“If the people don’t have the facts, democracy doesn’t work.” – Federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson, in a statement before sentencing former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort
The extent to which Fox News personalities have embedded themselves, literally, into the Trump administration is breathtakingly immoral.
Let’s begin with the obvious.
According to PunditFact, of 171 statements made by Fox News (as of Mar. 14), 59 percent are rated False, Mostly False or Pants-on-Fire.
By comparison, CNN’s scorecard stands at 27 percent in the same categories, and most of those false statements were made by Republicans appearing on the cable channel. (Michele Bachmann, Jack Kingston, Sarah Palin, Jan Brewer, and Mike Rogers.)
According to PunditFact, Fox commentator Sean Hannity’s statements are 50 percent False, Mostly False or Pants-on-Fire.
MSNBC’s liberal-leaning Rachel Maddow’s statements are not much better, scoring 46 percent in the same categories.
Nonetheless, Maddow, MSNBC or CNN never had the kind of demonstrable access to the Obama White House as Hannity and company have to the Trump White House.
As a scathing story in The New Yorker authored by Jane Mayer makes clear, Fox News has become a propaganda machine for Trump.
“Hannity was treated in Texas like a member of the Administration because he virtually is one,” Mayer writes. “…in the past two years many people who watch the network closely, including some Fox alumni, say that it has evolved into something that hasn’t existed before in the United States. Nicole Hemmer, an assistant professor of Presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and the author of Messengers of the Right, a history of the conservative media’s impact on American politics, says of Fox, ‘It’s the closest we’ve come to having state TV.’ …
Tucker Carlson, Judge Jeanine Pirro, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity as well as the Fox and Friends team, have long been sidekicks of then-candidate Trump. Now, however, the relationship has become incestuous.
“…many people who have watched and worked with Fox over the years,” Mayer points out, “including some leading conservatives, regard Fox’s deepening Trump orthodoxy with alarm. Bill Kristol, who was a paid contributor to Fox News until 2012… said of the network, ‘It’s changed a lot. Before, it was conservative, but it wasn’t crazy. Now it’s just propaganda.’ ”
More troublesome is the Trump Administration’s association with former Fox executive Bill Shine who joined the White House as deputy chief of staff for communications.
“With Shine,” Mayer writes, “the Fox and White House payrolls actually do overlap. The Hollywood Reporter obtained financial-disclosure forms revealing that Fox has been paying Shine millions of dollars since he joined the Administration. Last year, he collected the first half of a seven-million-dollar bonus that he was owed after resigning from Fox; this year, he will collect the remainder. That sum is in addition to an $8.4-million severance payment that he received upon leaving the network. In December, four Democratic senators sent a letter to the White House counsel’s office, demanding proof that Fox’s payments to Shine don’t violate federal ethics and conflict-of-interest statutes.”
While Shine recently resigned, he wasn’t the only example of the Foxification of the Trump Administration.
“…Trump appointed the former Fox contributor Ben Carson to be his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, the former Fox commentator John Bolton to be his national-security adviser, and the former Fox commentator K. T. McFarland to be his deputy national-security adviser. (McFarland resigned after four months.) Trump recently picked the former Fox News anchor Heather Nauert to be the Ambassador to the United Nations, but she soon withdrew herself from consideration, reportedly because her nanny, an immigrant, lacked a work permit. …
“Pete Hegseth, the Fox News host, and Lou Dobbs, the Fox Business host, have each been patched into Oval Office meetings, by speakerphone, to offer policy advice. Sean Hannity has told colleagues that he speaks to the President virtually every night, after his show ends, at 10 P.M.”
What’s the payoff from all this cross-pollination? For Fox, it’s ratings and increased revenue from sponsors. For Trump, it’s another pipeline, in addition to Twitter, to his base.
“Joe Peyronnin, a professor of journalism at N.Y.U.,” Mayer says, “was an early president of Fox News, in the mid-nineties. ‘I’ve never seen anything like it before,’ he says of Fox. ‘It’s as if the President had his own press organization. It’s not healthy.’ ”
The only Fox personalities who have held Trump officials’ feet to the fire are Chris Wallace and Shepard Smith.
Wallace recently turned tough, questioning Trump policy advisor Stephen Miller about Trump’s southern border wall.
What’s important to understand in all this back and forth, is that Hannity is a television personality who’s pretty much allowed to say whatever he thinks. Shepard Smith is a journalist who sticks to the facts. Sadly, viewers are more interested in Hannity’s misinformation, lies, and propaganda than they are in the truth.
“…Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin,” Mayer adds, “another conservative [said], ‘Fox was begun as a good-faith effort to counter bias, but it’s morphed into something that is not even news… It’s simply a mouthpiece for the President, repeating what the President says, no matter how false or contradictory.’ …
“It is hardly unprecedented,” Mayer points out, “At the 1960 Democratic National Convention, Philip Graham, the co-owner of the Washington Post, helped broker a deal in which John F. Kennedy selected Lyndon Johnson as his running mate. But now a direct pipeline has been established between the Oval Office and the office of Rupert Murdoch…” who owns 21st Century Fox.
So what is the downside for the country with so much influence brought inside the current administration?
“Axios recently reported that sixty percent of Trump’s day is spent in unstructured ‘executive time,’ much of it filled by television,” Mayer reports. “Charlie Black, a longtime Republican lobbyist in Washington, whose former firm, Black, Manafort & Stone, advised Trump in the eighties and nineties, told me, ‘Trump gets up and watches Fox & Friends and thinks these are his friends. He thinks anything on Fox is friendly. But the problem is he gets unvetted ideas.’ ”
How can a U.S. president make vital decisions regarding important foreign and domestic matters based on false information, conspiracy theories and “unvetted ideas”?
“If the people don’t have the facts,” Judge Jackson reminds us, “democracy doesn’t work.”
And we need democracy to work, now more than ever!