Whereof One Can Speak 🇺🇦

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The Rot and Greed Inside Fox “News”

Fox “News” is in the news because a lawsuit revealed what the company’s leaders think of their viewers, i.e. they prefer comforting lies to truth and if Fox doesn’t feed them enough comforting lies, they’ll change the channel and Fox won’t make as much money.

Brian Stelter explains (behind the Atlantic’s paywall):

The basic story of Fox News and the 2020 election is well understood. Fox’s relatively small news operation covered the vote count accurately; this coverage infuriated President D____ T____, the MAGA base, and Fox’s opinion stars; some viewers temporarily flipped to further-right outlets, such as Newsmax; and Fox panicked.

But thanks to Dominion Voting Systems, which is pursuing a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox, we now know that the network’s sense of crisis was even more intense than it appeared from outside. With the case careening toward trial, a court filing [last week] revealed some of what Dominion found during the discovery process, including eye-popping messages from Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and Fox’s senior management. “Getting creamed by CNN!” Fox’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, wrote to its top executive after seeing the overnight ratings on November 8. “Guess our viewers don’t want to watch it.”

He was right. Some of Fox’s top shows began broadcasting a better story, one that its viewers did want to watch: a conspiracy-laden tale about crooked Democrats stealing an election. Dominion is arguing that Fox knew full well that [the] voter-fraud allegations were bunk, but promoted the lies anyway.

Whether or not Dominion prevails in court, and many experts believe it will, the lawsuit is already forcing an ethical reckoning over Fox’s disrespect of its audience. Hour after hour, day after day, Fox stars kept signaling to viewers that T____ might still win the election not because they thought he would, but because they were worried about their ratings. And we all witnessed the consequences on January 6….

On November 12, 2020, nearly a week after Joe Biden clinched the presidency, … Hannity pretended that the outcome was still in doubt. He said the election was not fair. He cited “outstanding votes that have yet to be counted” and “more reports of dead people voting from beyond the grave.” And, crucially, he talked at length about Dominion….

The Fox News correspondent Jacqui Heinrich … had the audacity to tweet the truth. She wrote that “top election infrastructure officials”—including some in [the current] administration—had issued a statement saying “there is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

… Carlson flagged Heinrich’s tweet and told Hannity, “Please get her fired.” Why? Because her minor Twitter fact-check of an out-of-control president was exactly the sort of thing that Fox’s fan base could not stand to see.

It needs to stop immediately, like tonight,” Carlson wrote. “It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.”

Hannity replied and said he had already sent the accurate and thus offending tweet to Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott.

Sean texted me,” Scott wrote to two colleagues…. Scott was bothered too. She worried that reporters at other outlets would notice Heinrich’s tweet: “She has serious nerve doing this and if this gets picked up, viewers are going to be further disgusted”….

The new legal filing by Dominion is such a showstopper [because] we can read exactly what the leaders and stars of Fox News really think. This is my biggest takeaway: In the days after Biden won the election, while T____ tried to start the steal by shouting “Stop the Steal,” the most powerful people at Fox News were not concerned about [informing their audience or] the health of U.S. democracy. They were concerned about Fox’s brand and their own bottom line.

Stelter has talked to people at Fox:

A senior staffer at Fox railed against the network’s journalists and math wizards who had called Arizona for Biden, calling them “arrogant fucks”.

[A] former morning-show producer told me, “We were deathly afraid of our audience leaving, deathly afraid of pissing them off.”

A veteran staffer [said] “I feel like Fox is being held hostage by its audience”…

Sources at Fox [have] told me to think of it not as a network per se, but as a profit machine. They feared doing anything that would disrupt the machine. 

Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University, also describes Fox “News” as a “machine”:

The latest filing by Dominion Voting Systems in its defamation suit against Fox nails something critics have long argued for. Fox is not a news organization. It’s something else. But what is this thing? I will try to answer that.

The Dominion suit establishes that Fox stars (like Tucker Carlson) and executives (like CEO Suzanne Scott) were fearful and enraged when some of their own people blundered into delivering a true and accurate report about the 2020 election. Think about that. When its own talent reported the facts truthfully, the result was a company crisis….

