I don’t usually watch Fox News, because I understand it has a seriously conservative slant which doesn’t match my own, but I wanted to know why it is so popular. So I undertook to watch Fox News for a week, all by DVR so I could quickly skip the commercials. I watched at least 2 hours of “Fox and Friends,” all of Tucker Carlson and Hannity Monday through Friday. I also sampled several episodes of Shepherd Smith’s 3 pm newscasts, which appeared to be straight down the middle unbiased, although it covered similar stories. Overall, I took 28 pages of notes on these shows, and this article attempts to organize and boil down my impressions.
That week (April 16-20) had a lot of news, with the release of James Comey’s book, A Higher Loyalty, Barbara Bush’s passing and the disclosure that Trump’s personal attorney (and fixer), Michael Cohen was also lawyer to Sean Hannity. And, on Thursday evening, Comey’s memos were released.
Fox and Friends
“Fox and Friends” began Monday with country music and Carrie Underwood, because the Country Music Awards had been the night before. In fact, nearly every hour starts with a snippet of pop music, helpfully identified in a box in the upper left corner.
Fox and Friends is early morning television from 6:00 am to 9:00 am and there is some repetition between the hours so you get most of the content by watching around two hours. The show is hosted by Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt and Brian Kilmeade. Meteorologist Janice Dean appears about once an hour to summarize the US weather, and a summary of the day’s news is handled by Jillian Mele. As is typical of Fox News, the women are all identically blonde.
Doocy’s on air persona has evolved from avuncular host to a more serious analyst and he now wears glasses to show how serious he is. He and Kilmeade analyze the news they want to talk about more or less equally, while Earhardt takes on a distinctly second banana role.
The show is relaxed and informal, with most of it delivered from a curved white couch. I wondered how often they have to clean that pure white furniture. Do they have several copies?
On Monday’s show, they predictably started by commenting on George Stephanopolis’s interview of James Comey which had aired the previous evening, taking particular note of Comey’s comments that his wife and daughters loved Hillary (Clinton) and had taken part in the women’s march the day after the inauguration. This particular factoid was then repeated 6 or 7 times in this and other Fox News shows that week.
This segued (il)logically into Hillary, who, they said “had sent her Emails to Huma Abedin, who sent them on to her “pedophile husband “(Anthony Weiner). This appeared to be the zinger of the week, because I kept hearing it all week.
Cycling back to Comey, commentator Dan Bongino (identified as an NRATV contributor) noted that Comey was now a pretty small man and had shrunk in his estimation. This height metaphor was repeated several more times during the week. It didn’t grow on me. Taking up Comey’s remark that Trump behaved like a mob boss, Bongino inflated it to suggest Comey meant that Trump was involved in kidnappings and murders, rather than that he surrounded himself with family members and that he demanded fierce loyalty. Strangely, he neglected to mention that Comey suggested that Trump is running a “criminal enterprise” out of the White House.
The first hour closed by attacking a semi-humorous piece in the New Yorker on Chick-fil-A, noting that their overt religiosity is somewhat “creepy.” The article also praised their food and noted how popular the New York branches were. At their corporate headquarters, the religiosity includes a statue of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. There is no evidence of this religiosity in their stores, although you can find it on their web site.
In addition, deceased owner Dan Cathy was well-known as a homophobe, and even after backing away from this in their company literature, their foundation continued to give to anti-LGBTQ causes. The article also noted that The Fox hosts attacked the hypocrisy of the “latte-sipping crowd” for undermining Judeo-Christian values. “Liberals are out of touch!” “They are not in touch with mainstream America.” Of course, they made no mention of Chick-fil-A’s homophobic background. They also claimed this was an insult “to our founding fathers,” not recognizing that they were moral men, but not particularly religious.
Appearing on Tucker Carlson that night, Mark Stejn rehashed this story but continually referred to buying a “homophobic chicken sandwich.”
And that was just the first hour! The second hour repeated much of this material, with different voices criticizing Comey and praising Trump, and introduced the new theme of criticizing Sanctuary Cities, which was to be repeated every day that week.
