Whenever I seriously consider Trumpism, I decide that the real trouble is Fox News (and all its propagandic spinoffs and appendages). One way or another, Trump will go away. I mean, he’s in his seventies and he lives off McDonald’s. He will desist. But his henchies will persist as long as they have the likes of Hannity, and Carlson, and Rush to offer them lies that make them feel both virtuous in their hatred and fearful through their ignorance. As long as the right embraces propaganda as their State News Service, as long as people like Trump can cow congresspeople by threatening them with the propagandist’s ire, as long as Fox and friends lie enough about conservative leaders to allow their followers to keep lying to themselves, we will see no defeat of Trumpism. The facts can’t compete with the Fox. And as for reason: Trumpers either reject it as something less godly than blind faith, or they maim it with so many falsehoods that it can point in only the most twisted directions. The Trumpers—the Fox followers—are lost. And I mean that in every sense of the word.
And this leaves us with a much larger problem than someone who won’t survive the next few election cycles. We face something that has come into its own after decades of preparation. Fox has been the most-watched cable news service for the past three years. In 2018, it enjoyed its highest viewership in 22 years. And in that same year, Sean Hannity beat out all other cable-news programs, with an average 3.3 million viewers.
This is what we’re up against. And I think it’s nearly undefeatable. I mean, we can’t outlaw Fox. That flies in the face of the First Amendment. I don’t even think we can pass legislation requiring news services to be truthful. Because even if we did get the votes to do such a thing, we’d just drive Fox underground, where it would play even more to the fantasies of its “Christian” martyrs.
My gut feeling is that Fox will fall only after massive Republican divestment. And most presently, I could see that happening in only two ways. The first is that liberal commentator, Charles Pierce, recently suggested that one reason the Republicans do so much to shelter Trump from the Russia investigation is that it’s very likely that through money laundering via the NRA, a great many Republican politicians actually received Russian money during the 2016 campaigns. If that were true, and if Fox, as a news service, had to break that story to their constituents, the fallout could cause a schism that would be difficult to repair. Fox has occasionally shown streaks of journalistic integrity (say in its opposition to Trump’s ouster of the CNN reporter). If an incontrovertible news story forced their hand, they could betray the GOP just to save their skin.
ON THE OTHER HAND (and this is Way No. 2), my mother made a joke last night about how Trump’s true Russian handler is probably Sean Hannity. We laughed—but then we stopped. I don’t know about Hannity himself. But if I wanted to investigate Russian influence into American politics, the first place I would look would be at how much they have invested in outlets like Fox. I mean, we all know that Trump owes a political debt to Fox. So next we should wonder to whom Fox has a debt of its own. We keep searching social media for Putin’s little, red fingerprints. And I say, go bigger. Have the Russians made inroads with the Murdoch clan? Have they approached Sean Hannity, or Tucker Carlson, or Tomi Lauren, or even Bill O’Reilly? And what about the NRA? If Russia has laundered money through that organization, and if the NRA spends, say, any money advertising on Fox, could we find a trail there? For instance, according to The Hill, the NRA spent more than $54 million on the 2016 election—and this expenditure included political ads. Did any of them show up on Fox News?
I don’t know to what extent Russia has dug its fingers into our little cable-network pies. Maybe—maybe?—they haven’t at all. But the possibility bears investigation. Because one thing is clear: Fox Etc. has worked to destabilize mainline US politics since Roger Ailes established it in 1996. And few people have shown more interest in doing the same thing, except for Vladimir Putin, who first became president of Russia in 2000. If nothing else—if nothing at all—they share both a timeline and at least part of a motive.