There is a point where we have to admit the truth. “News” organizations such as Fox News and Breitbart, as well as The Daily Caller, The Blaze, Newsmax, and others, are not journalistic endeavors. They are propaganda. They are strategic disinformation. They are purveyors of lies, slander, libel, and defamation.
They do not seek to honestly inform the public and provide a public service. They seek to twist facts, disguise the truth, and mislead people into believing falsehoods and calumny.
It is simply not true, as some would have you believe, that there are two sides to every issue. Some things are simply not just a matter of opinion. As Julie Hollar of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting wrote in a commentary on Raw Story,
It’s true that both cable outlets are essentially partisan outlets pushing their own party’s line—though ideologically, MSNBC and Fox each represent the right wing of their respective parties (FAIR.org, 6/30/17), which means the television “choose-your-own-news” world is hardly the free-for-all Grynbaum suggests. But at a time when one party adheres to an anything-goes strategy that has taken brazen lying to a new level, denies science, and regularly attacks journalists as “the enemy of the people,” painting a “both sides do it” picture of the partisan media environment glosses over very real and important differences.
For Grynbaum, media outlets simply have “irreconcilable differences”—so Fox’s puerile (but strategically us vs. them) media commentary that veteran foreign service officers testifying against Trump “looked like people who sat by themselves at recess” is equated with MSNBC’s commentary that those same officers gave “a fuller picture of the corrupt abuse of power by the president of the United States.
In one case you have an assessment of honest testimony given by legitimate relevant witnesses; in the other case you have character assassination.
It’s past time that we treat these false news outlets exactly like the liars that they are.
This is not an argument against the presentation of conservative ideas or opinions. What I’m saying isn’t about a specific ideology at all. This is about the deliberate distortion of facts, the deliberate mischaracterization of the truth, and disinformation presented to the public. There is room and should be space to present legitimate conservative thought, just as much as liberal thought should be given reasonable consideration.
Simply presenting a conservative perspective is not what Fox News does. It has a clear and deliberate agenda to twist and contort its presentation of information to deceive and to mislead. Jane Mayer reports in The New Yorker,
Hemmer argues that Fox—which, as the most watched cable news network, generates about $2.7 billion a year for its parent company, 21st Century Fox—acts as a force multiplier for Trump, solidifying his hold over the Republican Party and intensifying his support. “Fox is not just taking the temperature of the base—it’s raising the temperature,” she says. “It’s a radicalization model.” For both Trump and Fox, “fear is a business strategy—it keeps people watching.” As the President has been beset by scandals, congressional hearings, and even talk of impeachment, Fox has been both his shield and his sword. The White House and Fox interact so seamlessly that it can be hard to determine, during a particular news cycle, which one is following the other’s lead. All day long, Trump retweets claims made on the network; his press secretary, Sarah Sanders, has largely stopped holding press conferences, but she has made some thirty appearances on such shows as “Fox & Friends” and “Hannity.” Trump, Hemmer says, has “almost become a programmer.”
The Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, another conservative Never Trumper, used to appear on the network, but wouldn’t do so now. “Fox was begun as a good-faith effort to counter bias, but it’s morphed into something that is not even news,” she says. “It’s simply a mouthpiece for the President, repeating what the President says, no matter how false or contradictory.” The feedback loop is so strong, she notes, that Trump “will even pick up an error made by Fox,” as when he promoted on Twitter a bogus Fox story claiming that South Africa was “seizing land from white farmers.” Rubin told me, “It’s funny that Bill Shine went over to the White House. He could have stayed in his old job. The only difference is payroll.”
Although Ailes paid occasional lip service to journalistic integrity, Fox News was hardly fair and balanced under his leadership. Gabriel Sherman, in his biography, “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” reports that Ailes was so obsessed with bringing down Obama in 2012 that he declared to colleagues, “I want to elect the next President.”
The Impeachment hearings that were broadcast over the last two weeks were covered one way by major news outlets, and a completely different way by Fox News, as The Atlantic’s Megan Garber noted:
Danielle Misiak, who tweeted back-to-back images comparing MSNBC’s coverage with Fox’s, noted of the differences, “You already know how this is gonna play out.” She was correct. There is an inevitability to Fox’s very Foxiness at this point—and this makes it easy to forget how profoundly undemocratic it is that a major media outlet, as it covers a history-making happening, would insist that the most pertinent facts of the event are the president’s opinions about it. MSNBC, too, had a bias in its coverage (“IMPEACHMENT: WHITE HOUSE IN CRISIS” went its chyron as Taylor delivered his testimony to Congress). But Fox had much more than a slant; in Trump, effectively, it had an author. It had a purpose and a person, and it long ago decided that both were, in every sense, unimpeachable.