Tucker Carlson brings his boyish looks and persona to the 8pm (Eastern) hour. While the topics he covers are much the same, his style softens them a bit. However, he started right in on Comey, saying he never should have been head of the FBI, somehow connecting that to Bill Clinton’s controversial pardon of Marc Rich.
Carlson criticized Comey for saying that Trump never criticized (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, calling it “McCarthyism.” The “Comey’s wife and children” mantra re-appeared here as well, with commentator Mark Stejn referring to “his wife shrieking in the streets with a bunch of big shots.”
By this time the news had broken that Judge Kimba Wood had insisted that Michael Cohen reveal his third client, who turned out to be Sean Hannity. Carlson claimed that “no judge had the right to violate Hannity’s privacy,” illustrating that he is no lawyer. Somehow neither Carlson, Hannity or anyone else reported at any time this week that news that Hannity also used two other Trump-connected lawyers, Jay Sekulow and Victoria Toensing.
Sean Hannity is clearly Fox’s leading rabble rouser, delivering his entire show at high volume and in high dudgeon. He does this very well, and is rather entertaining, although, as Ted Koppel noted, not entirely factual.
He begins each show with a tightly scripted “opening monolog” which attacks the issue of the day, which on this Monday was the media itself.
- The “liberal media” are a tangled, incestuous web.
- Wall-to-wall frauds, partisan hacks with liberal talking points.
- The media wants to tear the president down with their radical left-wing ideology.
- The media illustrates a massive double standard.
- The media is “the sewer.”
- The media don’t care about facts: they have a liberal agenda.
Of course, these phrases, carefully crafted by his staff, and delivered foaming at the mouth, might be entertaining, but he presents not a word supporting his views, but assumes his followers will just agree with him.
Hannity goes on to make connections he thinks will discredit people.
- Did Stephanopouls disclose he worked on the Clinton campaign? (Is there anyone who doesn’t know this?)
- Stephanopoulus donated $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation. (And?)
The micturation tape
In an attempt to discredit CNN, Hannity’s staff put together a montage of CNN reporters saying “pee-pee tape” 77 times in a week. He also reported that CNN had repeated “s—hole countries” 48 times in one day. Of course, Mr. Trump had expected this vulgarity would resonate with his base.
Hannity postponed his response to the revelation that Michael Cohen was his lawyer throughout the broadcast, and then ran a montage of some 46 mentions of “Sean Hannity” on various newscasts. This used up about half of the 3 minutes remaining at the end of the show, after which Hannity ran the same disclaimer he had issued several hours earlier. He made no mention of the other two Trump-connected lawyers. But, if he consulted Cohen about real estate issues as he said, wasn’t that using him as a lawyer?
Attorney Alan Dershowitz interjected that he should have revealed this connection sooner. Hannity attempted to change the subject to the criminality of Hillary’s “missing” Emails, but Dershowitz wasn’t having it.
And no one of Fox has mentioned the story that Hannity talks to the President several times a day and is effectively his shadow chief of staff.
Summary of First Day
After just one day of watching the tedious propagandizing of Fox’s most popular programs, it is pretty obvious that they are delivering a lot of news commentary, but very little actual news unless it supports their conservative, pro-Trump agenda. But wait, we have 4 more days!
Fox and Friends on Tuesday April 17
In attacking Mueller today, they noted that more people watched the Roseanne premier and the Stormy Daniels interview than watched Comey. They suggest that no one will want to buy the book since both liberals and conservative hate him. Actually, it sold over 600,000 in the first week, and remains a #1 Amazon seller.
Since this was Tax Day, they ran a panel discussion on how the newly passed tax laws would be advantageous to people. The first speaker ran a welding company who said he could deduct capital expenses the same year rather than over several years. This is absolutely correct.
The second speaker was a bishop from the New Life Harvest Church. He said that his daughter attended an Historically Black College (HBCU) and that Trump had provided more support to HBCUs, which the left wanted to deny. Well, while they have met with the President each year, no new funds have been provided according to Inside Higher Ed, although year round Pell Grants have returned.
Then they interviewed non-entity Chuck DeVore who said he left California because of its “left-liberal policies.” Actually, he left California for Texas in 2010 when he lost an election.
