A Prime-Time Coup

Fox News deliberately embraced Trump’s lies about the nonexistent theft of the 2020 election

During the two months between the presidential election that Joe Biden won in November 2020 and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, Fox News was instrumental in lending credibility to and amplifying the nonsense that the election was rigged. President Donald Trump took advantage of Fox News’ prime-time programming and his great influence over part of the Republican electorate to sabotage trust in democracy. Now, evidence in a lawsuit against the network has publicly revealed that Fox News executives and its news anchors did not believe the lies they told on screen.

One of the unfounded rumors the anchors spread was that Dominion Voting Systems machines switched votes from Trump to Biden in key states. The company is seeking $1.6 billion in damages for harm to its reputation and business because of the lies Fox spread. The court has received hundreds of pages of internal communications from Fox News that reveal the hypocrisy prevalent at the network. Star anchors who fueled the conspiracy privately said that Trump lawyers lied. Evidence reportedly shows that Fox anchors knew they were spreading misinformation but were afraid of losing viewers. “It is not red or blue,” said Rupert Murdoch, who owns the network, referring to the colors of the two political parties, “it is green,” a reference to the color of the dollar bill.

The lawsuit is pending and its outcome is uncertain. Mixing information and opinion is common in the news industry, even though Fox News takes it to the extreme. In the U.S., freedom of the press enjoys the highest constitutional protection. It is very hard to prove malicious intent in repeating claims that were not originally asserted by Fox but by Trump. Yet Murdoch denies that Fox endorsed the outgoing president’s unfounded lies and has blamed the individual comments of certain anchors.

It is impossible to assess the network’s degree of responsibility given the extreme fanaticism of the 2,000 Trumpists who stormed the Capitol. The greatest conspiratorial nonsense circulated through unconventional information channels. However, it is not hard to conclude that if the stars of the MAGAverse media had told the truth, the coup attempt Trump led would not have progressed as easily as it did. Forced to choose between letting down its viewers or fomenting a lie that is corrosive to democracy, Fox News chose the lie. This is a decision that goes well beyond corporate pragmatism. Legally guilty or not, the case is already regarded as the paradigm of ethical corruption that crosses the line between media and an instrument of agitprop.

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