Even by the standards of a television network that constantly pushes disinformation and conspiracy theories, there is something appalling and momentous about Tucker Carlson this week launching a series explicitly designed to erase the real history of the January 6 insurrection and incite more right-wing violence.
So although it’s been a long time coming, starting this week members of the journalistic profession — individually and collectively — have no excuse anymore: They must publicly and urgently distance themselves from a so-called “news” network that is in fact the opposite of news.
Fox “News” is a right-wing propaganda operation wrapped inside an entertainment channel. It does not adhere to the professional standards of journalism. And every moment it is allowed to operate under the guise of “news” gives it more credibility than it deserves as it chips away at our democracy.
The old excuses – that Fox does employ some “real” journalists, that taking a stand against Fox wouldn’t be politically neutral, that journalists should be “at work, not at war” – simply don’t hold up anymore.
Every reporter who ventures outside the Beltway knows what a toxic effect Fox is having on the mindset of too many Americans. It is the inverse of enlightenment; the antithesis of what journalists stand for.
The country faces an increasing number of existential crises, all of them exacerbated by Fox’s steady diet of authoritarianism, racism, and fact-denying. It is closing minds that journalism exists to open.
So here is what we in the greater journalism community – reporters, editors, newsroom leaders, publishers, media critics, academics, think-tankers, and pollsters — must do:
Stop calling it news. Start describing it as a distributor of propaganda and disinformation. Call it the Fox News propaganda network. Or a right-wing messaging platform. Or political infotainment. Or something. Just not “news”.
Explain the difference between it and news. Help your audience understand that journalism has professional standards of accuracy, self-correction, and at least attempting to be reality-based, which Fox does not come close to meeting. Journalism is at least trying to inform you. Propagandistic infotainment is trying to addict you and manipulate you.
Actively encourage people to stop watching it. Urge your audience to turn it off. Encourage them to spend time with you and other actual news sources. Use marketing campaigns to lure people away. Explain why it’s so important to resists propaganda.
Monitor its patterns of disinformation and propaganda and refute them with reporting. Fox News isn’t news. It’s a news story. What vile fantasy is it trying to fob off on its viewers now? Marshall the facts to show that it’s not true.
Expose the beneficiaries of its propaganda and lies. Refuting the lie is just the beginning. Exploring the “why” behind the lie is crucial to helping viewers reject it.
Track its effects by constantly asking voters what influenced their views. Every time a voter tells you something that is flatly delusional, don’t just print it. Gently but forcefully try to find out where they heard it, why they found it convincing, and where they get their information.
Measure its effects on public opinion, distinguishing between it and genuine news outlets. Polls should routinely include crosstabs based on “news” consumption. And if surveys about credibility and trust in the “media” don’t distinguish between disinformation outlets and real journalism, their results are meaningless.
Report on the echo chamber between it and Republican leaders. There has never been anything like this before, in terms of a network essentially setting the agenda for a political party (and driving it further toward extremism). Track the linkage between Fox saying something and GOP leaders saying it.
Regularly identify who bankrolls it – owners and advertisers both – and report on why. The public needs to be constantly reminded of who is paying for and profiting from the poisoning of the American mind.
Encourage former employees to speak out, rather than remain complicit. Real journalists shouldn’t allow Fox to use their reputation to launder its own.
Encourage real journalists still working there to resign. There aren’t a lot left. But there’s no moral case for someone who cares about facts to remain and give Fox any credibility whatsoever.
Demand that search and social media platforms not treat it as news. Legitimate news organizations should not have to compete against propaganda under the rubric of news. Demand that Facebook News stop linking to Fox. Urge Google News to downgrade or identify propaganda outlets.
Establish that people and businesses showing it in public places are making a political statement. Once you establish that Fox is not simply a news outlet with a different view but a dangerous disinformation vector, then its public display should be seen as an attack on news and truth.
Stop partnering with it in any way, including debates and distribution deals. Fox News sullies whatever it touches.
What did I miss? Let me know.
First in a series. Coming up next: How Fox fails the journalism test; Some journalists do call Fox out; an interview with Angelo Carusone of Media Matters; How Fox erodes media credibility; and more.