Fusion GPS and the Steele dossier
Congressman Ron DeSantis appeared, claiming that Hillary disguised payments to Fusion GPS by paying the Perkins Coie law firm to hire them. Actually, Perkins Coie hired Fusion GPS on its own to carry out opposition research. Neither the Clinton campaign nor the DNC were aware of this. This sort of punctures the continuing mantra of the “Clinton bought and paid for unverified Steele dossier.” Significant parts of the Steele dossier have been proven to be true, and none has been found to be false. Thus the slogan: “unverified, uncorroborated Russian lies” seems to be unverified hyperbole.
Immigration and Sanctuary Cities
A repeating xenophobic theme all week was that sanctuary cities are bad and that immigrants are dangerous.
A Tuesday Fox and Friends section of San Diego County (California) is rebelling over the state’s sanctuary state laws and will be holding a referendum. The hosts continue to bring up the idea that immigrants in sanctuary cities (where the local police may choose not to cooperate with ICE) are high in crime. This is a fallacy, disproved by extensive quantitative research. In general immigrant populations commit fewer crimes than the general population. They also showed a clip of Governor Jerry Brown replying to a Fox reporter on this issue, calling it “Fox nonsense.”
The following day Fox and Friends showed an interview with a woman who claimed that her son, Jamiel Shaw, was “murdered by an illegal immigrant.” She also said that “all you left wing nuts don’t care about our children.” Tragic though this was, her grief is somewhat mitigated by the fact that the shooting occurred in 2008, ten years before this interview, when immigration laws were rather different.
Mark Stejn sat in for Tucker Carlson for the first half of his Thursday broadcast, and after repeating the debunked stories about dangerous immigrant crime, he went farther and brought in a story about crime in Sweden after they accepted 170,000 migrants. The story was reported by controversial British columnist Katie Hopkins. But despite the report by Hopkins, this simply isn’t true. She also noted that Swedes are “exceptionally good looking,” and you can’t just put a blonde wig on Mohammed and make him a Swede. This is one of the most appallingly racist reports I have ever heard, even on Fox.
Ed Henry reported on the forthcoming meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Il, suggesting that if they achieve denuclearization, they might share the Nobel Peace Prize. This would be wonderful if it occurred, but there are significant reports that Kim isn’t entirely serious about this.
In Hannity’s nightly harangue, he said that Trump was shooting down “liberal rumors” about his planning to fire Mueller. Unfortunately, Fox News itself reported on Trump’s attempt to fire Mueller last year. So, while Hannity referred to “crackpot media lying,” that just is not the case. He repeated this on Thursday and Friday, too. In addition, former Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie repeated this same fiction the next day on Fox and Friends, that “the left continues the mantra that he will fire Mueller or Rosenstein.”
Hannity made a big deal out of the news story that 11 GOP senators sent a criminal referral to the Justice Department regarding actions by Comey, Andre McCabe, Loretta Lynch, Hillary Clinton, acting Attorney General Sally Yates, former acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente and FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. But, for some reason, Hannity only referred to the US Code numbers: 1505, 1515B, 641, 793, 1924A and so forth. He was less than specific because when you read the letter sent by Ron DeSantis and others, the actual suggested infractions are nothing new, and some date back years. Most are not very significant. Such referrals are infrequently acted upon when submitted by Congress, according to CNN, Politico and The Hill.
Carlson was featured in a report on college admissions. He tackled legacy admissions (which are less relevant at most schools, since they are usually over-qualified for that school) and affirmative action being perverted. According to Carlson, the legitimate needs of underserved U.S. minorities are being replaced by wealthy dark-skinned foreign students. He then talked about this with U.S, Civil Rights Commissioner Catherine Lhamon, who said that careful studies have shown that his claims are simply untrue. Shot down by your own expert!
The show ended with a clever piece on Goat Yoga, which I thought was a hoax, because it was so silly. But it’s not. See for yourself!
If you aren’t sure what former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe did that was so horrendous, you won’t find it out on Fox, either. All three programs accused McCabe of criminality, but were pretty vague about it. McCabe appears to have released information that as Deputy Director, he was authorized to release, but was “less than forthcoming” with investigators about having done so. Accordingly, the Justice Department Inspector General referred its findings to the DC Federal Prosecutor. However, since the bar for referrals is very low, it is far from certain that McCabe will actually be prosecuted.
