By:
November 16, 2020

President Trump can take to Twitter all he wants to complain about Fox News. And Trump supporters can chant “Fox News sucks!” all they want.

But if you paid attention to many of the Fox News and Fox Business personalities this past weekend, you would have seen the pattern of baseless accusations, conspiracy theories and claims of a rigged election continue.

There’s no other way to put this: The type of rhetoric put out by some of the Fox News and Fox Business personalities is dangerous. It harms our democracy, fosters divisiveness, creates chaos and might even incite violence.

Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo, the once-respected broadcaster who has gone full-blown conspiracy theorist, dedicated much of her weekend programming to election fraud, including giving Rudy Giuliani free rein to push his wild conspiracies, as well as another election interview with Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan.

Watters World,” the show hosted by Fox News’ Jesse Watters, tweeted out a clip from his show in which Watters said, “There’s something that just doesn’t feel right about this. Joe Biden didn’t earn it, he didn’t really even campaign. He thought was going to lose, you could see it. He ran a losing campaign. So 10 days after the election, how’s he ahead?”

His commentary, if you care to watch it the link above, is troubling to see anywhere, let alone a cable news network with a major following.

Pete Hegseth turned into Ron Burgundy (reading anything in the teleprompter) while hosting Saturday’s “Fox & Friends Weekend.” He talked about the demonstrations planned for that day by Trump supporters protesting the election. Hegseth said, “The demonstrations are in support of the president’s effort to reveal voter fraud and count all the legal votes. So far, state election officials have not reported serious irregularities with the vote that would affect the outcome of the race.”

Then, immediately realizing what he just said, added, “That was in the teleprompter. I read it. I don’t even know if I agree with it, but that happens sometimes.”

And Fox News’ Lou Dobbs said this on Friday: “The president doesn’t want a statue erected to him. What he wants is a free and fair election and honest results, and it’s being denied to him and we all know that … Why not just say we’re not going to accept the results of this election? It’s outrageous.”

No, what’s outrageous is that Fox News and Fox Business allow this type of unproven commentary on the air when people deserve the truth over ratings fodder. Where’s owner Rupert Murdoch? Where’s Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch? Where’s Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott?

Fox News has several journalists acting responsibly these days, but that is being overshadowed by the kind of punditry pretending to be journalism  we saw over the weekend.

As Recode’s Peter Kafka wrote, “… Murdoch is once again trying to have it both ways: His news operation — the one Trump tweets angrily about — has told its viewers that Trump lost the election and that his complaints about voter fraud are made up. But in the morning, and at night, it’s a different story.”

That’s true. I haven’t even mentioned some of the things said by Fox News’ primetime trio of Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham.

Kafka wrote, “Hannity, Carlson, and Ingraham do their own version of the Fox News two-step: They don’t come out and say outright that Trump is a victim of massive voter fraud that cost him the election while simultaneously defeating Democratic House and Senate candidates. But they argue that it’s plausible. They feed the fire with oxygen.”

They say it, and the Murdochs are OK with it, even though it doesn’t meet journalistic standards of using facts to support claims and even though it’s just the opposite of what Fox News’ responsible journalists are reporting. Then again, audiences are eating it up.

As Kafka writes, “Now Fox News is dancing with a conspiracy theory that could be equally upsetting to an angry, suggestible audience. The best-case scenario is that Fox merely convinces its audience that voting is rigged against them. And its viewers are content to just watch Fox, seething. But that’s a terrible range of outcomes. We shouldn’t expect better from Fox’s leaders. But we should definitely ask them to do better.”

Misinformation overload

Right after election day, my Poynter colleague Katy Bryon warned on Twitter that if Joe Biden won the election, there was going to be an “explosion of disinformation online, the likes of which we have never seen.”

I thought (hoped?) that she was overstating it. Turns out, she was spot on. Unproven theories about the election are taking over online and social media like wildfire, oxygenated by irresponsible media outlets. Fox News is hardly the only media organization advancing this misinformation. Outlets such as Newsmax, Rush Limbaugh, OAN, Breitbart and others also are promoting these theories.

During his “Reliable Sources” show on Sunday, CNN’s Brian Stelter smartly called it a problem of “disinformation supply and demand.” These outlets, Stelter said, are “in denial, just like Trump.” And they are attracting audiences. We saw evidence of that with the Trump supporters who showed up to march in Washington, D.C., on Saturday. They believe Trump won the election, but that it is being stolen from.

“This is the new birtherism,” Stelter said. “We are going to be reckoning with the consequences of these lies for years.”

Stelter said he thought this kind of thing would subside after the election, but as my colleague Byron warned, it has not.

“It is actually getting worse,” Stelter said.

As Stelter noted, because Trump isn’t winning in court, he is trying to win in the court of public opinion. These news outlets are assisting him.

Stelter claimed, and we can all agree, that not every Trump voter is buying into these bogus election claims. But we also have to look at the reality: TV ratings and web traffic numbers show that millions of people are buying it. As Stelter also pointed out, outlets known to be even more right than Fox News (places such as Newsmax and OAN) are seeing significant audience increases.

What about Newsmax?

The buzz in the media world last week was that the Newsmax might become more than a pro-Trump media outlet. Word was it could become a Trump-owned media outlet. Rumors were swirling that Trump might try to buy the network and turn it into his own personal megaphone.

The Wall Street Journal’s Benjamin Mullin, Juliet Chung, Keach Hagey and Rebecca Ballhaus had a story Sunday — “Trump Allies Explored Buyout of Newsmax TV as Fox News Alternative” — that gave some credence to that line of thinking.

But Variety’s Brian Steinberg talked to Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy, who says the network is not for sale and added that the network wouldn’t become “Trump TV.” As far as a sale, Ruddy did add the caveat that he isn’t considering it “at this time” and acknowledges that investors have inquired about it.