And so, across the day’s several formats—as assorted hosts and commentators took to its air to have their say—the Fox News Channel converged around a common message: The impeachment hearings are an affront to the country because they are an affront to the president. Trump, as Fox covered him, was both the question and the answer. He was the only fact that mattered. Here is how Fox’s graphics introduced Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee: “TRUMP HAS TWEETED ABOUT SCHIFF MORE THAN 100 TIMES SINCE INQUIRY BEGAN.”
Fox’s opinion shows also behaved according to script: They mocked the hearings as alternately biased and pointless and time-wasting and—the greatest offense, if you are a cable-news network—boring. On The Five, Fox’s co-ed, late-afternoon answer to The View, the host Greg Gutfeld began the quintet’s conversation with a message: “Congrats, Adam Schiff,” Gutfeld said, “you found something that makes the Mueller hearing look sexy.” The host proceeded to refer to the hearings as “a crappy horror movie scripted by the Dems for the media, with Schiff and his bunch playing the bug-eyed zombies.” (He later amended that assessment: “Actually, this is worse than a horror film. It’s pornography for Democrats.”)
This is not the presentation of factual information. This is pure spin. This is the presentation of fiction, not fact. Other recent examples, all reported by Media Matters:
- Fox’s Pete Hegseth: Trump has withstood more then what “any other mortal could understand”
- Fox News hypes article about unauthorized edit to FISA application without noting that it “did not affect the overall validity”
- Fiona Hill testified on the dangers of the ‘fictional narrative’ of Ukrainian collusion — the same conspiracy theory Fox News has relentlessly pushed for years
- Fox’s “news” anchor pushes debunked smear about impeachment witness Marie Yovanovitch
- Tucker Carlson says that he’s rooting for Russia against Ukraine
- John Solomon falsely claims “nothing” in his reporting “has been challenged by these hearings”
- Fox “news”-side anchor Harris Faulkner lets Trump surrogates spew dangerous anti-abortion misinformation
- Fox guest Chadwick Moore falsely suggests issues facing trans women of color are manufactured problems
- Fox & Friends lauds Rob Schneider for “standing up for free speech” without noting he was pushing anti-vaccination conspiracy theories
- Right-wing media launch unhinged attacks on Greta Thunberg
- Fox News echoes White House talking points attacking Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman
- Fox News contributor launches absurd dual-loyalty attack on Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman
- Following Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s testimony, conservatives wrongly claim he committed perjury
- Fox News uses on-screen graphics to push pro-Trump lies during impeachment hearing
There is a point where this can’t be tolerated anymore. There is a point where, for the sake of the nation and the safety of those in it, this has to be made to stop. It has to be made to end. Fox News has to be put down like a rabid dog. It’s out of control and it’s deadly dangerous.
Specifically, I am suggesting that a campaign to end the misinformation by and of Fox News and other false news outlets be formally instituted. There has to be a response; there has to be a reaction.
What I’m saying is that we fight fire with fire, or, more specifically, we fight lies with SLAPP lawsuits in the same manner that people such as Trump himself and Bob Murray have used them to keep media outlets from addressing certain subjects, as explained here gloriously by John Oliver.
SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) lawsuits are intended to silence and stifle public debate about a specific target. They are typically used against news outlets when they publish what the plaintiffs consider negative news, with a threat of high damages for continuing to repeat the information. An example of this is the defamation suit that Melania Trump filed against the Daily Mail over the suggestion that she provided “services beyond just modeling.” NPR reported in 2017,
The Daily Mail has agreed to pay damages and issue an apology to first lady Melania Trump to settle defamation claims over the British tabloid’s insinuations that she “provided services beyond simply modelling.”
The basis for the lawsuits in the U.S. and the U.K. was the Mail‘s report about Melania’s time as a model, published online and in a two-page article last summer under the headline, “Racy photos and troubling questions about his wife’s past that could derail Trump.”
