Does Fox News lead or follow its audience? I’ve long thought it was both.
During the 2015-’16 presidential campaign, Fox tried to take out Donald Trump, as when then-Fox host Megyn Kelly confronted Trump with his misogynistic remarks at the first Republican debate. It didn’t work, and eventually Fox got with the program. Then, after Joe Biden defeated Trump in 2020, Fox tried to play it straight, more or less. Famously, it was the first media outlet to call Arizona for Biden, a state that ensured his victory. But when Fox’s audience started stampeding to farther-right cable channels like Newsmax and OAN, Fox reversed itself and embraced Trump’s lies so tightly that it cost them $787 million in a libel settlement.
Brian Stelter makes that argument in an interview with Tom Jones of Poynter. Stelter, who’s written a new book about Fox called “Network of Lies,” tells Jones that most Fox employees don’t much care about politics. Instead, they are motivated by the usual: making a living. Here’s an excerpt:
For most, it’s just a job, not a calling. Some producer and director types truly believe in the Trump agenda and will stop at nothing to see him reelected. But most are just trying to make good TV. They definitely aren’t losing sleep about Fox’s coarsening of the culture or Trump’s brainwashing of the base.
I write in the book that rank-and-file staffers like to gossip about hookups between hosts and ratings rivalries between shows. On the occasions when I steered my source chats in a more serious direction, toward the impact of Fox-fueled disinformation on society and democracy, staffers turned cagey or dismissive. I heard some predictable whataboutism and rants about the flaws of other networks.
Bottom line: I think introspection and accountability are in short supply at Fox, a tone that’s set at the top, by Rupert, who advised Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott years ago to “ignore the noise.”
You should read the whole thing. And by the way, although Stelter probably isn’t interested, I wonder if it might be possible for new CNN head Mark Thompson to lure Stelter back now that the brief, unlamented Chris Licht era is over. Stelter appeared on CNN last week to plug his book, so who knows? I wouldn’t expect to see Stelter return to his old job, which is being ably filled by Oliver Darcy. But Stelter is among the very best media reporters in the business, and it would be great to see him return in some capacity.