Ruddy told Steinberg, “We have always seen ourselves as an independent news agency, and we want to continue with that mission. But we are open — (Trump) is going to be a political and media force after he leaves the White House, and we would be open to talking to him about a weekly show.”

Chuck Todd gets it so right

“Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd. (Photo courtesy of CBS News.)

Chuck Todd’s comments on Sunday’s “Meet the Press” were grim, troubling, stressful … and 100% on the money. Todd pointed out exactly what is going on in this country right now.

“One, the President of the United States refuses to concede the election, claiming falsely it was stolen,” Todd said. “His attorney general is encouraging investigations into voter fraud, despite a lack of evidence that any exists. His secretary of state is suggesting the president will be inaugurated for a second term. The president has fired his defense secretary and is filling the Defense Department with loyalists, some of whom traffic in conspiracy theories. If this were happening anywhere else, the State Department would be issuing grim reports about the future of that country’s democracy. But it’s happening here.”

He went on to add, “In short, President Trump is refusing to acknowledge two realities … his defeat and Covid-19 … but the virus doesn’t care, as it continues its march across the country, doing exactly what experts have long predicted it would do.”

Not meeting the press

Speaking of “Meet the Press,” Todd said the show invited every single Republican senator in the U.S. to appear on the program on Sunday. All declined.

Guest of the weekend

Former President Barack Obama and Gayle King of CBS. (Lazarus Baptiste/CBS News)

Barack Obama was the special guest on Sunday’s “CBS Sunday Morning.” Obama spoke with Gayle King about politics, the presidency and Donald Trump. King asked Obama, “Seventy-two million people voted for Donald Trump. What does that say to you about the state of this country?”

Obama said, “Well, what it says is that we are still deeply divided. The power of that alternative worldview that’s presented in the media that those voters consume, it carries a lot of weight.”

King said, “Are you worried about that?”

“Yes. It’s very hard for our democracy to function if we are operating on just completely different sets of facts.”

King also asked about the transition, which has been nonexistent because Trump has refused to concede the election. Obama told King that the Bush administration could not have been more gracious when he became president, and he did the same when Trump became president.

Obama said, “Well, look, Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States; Kamala Harris will be the next vice president. There is no legal basis, there’s no factual scenarios in which …”

King interrupted to say, “But he’s getting support from members of the Republican Party, who are not challenging him.”

To which Obama said, “And that has been disappointing. But it’s been sort of par for the course during these four years. They obviously didn’t think there was any fraud going on, because they didn’t say anything for the first two days. But there’s damage to this, because what happens is that the peaceful transfer of power, the notion that any of us who attain an elected office — whether it’s dogcatcher or president — are servants of the people. It’s a temporary job.”

Obama also was interviewed on Sunday’s “60 Minutes,”  and The Atlantic will publish an interview with Obama today. Obama told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, “One of the really distressing things about the current situation is the amount of time that is being lost because of Donald Trump’s petulance and the unwillingness of other Republicans to call him on it.”

Oh, one more thing: Will Obama go to work in the Biden administration, like a cabinet post or something? Don’t bet on it. Obama told King, “There are probably some things I would not be doing ‘cause Michelle would leave me.”

Powerful column

Steve Lopez, the superb four-time Pulitzer finalist who’s a columnist for The Los Angeles Times, had a powerful piece Sunday. Here’s how it started:

“As the tally of COVID-19 cases and deaths surged across the United States over the last week, President Trump seemed not to notice because he was too busy insisting he had won reelection. And through it all, Trump’s Jim Jones-like cult of true believers remained as loyal as ever. I know this because some of them reached out to me.”

What did they say?

One said, “I hope you die a miserable death very soon!”

Another said, “You, Steve Lopez is the kind of person that we do not want here in the United States of America. Why don’t you go back to whatever third world country you came from so that those of us who have been here for generations do not have to pay for your upkeep welfare.” (For the record, Lopez is from California.)

And another said, “It’s a shame scum like you who are in this country illgeal get away with posting all that hate you wrothless spic inbreed.” (We can only assume he meant “worthless” not “wrothless.”)

Check out Lopez’s column.

Media tidbits

Masters golf champion Dustin Johnson shows off his green jacket after his victory on Sunday. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

  • The Masters golf tournament was held over the weekend. But I wanted to point you to CBS Sports’ opening to the tournament. Watch this clip. You’ll be glad you did. And check out this emotional clip, too, as Dustin Johnson breaks down celebrating his victory. Also, here’s USA Today columnist Christine Brennan with “Dustin Johnson, the Masters Both Overcome COVID-19 in Strangest Golf Major.”
  • Another good clip: “Fox News Sunday” remembers “Jeopardy” legend Alex Trebek.
  • My two cents: There is plenty of talk about a competitor rising up to overtake Fox News as the main TV voice of conservatives. I just don’t see it — not right now, anyway. One thing Fox News has going for it that the other outlets don’t is talent. And by talent, I mean people who know HOW to do TV and do it well. I might not agree with what they say and how they say it, but they have figured out how to do it and that’s a huge advantage over places such as Newsmax and OAN.

Hot type

The coronavirus rages on. Here’s an excellent piece from The Atlantic’s Zeynep Tufekci: “It’s Time to Hunker Down.”

I missed this last week, but not too late to catch up. Writing for CNN, Roxanne Jones with “Kamala Harris Shows Black Women They Wave the Power to Change the World.”

The Daily Beast’s Diana Falzone with “The Sexual Assault Lawsuit Against Ed Henry Just Took a Wild Turn.”

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

More resources for journalists

The Poynter Report is our daily media newsletter. To have it delivered to your inbox Monday-Friday, sign up here.

Follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Donate
Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
More by Tom Jones

More News

Back to News