If Fox is not a news organization … and it is not “opinion” either (because the Dominion filing shows the hosts are frightened to share their real opinions) then what is it, exactly? Some common answers: It’s entertainment. It’s propaganda. No, it’s just ratings.

[It’s] the commercial arm of a political movement that has taken control of the Republican Party. The product is resentment news. Current ways to resent. Success in that market makes for political power. [It’s] a kind of machine.

By “machine” I mean to evoke both the manufacture of politicized grievance for fun and profit, and the kind of machine through which Richard Daley rose to power in mid 20th century. A machine in the sense of the Cook County Democratic Machine. Again: not a news organization.

Dominion’s filings describe a time when the audience took charge of the resentment machine. Power traded hands for a bit. Viewer backlash from a correct call in Arizona felt ruinous. Stars with shows and executives nominally in charge of Fox saw how weak their positions were.

Fox has to accept that its powers are limited. The Fox audience can veto events that in the rest of the world unquestionably occurred. You’re not a news organization if your audience’s refusal to accept what happened prevents [you from telling them] what happened.

Both the Republican Party and Murdoch’s fear-and-loathing machine know they cannot control the core audience for commercialized resentment and white nationalism, which will turn on anyone who interferes in the free exercise of its many hatreds.

We are faced with a vicious circle. There is an audience for right-wing fake news. Fox cultivates that audience by giving it fake news. That makes the audience want more fake news. So that’s what Fox gives them. We might think that Fox’s audience will shrink when they realize they’re being lied to and otherwise manipulated. But since they get their news from Fox “News”, they’ll probably never hear about it and won’t believe it if they do.

Watergate Would Have Been a Bump in the Road

June 17th will be the 50th anniversary of the Watergate burglary, the poorly-executed crime that eventually led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation in lieu of impeachment. Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post points out Nixon would have easily finished his second term if his “plumbers” had been discovered nowadays:

Thinking about Watergate saddens me these days. The nation that came together to force a corrupt president from office and send many of his co-conspirator aides to prison is a nation that no longer exists.

It’s not just our politics that have changed. It’s also our radically transformed media environment.

“The national newspapers mattered in a way that is unimaginable to us today, and even the regional newspapers were incredibly strong,” Garrett Graff, author of “Watergate: A New History,” told me last week. I have been immersed in his nearly 800-page history . . . that sets out to retell the entire story.

Graff depicts Watergate not as a singular event but as the entire mind-set of the Nixon presidency — “a shaggy umbrella of a dozen distinct scandals,” as he told me. By the time the break-in captured the attention of the most Americans, they were essentially “walking into the second or third act of a play.”

Woodward and Bernstein were almost alone on the story for months. But eventually the leading newspapers of the nation started to cover the hell out of the burgeoning scandal and the percolating questions of what — and when — the president knew about the burglary plot.

Americans read this coverage in their local papers; many cities still had two or more dailies at that point. Later, they were riveted by the proceedings of the Senate Watergate Committee, whose hearings were aired live on the three big television networks during the summer of 1973. Graff reports that the average American household watched 30 hours of the hearings, which were also rebroadcast at night by PBS. (“The best thing that has happened to public television since ‘Sesame Street,’” one Los Angeles Times TV critic noted.)

Still, “we forget how close Nixon came to surviving Watergate,” Graff told me. “Even at the end of the hearings, there was no guarantee that Nixon was out of office.”

What changed that? The increasing public awareness of the president’s wrongdoing and the coverup. “The sheer accumulation of the lies,” he said, “at a time when the idea that a president could lie to America was unthinkable.”

Flash-forward to today. The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection will hold hearings beginning early next month, some of which will be televised during prime-time hours. Rep. Jamie Raskin, the Maryland Democrat who is a prominent member, predicts the revelations will “blow the roof off the House” — offering evidence, he promises, of an organized coup attempt involving Trump, his closest allies and the supporters who attacked the Capitol as they tried to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.

I’m willing to believe that the hearings will be dramatic. They might even change some people’s minds. But the amount of public attention they get will be minuscule compared with what happened when the folksy Sen. Sam Ervin of North Carolina presided over the Senate Watergate Committee.

