Democrats, being Democrats, have lots of intra-party woes these days – tension between elected moderates and liberals; race, religion and gender tensions – but one blessedly unifying feature is the party’s decision to bar Fox News from hosting any of the upcoming Democratic presidential debates.
It’s not particularly courageous – Rupert Murdoch’s outlet hasn’t hosted a Democratic candidate confab since 2004 – but refusing to partner with his network is definitely the right call. These debates, which begin in June, should be hosted by legitimate journalistic organizations. Fox News, a font of fact-free agitprop, is demonstrably illegitimate.
This assessment says it all: “Fox News is assaulting our constitutional order and the rule of law, while fostering corrosive and unjustified paranoia among viewers…Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration…Fox News is now wittingly harming our system of government for profit.”
Those are not the words of the Democratic National Committee. That’s a quote from Ralph Peters, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and colorfully frequent on-air critic of the Democrats, who decided last year to sever his longstanding ties to Fox News. The DNC’s announcement last week was prompted by a devastatingly detailed expose published in The New Yorker, but reporter Jane Mayer merely substantiated what Peters wrote, in his email to Fox colleagues, 12 months ago.
As a business, Fox has every right to stoke rage among its ill-informed viewers, for the purpose of maximizing ratings and corporate profit. But it does not logically follow that the Democratic party should reward such behavior, that it should treat Donald Trump’s megaphone the same way it treats legitimate news networks. Unlike Fox, the legitimate news outlets – while imperfect – nevertheless strive to respect factual reality.
The legitimate news outlets never propagated the fake news that a Democratic party staffer named Seth Rich (not the Russians) was responsible for the 2016 hacking of the DNC, that he was murdered to cover up his crime, and that the Clinton team blocked the murder investigation. Those lies were concocted by a Fox contributor and a Trump donor, and they were amplified for nearly a year by Sean Hannity – the Fox host with the biggest ratings.
The legitimate news outlets never propagated the lie that President Obama wasn’t American-born. Fox alone popularized the birther talk, and did so prior to the rise of Trump. As I well recall, a 2010 survey conducted by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes found that 63 percent of Fox devotees believed that it was either unclear whether Obama was American, or clear that he was not. Among viewers who never watched Fox, that percentage was 30.
The legitimate news outlets don’t allow their hosts to appear on stage with Democrats at campaign rallies. Hannity joined Trump on stage last fall, at a climactic midterm election rally; Trump’s campaign had even advertised Hannity in advance, as a “special guest.”
The legitimate news outlets never flogged the lie that Hillary Clinton perpetrated “the biggest scandal ever involving Russia.” Those were Hannity’s words, on the air in October 2017, to describe Hillary’s purported decision, as Secretary of State, to sell Vladimir Putin “20 percent of America’s uranium, which is the foundational material to make nuclear weapons,” in direct exchange for Russian donations to the Clinton Foundation. The legitimate news outlets didn’t touch that fake story, because, in truth, nine government agencies had approved the uranium sale, the quantity sold was nowhere close to 20 percent, and there was no proof of any quid quo pro with the Clinton Foundation.
Nor did the legitimate news outlets discover, prior to the ’16 election, squash the revelatory story that Trump had paid off a porn star to hide a sex scandal from the electorate. A Fox News reporter indeed unearthed that story shortly before the election – only to have it killed by Fox overlords. According to The New Yorker, Fox reporter Diane Falzone had the story nailed, complete with emails from Michael Cohen about the hush money settlement. But Fox killed because, as one Fox superior told Falzone, “Good reporting, kiddo. But Rupert wants Donald Trump to win. So just let it go.”
When the Democratic National Committee announced the other day that it would not partner with Fox, a Fox executive said in response that its debate questioners – Chris Wallace, Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum – “embody the ultimate journalistic integrity and professionalism.” That trio is indeed professional. But the Fox brand is framed by Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, Tucker Carlson, “Fox and Friends,” and the other Trumpian commentators who hype a nonexistent southern border “invasion,” and who falsely declare that South Africa is “seizing land from white farmers.” At Fox, the opinion team drives the ratings. Wallace, Baier, and MacCallum are essentially lipstick on a pig.
As Republican lobbyist Charlie Black told The New Yorker, “Fox is just Trump, Trump, Trump.” As Rupert Murdoch, a naturalized American citizen, told the same magazine in 1995, at the dawn of Fox’s creation, “The truth is – and we Americans don’t like to admit it – that authoritarian societies can work.”
While planning its debates, why would the Democratic party want to partner with that mentality?