Former CNN anchor Brian Stelter wrote a piece in the Atlantic titled, “I Never Truly Understood Fox News Until Now.” In it, he details the Dominion Voting Systems disclosures that Fox lied to its viewers for ratings. His “Aha!” moment came when he realized that, “Inside Fox, the prime-time stars and senior executives raged against the network’s reporters not because they doubted that Biden had won, but because the truth was too disturbing to the audience that had made them rich.”

To me, what’s revealing is how naïve the mainstream media has been about Fox for more 20 years. Even as Fox attacked the traditional news outlets as the “liberal media” and fed its audience a steady diet of bullshit, that same “lamestream” media defended the network as a news outlet, not a propaganda site. Back in 2009, another CNN anchor, Jake Tapper, criticized Obama for ignoring Fox News reporters, saying, “It’s escaped none of our notice that the White House has decided in the last few weeks to declare one of our sister organizations ‘not a news organization’ and to tell the rest of us not to treat them like a news organization.” 

In other words, part of Fox’s legitimacy was propped up by the news organizations it regularly attacked. By defending the “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them,” as Al Franken so appropriately described Fox News and its right-wing commentators, Tapper and the other traditional media outlets put a chill on people who might have exposed Fox a bit earlier. By the time they came to the realization that Fox was little more than shills who would say anything for an audience, the network was actively fanning the flames of insurrection and covering up the story of a corrupt presidency for the millions of viewers in its thrall. They allowed a cancer to grow on our public discourse instead of trying to eradicate it before it spread through the body politic. 

Fox was started by a Republican political consultant, not a journalist or anybody looking for a fair coverage. Roger Ailes was pushing an agenda, not news. His original slogan, “Fair and Balanced,” was intentionally deceitful. He understood angry White men who made up much of the GOP base and he fed them what they wanted to hear, distorting the events of the day to fuel to their rage and motivate Republican voters.  

He created an enemy of “They.” They’re coming for your jobs. They’re coming for your neighborhoods. They’re coming for your schools. They’re coming for your religion. They’re coming for your guns. “Others,” Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, Jews, liberals, are destroying our country and they’re doing it under the guise of the Democratic Party. Ailes’ propaganda network served to amplify the message pushed by the Republican Party since the days of Richard Nixon. 

Today, Fox News and the GOP have programed a significant part of the country to believe their lies and ignore the truth. They’ve laid the groundwork for Marjorie Taylor Greene to call for a “national divorce.” They’ve made space for politicians like George Santos whose entire life is a work of fiction. They paved the way for a conman and grifter to become President of the United States. And they’ve kept alive a lie of a stolen election that threatens to undermine our democracy. 

And all for the money. The millionaires and billionaires got their tax breaks that led to the greatest income inequality since before the Great Depression. The Fox News anchors and owners got rich off an audience so loyal that it rejects the truth in front them for fabrications of the network stars. They duped a majority of a major political party simply by telling them what they wanted to hear and then cashing in on that disinformation, both in ratings and legislation.

I suspect the Tappers and Stelters of the world defended Fox News because they believed that if Fox News got attacked, they might be next. In reality, they were already under attack—by Fox News and the Republican Party. Defending the First Amendment does not mean defending a propaganda network. Fox News might have the right to exist, but that doesn’t mean that it deserves respect–or the misnomer “news organization.” 

The revelations of sexual misconduct by its primetime stars and corporate executives, including Ailes, should have been a warning. When Shepherd Smith and others from the “news” side bailed, the mainstream media should have known that they had been defending an ethically challenged organization. Unfortunately, it took the depositions of a lawsuit to lay bare the depths of deceit in Fox News and wake up people like Brian Stelter. 

I don’t know if anybody could have stopped the rise of Fox News and a dangerously misinformed public, but pretending that Fox was a legitimate news organization was irresponsible. It was born as a propaganda network targeting a narrow set of people just as cable television provided the vehicle for reaching them. Today, the audiences are essentially brainwashed and neither the networks nor the Republican Party are willing to try to tell them the truth. They’ve created a monster that has consumed them both. Let’s hope we can stop it before it gets the rest of us. 


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