Our media environment is far more fractured, and news organizations are far less trusted.

And in part, we can blame the rise of a right-wing media system. At its heart is Fox News, which was founded in 1996, nearly a quarter century after the break-in, with a purported mission to provide a “fair and balanced” counterpoint to the mainstream media. Of course, that message often manifested in relentless and damaging criticism of its news rivals. Meanwhile, Fox and company have served as a highly effective laundry service for T____’s lies. With that network’s help, his tens of thousands of false or misleading claims have found fertile ground among his fervent supporters — oblivious to the skillful reporting elsewhere that has called out and debunked those lies.

As Graff sees it, the growth of right-wing media has enabled many Republican members of Congress to turn a blind eye to the malfeasance of Team T____. Not so during the Watergate investigation; after all, it was Sen. Howard Baker, the Tennessee Republican, who posed the immortal question, “What did the President know and when did he know it?” Even the stalwart conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona was among those who, at the end, managed to convince Nixon that he must resign.

“Republican members of Congress understood that they had a unique and important role as the legislative branch to hold the abuses of the executive branch in check,” Graff said. “That freedom of action was made possible because there was no right-wing media ecosystem.”

Not everything was good about the media world of the 1970s. . . . But it was a time when we had a news media that commanded the trust of the general public, a necessity in helping bring Nixon to justice. That, at least during his presidency, was never possible with D____ T____.

As we remember Watergate, we ought to remember how very unlikely its righteous conclusion would be today.

Richard M. Nixon’s presidency would have survived.

An Expert Says It’s Typical Fascism

Jason Stanley, a professor at Yale University and the author of How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, analyzes a new piece of fascist propaganda disseminated by Fox News:  

Patriot Purge, Tucker Carlson’s new three-part series, is propaganda built around D____ T____’s Big Lie of a stolen 2020 election and buttressed by a bizarro world, alt-right and alt-reality retelling of the January 6th insurrection. But Carlson’s message being profoundly dishonest doesn’t stop it from being profoundly dangerous: both because it contains kernels of tough truths the country has been scared to face, and because it follows a classic template of propaganda that has brought down democracies before.

The conceit of Patriot Purge is that the real “Americans” — the country’s greatest Patriots — were those who went to Washington on January 6 to join what was to be a peaceful rally protesting the supposed stealing of the 2020 US Presidential Election. They were a multi-racial group of patriotic Americans coming to the capital to voice their concerns. But then Antifa, apparently working in tandem with the FBI, disrupted the peaceful protests with agents provocateurs who urged participants into the capital building. The seditious “deep state” has in this way entrapped the country’s warriors, who are now the subject of government targeting that was honed during the War on Terror.

The message of the series is clear: a great wrong has been done. The government and media have engineered a false narrative directed in the first instance towards discrediting the patriots who seek to address it, and, ultimately, with the goal of hunting down and violently suppressing them. Our media’s complicity is demonstrated by their differential coverages of the BLM protests, which are here portrayed as senseless violent riots, and the events of January 6. The patriots are innocent Americans seeking only to preserve democracy in the face of a fraudulent election. The forces arrayed against them are almost impossibly powerful. It is a repeat of the war on terror, by the same forces who engineered it, but directed against the most representative of our citizens, the “real” Americans.

It is impossible to accept this message in total without taking it to justify violent mass action against the current government, or something like a police and military coup.

Carlson’s Patriot Purge finds a martyr for its movement in Ashli Babbitt, who was shot trying to get past a Capitol Police barrier near the House chamber. Her death, in great and gruesome detail, comprises the final shots of Part I.

Babbitt’s assigned role is familiar to anyone who has seen or studied Twentieth Century fascist propaganda. Martyrs are ideally pure and innocent, and killed in a noble attempt to defeat enemies of the nation. In fascist ideology, these enemies are communists and liberals, who are represented as subverting the will of the “true” people, whose only goal is to install their beloved leader, the true father of the nation. Honoring the memory of the martyr is to worship the leader, and give all in the quest to defeat his enemies and place him as the leader of the nation.

