A few years after the invasion of Iraq, I was talking to an acquaintance outside a bar in Chapel Hill. We had engaged in brief conversations over the years, but never discussed politics. When the subject turned to how poorly the war was going, I said we should never have invaded. He looked at me incredulously and said, “But Saddam was responsible for 9/11.” When I argued that wasn’t true, he laughed and called me naive. After listening to him rant about how the mainstream media was covering up links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qeada just to hurt the Bush administration, I realized this guy got his news from talk radio and Fox. No amount of reality was going to change what Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh had convinced him was true.
In the debate about Fake News, we all need to realize that fake news started with media outlets on the right. Fox News started as a lie. Its original slogan was “Fair and Balanced,” but Roger Ailes never meant for it to be either. Ailes was a professional political operative who began his career in the Nixon administration and envisioned Fox News as a GOP propaganda tool from the beginning.
Fox told disgruntled white Americans what they wanted to hear: They are under attack by a system run by liberals who want to take their liberty and their money. They pushed a populist brand of conservatism that demonized immigrants and Muslims. And they created a following of people who believed their lies with relish.
In addition to insinuating Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks, they kept alive the lies that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and that he was Muslim. They pushed the ridiculous War on Christmas theme to keep evangelicals even more outraged at the mainstream media and society. They created the rumor of “death panels” in their attacks on the Affordable Care Act. They’re the voice of the climate change deniers. And their audience believes all of it.
Now, Fox is the voice of the Trump administration. Personalities like Sean Hannity have abandoned all their conservative principles in defense of Donald Trump. They applaud his decision to grant amnesty for DREAMers (I’m for it, by the way) despite years of criticizing Democrats for doing the same thing. They parrot Trump’s “drain the swamp” rhetoric despite his appointment of Wall Street cronies throughout his administration.
And Fox has been successful beyond Ailes’ wildest dreams. Trump’s base believes everything he says and everything Fox reports. One PoliticsNC reader said, “So he’s a long way from losing his base…and you may quote me. In fact the only way Trump will lose us is if he STOPS FIGHTING for the big three: Tax reform, the wall, Obamacare repeal. He doesn’t have to succeed, we know who to blame, but he MUST go all in with maximum effort.
Well, Trump has already given up on Obamacare repeal without ever fighting for it. He uses it as a talking point, but he’s ready to move on. He’ll keep talking about the wall because his base loves it but he knows it’s not a reality and he’s not spending any political capital on it. After only nine months in office, tax reform is the only one he hasn’t abandoned but that’s because the debate hasn’t started. There’s no clear evidence that he understands the difference between tax reform and a tax cut for the wealthy.
But don’t worry. Facts won’t get in the way of his base believing he’s still with them. They’ve been believing the propaganda of Fox News for twenty years now. After a generation, they’ve created their own reality where white people are under attack by minorities and immigrants, the government is coming for their guns and their money and a reality show huckster has arrived in Washington with an army of Wall Street bankers and corporate lawyers to protect their way of life.