(Part of a continuing series: Fox News is Not News.)
Given the opportunity – nay, the obligation – to describe the incredibly destructive role that Fox’s self-described news channel is playing in our political discourse, reporters in our top news organizations whiffed miserably.
The abrupt departure of “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace stripped the network of its foremost fig leaf, and gave reality-based journalists clear license to stop the lame euphemisms and call Fox what it is: a propaganda and disinformation operation.
And it’s not news. It’s the opposite of news: constantly pushing out disinformation and Trumpian propaganda.
It has become the nation’s top vector of anti-democratic and anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, leading many of its viewers to delusion and death. There’s never been anything like this.
Mainstream news reporters know this. They see its effects every day. They know what Fox is – they just lack the courage to say so.
So in the New York Times, Michael M. Grynbaum wrote that Wallace was leaving a network where “stridently conservative hosts like Tucker Carlson have increasingly set the channel’s agenda.”
That’s certainly better than depicting it as a normal news network, but it’s weak tea. Grynbaum’s second paragraph was clearly intended to situate Fox, but instead of using his own informed voice to describe the damage it has done and the distance between it and reality-based new organizations, he gave us this:
The network has pulled far ahead of CNN and MSNBC in the ratings with an expanded slate of right-wing commentary that denounces President Biden and defends former President Donald J. Trump. But some members of its newsroom have been unnerved by programming that has given weight to vaccine skeptics or amplified conspiracy theories about the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
It took three Washington Post reporters — Paul Farhi, Amy B Wang and Jeremy Barr – to write about the departure of “the veteran Fox News anchor whose rigorous interviews often contrasted sharply with the partisan views of his star prime-time colleagues.”
Their explanation of what’s going on at Fox was timid and tunnel-visioned:
Wallace is leaving Fox at a time when the network has been beset by internal conflicts, largely stemming from disputes over its balance between news and commentary — many within the company fearing the latter outweighs the former — particularly concerning the 2020 election and the pandemic.
David Bauder wrote for the Associated Press that Wallace’s exit dealt “a significant blow to Fox’s news operation at a time that it has been overshadowed by the network’s opinion side.”
“Overshadowed” is a bit of an understatement. It has been almost entirely subsumed, to the point of irrelevance.
Bauder wrote, without sourcing, that Wallace “had grown privately frustrated with the overall tenor at Fox, where conservative opinion hosts have been elevated and amplified.” Depending on the source — which I’m guessing was Wallace himself — the story could have been cast more directly as an obvious renouncing of his employer. But that didn’t happen.
Meanwhile, at the Los Angeles Times, Matthew S. Schwartz penned a laugh-out-loud lead paragraph:
One of the most prominent and respected journalists at Fox News has announced his departure, effective immediately.
At CNN, Oliver Darcy and Brian Stelter wrote that Wallace was “one of the few high-profile news personalities who retained a reputation of integrity as Fox leaned hard into right-wing and conspiratorial programming.” While being a little too gracious to Wallace, they — almost alone — described Fox using the right words.
Over at the Daily Beast, Clive Irving identified the symbolic nature of Wallace’s departure, under the headline: “Fox News Is Fully Tucker TV Now That Chris Wallace Is Gone.”
The final fig leaf has fallen from Fox News, in the form of Chris Wallace’s exit. As it does, the nakedness of the Murdoch network assumes more clearly the grotesque form of Tucker Carlson.
In fact, the only real effect of Wallace’s departure is in Fox’s reduced ability to market itself as a real news organization.
It’s not like he was a paragon of journalistic virtue on his Sunday show. Wallace didn’t subscribe to Fox’s alternate reality – but he didn’t fight against it, either.
He clearly knew better. As he said in a 2017 speech, “President Trump is engaged in the most direct, sustained assault on the free press in our history… And I think his purpose is clear: a concerted campaign to raise doubts over whether we can be trusted when we report critically about his administration.”
But then he added, subserviently, that “even if Trump is trying to undermine the press for his own calculated reasons, when he talks about bias in the media — unfairness — I think he has a point.” As evidence, Wallace cited the CBS Evening News calling some of Trump’s statements “divorced from reality.”
The Fox was strong with him – all the way to the end, when a top segment of his final show described the White House as being “under increasing pressure for a federal response to rising crime across the country… as mayors play defense over fallout from protest, bail reform and spikes in violence.”
Despite the encomiums from the corporate media, Chris Wallace’s legacy is 18 years of sacrificing his respectability to help Fox executives defend themselves from criticism. That doesn’t leave much to brag about. I’m waiting to see if he repents.