The eyes of the world are on Qatar. And Fox is there to cover them.
While journalists, human rights advocates, and international athletes have called out FIFA and Qatar for more than a decade, ever since now-disgraced FIFA president Sepp Blatter ripped open the envelope to announce the tiny gas-rich nation with zero soccer history would host the cup, Fox has stayed assiduously silent.
Here’s a short list of the stories Fox has downplayed or swept aside:
Thousands of migrant workers died building the small nation’s World Cup infrastructure. Qatar’s awful treatment of its LGBTQ community. More than 50 soccer officials have been convicted of corruption since Qatar was chosen as host.
Turning a blind eye to bad behavior for political goals and corporate profit have long been the beating heart of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox media empire.
I should know; I worked for Fox News for nearly a decade before quitting in 2018.
That I worked for a company that has spewed misinformation and promoted anti-democratic demagogues haunts me. Since quitting in protest, I’ve spoken out about Fox News and tried to expose similar coercive and anti-democratic behavior in other organizations. I spent the last two years researching and writing an investigative podcast series, “The Lords of Soccer,” about FIFA and its long history of corruption, bigotry, and sexism.
So the Murdochs’ whitewashing of the World Cup is hardly a surprise.
When I was hired at Fox News, I was explicitly told they wanted me to be a straight, nonpartisan journalist. I was relieved. I told myself I was there to produce accurate and factual reports, which would only help Fox News’s cult-like audience starved of unbiased news.
God knows they needed facts. Any diet that consists of Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, and Tucker Carlson’s commentary is bound to rot the mind and harden the heart.
What I came to realize was that factual reporting would always be trumped by the Murdoch misinformation machine.
So, what does this have to do with the World Cup?
Well, Fox’s coverage of Qatar is a part of the Murdoch media empire playbook - tell viewers what you want them to hear, not what is actually happening.
In 2018, when President Donald Trump moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it was clear to many in the region this would set off a new round of fighting in the Holy Land. Trump and Rupert Murdoch’s friends in Saudi Arabia might have privately blessed the move, but Palestinians sure as hell hadn’t.
I was told by Israeli and Palestinian leaders there would be violence. A lot of it. Security officials on both sides were terrified of the certain violence.
But Fox News ignored the warnings by reporters like me. Instead, it played up the Trump administration’s talking points.
A parade of Fox’s MAGA-aligned anchors turned to Trump officials and sycophants to regurgitate the storyline that the move would improve security and lead to a lasting peace.
In the wake of the move, more than 60 Palestinians were killed and thousands more injured by Israeli soldiers. It was as tragic as it was predictable. But this is where the Murdoch playbook was really put to use.
See, Fox News had flown in some of their biggest names to cover the Embassy move. They had days of fawning, “success” stories spun up for the “news” hours and primetime. But the only “fresh” images coming out of the region were of clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians.
This was a problem for Fox News. They had spent weeks repeating the Trump line that this would lead to peace, and now it had all literally exploded in their face.
As the violence escalated and continued in the days after the move, what did Fox’s executives do? They put the word out to the news teams to downplay the violence and glorify the embassy decision.
They can deny it, but I was there. I know what was said.
It was the most blatant case of editorial interference I witnessed at Fox – though I know there was much more. And it’s getting worse.
According to a Washington Post analysis, Fox News has desperately tried to shift the conversation about crime in the country from mass shootings to urban lawlessness. During the last two years, Fox News mentioned the words “looters” or “looting” 40 percent more than “mass shootings.”
So, it should come as no surprise that Fox Sports, like its corporate cousin Fox News, has shown little interest in covering the controversies of the FIFA World Cup. But Fox’s whitewashing is worse than not just covering the controversies.
Fox regularly airs segments about Qatar’s “picturesque coastlines” and stunning modern infrastructure. Viewers are left with a misguided view of the authoritarian kingdom.
It’s pure misinformation.
If the Murdoch media empire was solely focused on the action on the pitch, maybe one could understand their position for ignoring FIFA and Qatar’s controversies. But Fox is actively running interference for their bad behavior.
As I said, I’ve seen it before. I may not be able to stop it, but I will continue to be a part of calling it.