This series is a further contribution to the months long narrative construction of Babbitt as the T____ movement’s Horst Wessel, the Nazi stormtrooper killed in a brawl in 1930, most probably by communists (but for unclear reasons), and elevated to martyrdom status by Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. In this case, the martyr is an innocent, patriotic white woman. . . .

The unquestioned premise of this series is the “Big lie”, that the election was stolen, and that T____ won. The Big Lie structures the entire narrative here. It is only on this assumption that we should grant a movement that promulgates this lie full political legitimacy, and equal weight in government decisions and media representation. It is only on this assumption that those who promulgate this lie can be represented as innocent victims.

Key to fascist propaganda is an overwhelming sense of danger, one that threatens to make the country’s dominant majority into a powerless and endangered minority. T____ loyalists in this series appear only as targeted victims, at existential peril, without representation in. any branch of government or media. Throughout, law is represented as merely an instrument in the service of power. The series does not discuss what these attitudes have justified – the wave of laws sweeping Republican dominated state governments enabling the mass disenfranchisement of minority voters on the basis of dubious claims of fraud, the stacking of election commissions by T___ loyalists, or the nationwide targeting of educators associated with Critical Race Theory or Black Lives Matter. The series does not mention the mass targeting of democratic institutions, from elections to schools, the curtailing of voting rights and speech, that are the calling card of the T____ist Republican Party in its current fascist phase. And the series does not, of course, discuss the fearsome power of Fox News.

In the inverted world of the series, those who support the authoritarian cult of the leader, his base, are the democratic patriots. Those who seek to preserve fair elections are the fascists. Fascist propaganda is relentless projection, justified by lies. Carlson has proven to be a master in its use. . . .

Throughout, Carlson is correct about several important matters. He is right about the dangers of mass surveillance. He is right about the moral obscenity of the war on terror, which has created an ugly toolkit that can be used to target relatively powerless American citizens. It is past time for these to be shared bipartisan assumptions. Embedding these truths within a larger framework in the service of destabilizing democracy makes it dangerous propaganda indeed. . . .

I share his view that ordinary fellow citizens who fall under the sway of propaganda should not be demonized. Our opprobrium should instead be directed at those leading the assault, billionaires . . . [like Rupert Murdoch], elite Ivy League-trained [politicians] like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, and, of course, wealthy and powerful mainstream media propagandists like Tucker Carlson.

Unquote.

Unlike Professor Stanley, however, I think the “ordinary” citizens who are so open to right-wing propaganda deserve plenty of opprobrium too. But our leaders aren’t comfortable saying that.

It’s Right/Left But Also Fantasy/Reality

This is a somewhat edited Twitter thread from Steve Schmidt, a political strategist who used to work for Republicans. His comments were precipitated by a CNN podcast (referenced at the bottom of this post):

The debate is around how to think and talk about Fox News. What is it? [CNN journalist] Brian Stelter thinks about this directionally and ideologically: describing Fox as moving further right. He is correct, as is [journalism professor] Jay Rosen, who evaluates Fox News along a different axis. For him, it is the drift into fantasy and the unreal.

The authoritarian movement in America is real, powerful and present. All authoritarian movements are nourished by an ecosystem that includes three powerful components:

A. The Financiers. “No Bucks, no Buck Rogers” said the PR man to the disdainful test pilots who were to become America’s Mercury astronauts in one of the all time great movies “The Right Stuff”. There is no autocratic movement without money and they have a lot.

B. CYNICAL ELITES.  Rep. Elise Stefanik, Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Josh Hawley and Sen. Mitch McConnell are but a few examples of people who have tried to manage the toxic reverberations from [the former president’s] cult by manipulating it for power, self interest and vanity. They have aligned with the fringe and venomous ideas.

C. PROPAGANDISTS. All authoritarian movements rely on propaganda sustained by a particular type of lie. THE LIE OF AUTHORITY requires the abandonment of belief, truth, ethics, values and intellectual agency. It demands submission to the lies of the Leader/Party.

. . . Right-Left, in the tradition of American politics, has long been explicable with a two dimensional rendering, specifically, a horizontal line. It doesn’t work any more. When [Brian Stelter] talks about Fox and moving “Right”, it is important to pause and look at the [system of measurement].

