News.