Hannity claimed that McCabe is in “serious legal trouble,” that Comey started the investigation and might be a witness against McCabe. Comey has concurred that he might be a witness, but we do not know how likely a prosecution will be.
The Comey memos
On Thursday evening Congress leaked redacted copies of Comey’s memos to the press and reporters on all stations were hastily trying to figure out what exactly they meant. They described 7 conversations Comey had with President Trump, not an interview with Trump and revealed very little that we didn’t already know from Comey’s book.
Hannity, however, called the release “a crushing blow to the radical left” and a “setback for the conspiratorial media,” because they showed “no collusion, no obstruction.” Of course they didn’t show anything of the sort, because they didn’t discuss these topics.
Hannity quotes Comey from his memos “ I don’t leak. I don’t do weasel moves,” which he then uses to point out that Comey did indeed leak one of his memos to a friend so it would be published. Hannity claims that this was a breach of security as the memo was classified, and Comey claims that he carefully wrote it so it would not violate security regulations, and this Feb 14th memo was never marked classified.
And, in fact, as head of the FBI, Comey had wide latitude to share information outside the FBI to obtain advice, and thus sharing such a document is not theft or conversion.
The Clinton Emails
Nearly all of Fox’s hosts and contributors harped on Hillary Clinton’s Emails during this week, because “she obviously broke the law.” But, according to Politifact, two Clinton staff members selected the work-related Emails and deleted the rest.
“The FBI found no evidence that the emails were deleted deliberately to avoid the subpoena or other requests. Clinton’s team requested for the emails to be deleted months before the subpoena came. They also argued that all the emails that would be relevant to the subpoena had already been turned over to the State Department.”
Friday Hannity Slogans
Few of these are true or even make much sense. His writers were having a field day.
- Gorka: Clinton committed many felonies; Trump none.
- DNC sues Trump campaign because the bankrupt and $6M in debt.
- DeGenova: Comey memos are a suicide note.
- Comey is destroying the FBI.
- The deep state under siege.
- Massive plot to exonerate Hillary.
- Dershowitz: Need to look at whole mess: Bipartisan commission.
- Comey: took memos home. Theft of government property.
Friday: Tucker Carlson
Brian Kilmeade interviewed wingnut Dennis Prager, who is profoundly homophobic and also believes that the United States is a Christian Nation. He has recently written the Rational Bible: Exodus, which attempts to explain that book of the Bible. He is there to complain that the New York Times has excluded his book from its best-seller list. Prager claims he ranks high on other lists, but the Times claims very few of the retailers that report to them reported sales of Prager’s book.
Watching Fox News for a week was exhausting, because all of the hosts are so angry and intense. They don’t present the welcoming vibe of other news channels.
Fox News is far less a news channel than an opinion channel, and it is fundamentally an alternate universe of right wing unverifiable opinions. When Roger Ailes founded Fox News, he told one of his reporters that it was a network for older white guys like him, mostly in red states. It has evolved since then, of course, with slicker production values, and an emphasis on supporting President Trump regardless of where his opinions of the day fall on the right-left spectrum. Watching it can be entertaining in small quantities, but as you listen to the steady stream of seriously inaccurate assertions, you get more and more astonished that people take them seriously. In fact, as former Fox guest reporter Charles Blow notes, its simplistic views have become the President’s daily briefing book. And, according to PunditFact, of the statements they fact-checked, only 10% were rated true, while a full 60% were rated false, mostly false, or “pants on fire” false.
And, part of their style is to attempt to discredit everyone else’s views, asserting that Fox is the only one you can believe. These are characteristics found in cults, and by claiming to be the only source you can trust, Fox has contributed to the divisiveness of political dialog. While some of their short headline features are completely accurate, almost any report that involves political issues is seriously slanted, and frankly, full of substantial untruths. You need to fact check these claims regularly to be well-informed. To summarize: everyone else is a left wing liberal and can’t be trusted. And despite having lost the election Hillary Clinton is demonized daily as if she’d won.
But the story on Goat Yoga was completely true.