Fox News is a propaganda network that intentionally lies to the American people in service to a radicalized Republican Party and its base. We can now state that definitively because Fox management and talking heads (not journalists) have admitted as much in their own words.
The past few weeks have felt like a never-ending cycle of revelations about the extent to which the Fox “News” network knowingly lied to its audience about the 2020 election. Earlier this week, a new Dominion court filing dropped and revealed even more jaw-dropping — but unsurprising — exchanges between senior Fox officials and anchors like Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity. For instance, we learned Rupert Murdoch knew the 2020 election wasn’t stolen but allowed the lies to continue to claw back viewers from even-more-radical NewsMax and OAN. Murdoch also admitted that those like “Laura and Sean went too far” in their election claims. We learned that he gave Jared Kushner exclusive information about the Biden campaign in 2020. In essence, the latest texts confirm what we all know to be true about Fox: they aren’t a legitimate news organization.
It isn’t only the text messages that confirm Fox is effectively a right-wing propaganda machine. Tucker Carlson’s show this week is more evidence that whatever journalistic standards and ethics Fox may have once had are completely gone. A few weeks ago, Kevin McCarthy made an unprecedented and dangerous move when he gave Tucker Carlson exclusive access to 41,000 hours of January 6th footage. Immediately, many people — including myself — took to Twitter and predicted what we saw this week: Tucker Carlson distorting and selectively editing the footage to fit his narrative that January 6th wasn’t a violent insurrection. It was simply “a tourist visit.”
And that’s what he did.
For two consecutive nights, Carlson presented his audience with his revisionist lie. Carlson said that the protesters were “not destroying the Capitol” on January 6th, despite overwhelming evidence showing them breaking glass windows and desecrating the entire building. He made January 6th appear as if it had been a normal day at the Capitol. I’ve been to the Capitol more than once, and I can attest that it’s not every day a violent mob storms the building, hunts members of Congress, chants about hanging the sitting Vice President, and displays Confederate flags inside.
What was most enraging and disturbing was Carlson’s false narrative that, after reviewing all the footage, he could definitively state that it was Democrats who were wrong about January 6th, that it was Democrats and those in Washington who lied to Americans about what happened.
By blaming Democrats for what happened, Tucker Carlson isn’t just rewriting history and asserting himself as the truth, but he’s also laying the groundwork for the next insurrection and the next big lie. He is sowing the seeds of doubt in our institutions, elections, and political parties by telling his audience they’ve been lied to by the “establishment.”
Let’s be clear: in dismissing and diminishing January 6th as simply another ordinary day in Washington, Carlson is normalizing violence. He’s normalizing challenges to free and fair elections. He’s normalizing lies. He’s trying to undo the very fabric of our democracy.
There are two essential responses to the Fox text messages and Tucker’s distortion of January 6th. The first concerns how we talk about Fox. No longer can we attach the label “News” to Fox. If there’s anything evident about the last few weeks, it’s that Fox serves only one purpose: to advance MAGA, extreme talking points, and destroy democracy. The more we say “Fox News,” the more legitimacy and credibility we lend to them. Instead, we should use phrases like “Fox Propaganda Machine” or, as Kurt Bardella suggested on The Sunday Show with Jonathan Capehart last week, a “GOP SuperPac.” Language matters, and we can’t conflate Fox with real news organizations.
The second response will serve generations like mine and future generations especially well. It will require companies, institutions, and the government to do their part to get Fox to change.
Rupert Murdoch infamously once said, “It’s not red or blue, it’s green.” In other words, all that matters to Rupert Murdoch and Fox is the money. It’s the revenue. It’s how much they rake in per show. Here’s the rub, though: advertising dollars don’t mean much anymore, which means that we can all play a role in putting pressure on the cable and streaming services that pay Fox to have them in their channel packages. As it stands, every subscription we have that automatically includes Fox, means we are giving our money to Fox. We should write to our cable and streaming companies and insist that they either drop Fox in its entirety or make Fox an add-on that people must pay for, if they want to watch it. At this point, there is no reason for these companies not to do so. We can make sure that cable and streaming companies don’t give Fox what it wants most: money.
Beyond companies doing their part, we also need our educational and governmental institutions to take action to prevent Fox from being given a sense of legitimacy. For example, journalism and communications departments across the country should prohibit students from using Fox as a reputable source of information (similar to how teachers make a point of not citing Wikipedia in papers). Professors should make it clear to students that Fox runs against the traditional notions of ethical and responsible journalism — and as a result, is not a real news organization.
Lastly, the government can send a strong and important message by blocking Fox’s access to news media briefings and press conferences. Currently, Fox journalists like Peter Doocy are allowed to ask questions in the White House briefing room, often asking questions that are blatantly designed to promote right-wing narratives. The White House can make a significant gesture to the American public — and in particular, young people — by revoking Fox’s ability to enter the briefing room. This is not to say that Fox can’t have access to White House officials, but so long as the network lies to its viewers, they do not deserve a platform to ask GOP talking points and present the veneer of a credible news outlet.
As Commander in Chief, President Biden should also order all military bases to cease the airing of shows like Tucker Carlson. Against the backdrop of reports indicating a right-ward shift in ideology among those serving in the military, we can’t risk more servicemembers falling for Fox’s narratives that undermine our national security.
To be sure, taking these actions will not solve everything — and it surely won’t get Fox devotees to change their minds. But doing so would start changing attitudes and norms around what is acceptable journalism in this country. It could, for instance, show my generation, which lives in a world rampant with misinformation, that facts still matter and that companies, institutions, and the government will not tolerate a network that constantly peddles falsehoods to its viewers. These actions could support the necessity and credibility of a free press by delegitimizing purveyors of propaganda that intentionally whitewash history, incite violence, and use the false claim of journalism to spread lies.
We simply can’t accept the behavior of those like Rupert Murdoch, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity as normal. It will take all of us to change how we talk about Fox and for those in positions of power to finally hold Fox accountable for their actions. If we don’t, not only would it increase the chance of the next January 6th occurring, but it also would do a disservice to every young person counting on democracy to survive.
There is no better time than now to start building a world in which facts and truth matter — and those who lie are finally held accountable. Future generations depend on it.