Another example would be the $140 million lawsuit filed on behalf of Hulk Hogan against Gawker for publishing a sex video that featured him. Reported The Hollywood Reporter,
After a review of the stunning verdict in March in Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker over the publishing of an excerpt of a sex tape, Florida Circuit Judge Pamela Campbell on Wednesday decided not to order a new trial nor touch the $140 million verdict.
The decision comes as the case has gained renewed attention thanks to a report that PayPal co-founder and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel provided financial backing to Hogan as the former professional wrestler pursued claims of having his privacy violated and his publicity rights infringed through an October 2012 post viewed by an estimated 7 million people. Campbell’s decision will soon allow this dispute to proceed to a Florida appeals court.
Hogan — whose real name is Terry Bollea — pursued Gawker for showing him in sexual intercourse with Heather Cole, the then-wife of his best friend, Tampa-area radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge. The existence of the sex tape was reported by TMZ and The Dirty by the time that Gawker had published it alongside an A.J. Daulerio essay about celebrity sex tapes. Gawker attempted to argue that it was within its First Amendment right to decide what was newsworthy, but after a two-week trial that ended in May, a jury decided that Hogan’s privacy outweighed this. The jury handed down $115 million in compensatory damages and $25 million more in punitive damages.
Let’s be real here. If Gawker can be forced to pay $140 million, which essentially shut that news outlet down, just how much could Fox News be required to pay if it were sued for all of the lies and distortions that it publishes on a regular basis each and every day?
The family of Seth Rich has sued Fox over the false claim that their son was the real source of the DNC hack. According to NPR,
A federal appeals court Friday reinstated a lawsuit against Fox News and two other defendants over its coverage of the death of Seth Rich, a 27-year-old Democratic Party aide who was murdered in July 2016.
The suit was filed by Rich’s parents over a Fox News story from May 2017. The story reported that Rich had been linked to the leak of thousands of Democratic Party emails to WikiLeaks and suggested his death might be related to the release of those emails. The police department in Washington, D.C., believes Rich’s shooting death was the result of a botched robbery. Fox retracted its story a week later, saying “the article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all of our reporting.”
When Fox News repeats claims about CrowdStrike and Ukraine being involved in meddling in the 2016 presidential election, it is essentially repeating the smear against Seth Rich, because the center of those theories is that the DNC hack was an “inside job” that CrowdStrike endeavored to cover up, misdirecting blame onto Russia. The person who supposedly accomplished that “inside job” was Seth Rich.
If Fox can be sued over Seth Rich, it can be sued for what it’s said—and lied about—Hunter Biden. It can be sued for what it’s said about Marie Yovanovitch, what it’s said about Fiona Hill, what it’s said about Ukraine being involved in the DNC hack without any evidence. And, in fact, it is on the verge of being sued by Lt. Col Alexander Vindman, who has demanded that it retract some of its claims. According to Deadline,
An attorney for Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman fired off a letter to Fox News on Wednesday, asking the network to retract an October 28 segment of The Ingraham Angle in which a guest suggested that he engaged in espionage.
Vindman’s attorney, David Pressman of Boies Schiller Flexner, said in the letter that the segment “created a false factual basis to render sinister otherwise innocuous facts.” He wrote that the segment “sparked a torrent of republications and copycat false charges,” as President Donald Trump retweeted innuendo that he had dual loyalties.
This needs to happen more.
It needs to happen a lot more. In fact, I think it should be a campaign. It should be a crusade. I think that high cash donors should openly state that they are willing to put their money where their mouth is and pay for legal costs—as Peter Thiel did in the Hulk Hogan lawsuit—and stand behind lawsuits against right-wing lies and distortions. It should be something that Tom Steyer or Michael Bloomberg or George Soros should be willing to fund.
If you’ve been slandered or libeled by Fox News or Breitbart, there should be ready cash for you to sue their pants off and gag the crap out of them to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars per offense.
Barack Obama should have sued the crap out of Donald Trump for claiming there was something wrong with his birth certificate and that he was really born in Kenya. Hunter Biden should sue the tits off of Devin Nunes, Lindsey Graham, and Fox News. Make them prove their assertions in court or else shut the hell up.
If Bob Murray and Peter Thiel can do it, we can do it. It’s long past time we started fighting bullshit fire with real legal fire.
Make. Them. Pay.
Then we’ll see how the discourse in the nation suddenly starts becoming considerably more fact-based.