10.1 C
Los Angeles
Friday, March 31, 2023

Opinion: Fox News is trapped by its own zealotry

The HBO drama “Succession” might be a fictional corollary to the machinations of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox empire. But when it comes specifically to Fox News, “The Righteous Gemstones,” an HBO show about a family managing its skeevy, sprawling, megachurch business may be a more apt model.

Court documents in the $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit filed by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox reveal communications in which Fox News executives privately parsed the propaganda that is the network’s stock in trade. In defending itself, Fox has taken the tack that flagrant lies about Dominion were newsworthy, and thus spreading the falsehoods via Fox was all in a day’s work in the news biz.

The fundamental issue that pervades the discussions among Fox executives is this: How much lying is too much? And how much is too little?

It’s not a moral question — certainly not at Fox. A baseline of fraud is built into Fox’s business model. The network that began with founder Roger Ailes insisting that his female anchors perform a twirl for him in private has been spinning ever more frantically in recent years. Yet Fox remained sufficiently idiosyncratic — its propaganda varies day to day, host to host — that it has generally been easier to say what Fox isn’t (journalism) than what it is.

Donald Trump’s lies about his “stolen” 2020 election pushed Fox executives to decide how far over reality’s border they would venture in an effort to retain their Trump-addled audience. Would it be acceptable, for example, to let MAGA lawyer Sidney Powell use Fox platforms to talk about sinister voting machines that magically switched votes with the aid of a deceased Venezuelan dictator? Could any content be too depraved to be promoted on the network?

Obviously, if the work of Fox were even tangentially related to conveying factual information the network would be kaput. The executives’ private communications and excerpts from their depositions confirm that corruption parades behind the cameras as insistently as it preens in front of them.

Yet Powell’s claims were anything but absurd to an audience that Fox had nurtured over many years with countless previous falsehoods. Part of that audience turned to Fox precisely because it counted on the network to serve up the racial aggression, sexism and partisan propaganda that validated hard feelings about changing times.

Fox ultimately is a faith-based enterprise. It has more in common with Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network or even Westboro Baptist Church, the itinerant hate group based in Kansas, than with, say, the traditional journalism of the BBC. As the Republican Party has become the nation’s chief vector of white Christian nationalism, major GOP institutions — Fox is arguably the single most important pillar of the party — have acquired a more explicitly religious (and racial) cast.

As Roger Finke and Rodney Stark write in “The Churching of America 1776-1990,” when mainstream congregations grow staid, insurgent churches emerge to sap their strength and steal their congregants. The truest believers want the hardest stuff.

That’s the cycle that Fox executives worried would compel Fox viewers to flee to even less scrupulous networks such as One America and Newsmax.

MAGA iconography portrays Trump as a Rambo Jesus, returned to wreak vengeance on the libs and the Blacks and the feminists and the gays and the immigrants and the drag queens who have stolen America from its rightful owners. That’s the story that Fox conveyed for years from the electronic pulpits of Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. It’s the story with which “Fox and Friends” greeted each MAGA morning. But when Rambo Jesus faltered in 2020, desperation in Foxland mounted. And with business competitors and political allies alike all lying like crazy, what else could Fox do?

The pews needed to be filled, or the collection baskets would be returned empty.


Source link