This weekend President Joe Biden was interviewed by ABC News and a large portion of it aired on This Week Sunday morning. While there was much interest in international affairs the part that struck me was the comments made about news coverage in the United States. It is, after all, a topic that resonates at this desk as democracy and the dangers it faces have become a focal point since the summer of 2015. The continued repetition of lies from one television network and the lack of a fully factual accounting of national and world events is of great concern to those who hold tight to the ideals of liberal democracy.
“Everything is in the negative. We’re also finding out now that one of the outlets has decided that they would put things on that they know to be false in order to increase their ratings”, the president said. He is correct, as court documents prove.
I had, over the years, and thankfully so, several truly wonderful history teachers. They loved and understood the topics at hand; never the part-time football coach who needed more of an income so offered to teach what was not remotely understood in the textbook. My favorite and most consequential teacher was Marge Glad who left Europe in WWII and brought a worldview that resonated with me year after year. I took every elective of hers I could fit into my schedule.
It was her repeated themes that were imprinted upon me about history, politics, and world matters that started me on a lifelong quest to know more. She so admired Thomas Jefferson and spent one entire class lecturing about how his style of writing was to match the needs of the time with his intended audience. Both in the Founding Father family, more importantly to the colonies at large. So, she would know the power of his meaning in relation to the threat to democracy from a segment of the populace that is adrift from facts about news events.
“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” Being well-informed is a vital component of a strong functioning democracy. Or republic. But being misinformed for purely partisan reasons would be a complete repudiation of what Jefferson and his colleagues desired for this nation.
This memory of a grand educator–and why facts matter–came to mind as the news was reported Monday that Rupert Murdoch, chairman of the conservative media empire that owns Fox News, acknowledged in a deposition that several hosts for his networks promoted the false narrative that the election in 2020 was stolen from former President Donald Trump.
“They endorsed,” Mr. Murdoch said under oath in response to direct questions about the hosts Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, Lou Dobbs and Maria Bartiromo, a legal filing by Dominion Voting Systems said.
Mr. Murdoch’s remarks, which he made last month as part of the $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox by Dominion, added to the evidence that Dominion has accumulated in an attempt to prove its central allegation: The people running the country’s most popular news network knew Trump’s claims of voter fraud during the 2020 election were false but broadcast them anyway.
Where conservatives lose further credibility can be proven by their close attachment to Trump, the one they were supposed to be covering with objective distance. I am old enough to recall the resentment registered by conservatives in the years following the Kennedy administration where it was stated reporters were chummy with JFK insiders, where even one reporter (Hugh Sidey) was able to swim in the White House pool with the president. Swim trunks, or no? But when it came to Fox News and Donald Trump all those journalistic ponderings about objectivity from right-wingers were tossed aside like a second marriage.
Stephanie Grisham, former press secretary to Donald Trump, remembers the challenges that came from so many Fox News hosts having the direct number to reach Trump in the White House residence.
“There were times the president would come down the next morning and say, ‘Well, Sean thinks we should do this,’ or, ‘Judge Jeanine thinks we should do this,’ ” said Grisham, referring to Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro, both of whom host prime-time Fox News shows.
Grisham said West Wing staffers would simply roll their eyes in frustration as they scrambled to respond to the influence of the network’s hosts, who weighed in on everything from personnel to messaging strategy.
Lies spread by Fox News could constitute each day of blogging if one were so inclined. A separate and lengthy post could be written about Fox News employees being vaccinated even though the fact-free on-air hosts continued to deny science and professional medically-driven data to their viewers. Why report on science when the base of nitwit viewers could be drooling over anti-vaccine Senator Ron Johnson, someone very chromosome-counting close to being an ear of corn?
Consider the following from our history, and frame it within the context of white men now slumped back into the sofa watching a continuous conservative loop of misinformation on Fox News. When did they last read a daily newspaper to be actually informed on the news of the day?
In 1791, Madison remarked that Congress had an obligation to improve the “circulation of newspapers through the entire body of the people”. He helped champion the Post Office Act of 1792. The act included a provision for the delivery of newspapers by the Post Office at extremely low rates for delivery of newspapers. For the century following the passage of the Post Office Act, newspapers often accounted for more than 95% of the weight of mail transported by the post office, but never made up for more than 15% of the revenue. The result of this large indirect subsidy of the fledgling industry was enormous. In 1790, before the passage of the act there was less than one newspaper produced for every 5 citizens. By 1840 there were almost three papers printed per person.
Too many Americans in the 21st century gave up reading a newspaper and slipped further into intellectual decay by believing Fox is a newsgathering operation. It is not. Real reporters and journalists have been replaced by echo chambers of far-right lingo that further prove Fox is not in any way a legitimate news-gathering and reporting operation.
Rupert Murdock confirmed that fact under oath.
A fact that has been dangerous to our democracy.