Trying to explain the metastasized conservative media by marking a point on a line [that could be] used to measure ideological distance between [Republican moderate] Christie Whitman and [Republican conservative] Orrin Hatch [fails to capture reality].

The “Right” we are talking about here is a very specific variant, that no matter how easily identifiable, seems to induce a blindness in people who should see it clearly and an allergy towards confronting it by the people who have the most at stake in the fight.

We are talking, of course, about an authoritarian Right that is steeped in fantasy, delusion, hate, scapegoating, scientific racial theory, menace, violence and coercion.

This American Right is cousin to the noxious movements that have long been built on a fetid marsh of lies, grievance, scapegoating, hate, menace, fear and fantasy nostalgia for a world once pure. That fallen world, is the nucleus of a powerful and evil fantasy at the core of a terrible and dangerous mythology. The mythology is fear-based and architected around the imagined birthright of one group to feel superior to others.

It always leads to subjugation under the power and boot of the state for the purpose of preserving the power of the few and the fabulously corrupt over the common good of the great many.

Fox News is moving in a new direction and has been for some time. . . It is getting worse and more extreme every day. . . . The [metastasizing] ideological drift and the demand for submission to fantasies is at the core of understanding what all of this is. I hope enough people can see the totality of it all before we lose it all.

Unquote.

The CNN podcast is called Reliable Sources. From the description of this episode:

Jay Rosen, who teaches journalism at NYU and authors the PressThink blog, discusses the devolution of Fox News; the difficulty of describing a “shifted political universe” in the United States; and the need for news outlets to be “much more explicitly and aggressively pro-democracy.”

He says “Fox is becoming in some way more demand-driven” because “its audience is in the driver’s seat in a way that’s more extreme than when Roger Ailes ran the network.” For example, Rosen comments, “Do you want January 6 to be the fault of Antifa? You can have that. Do you want [somebody else] to have won the 2020 election? You can have that.”

Rosen explains that “these kinds of maneuvers are attempting to sever people from reality so that you can do what you want with them… to just sort of de-anchor people from anything that they have in common with their fellow citizens so that they can be manipulated further. And that’s why it’s so insidious.” 

Cable TV vs. Truth: A Case Study

Tucker Carlson is a bow tie-wearing creep who peddles right-wing nonsense to his Fox News followers five nights a week. This is from Judd Legum’s Popular Information newsletter:

Tucker Carlson has lost virtually all of his advertisers. A typical broadcast includes no national brand advertisers, a few direct response ads from companies like MyPillow, and house ads promoting other Fox News shows. 

Why have advertisers abandoned Carlson? In addition to the conduct described above, Carlson has:

Said that Black Lives Matter protests are “definitely not about black lives, and remember that when they come for you.”

Asserted that immigrants are making the country “poorer and dirtier

Called the Derek Chauvin verdict “an attack on civilization” and falsely claimed George Floyd died of a drug overdose.

Spread misinformation and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 vaccines.

Carlson has the right to say whatever loathsome things he wishes. And Fox News can choose to broadcast those views on television. But Carlson and the Murdochs do not have a right to have those views subsidized by millions of Americans who never watch Fox News. But that’s exactly what is happening. And those dynamics have allowed Fox News and Carlson to weather a near-universal advertiser boycott. 

Here’s how it works. Cable companies pay “carriage fees” to networks for the right to carry their channel. These fees are then passed on to users in their monthly bills. In 2020, Fox News made more money from carriage fees ($1.6 billion) than advertisements ($1.2 billion). 

Other channels, of course, also receive carriage fees for their content. But the Murdochs have negotiated exorbitant fees for Fox News that are far greater than any other non-sports programming. 

According to a survey conducted late last year, about 14% of cable TV subscribers watch Fox News regularly. But every cable TV subscriber pays an average of $1.72 a month to receive Fox News. In contrast, 31% of cable TV subscribers regularly watch FX (owned by Disney) but the channel adds just $0.81 to an average cable bill.

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This means, for every actual viewer, Fox News receives a $7.75 subsidy from people who never watch Fox News. This is a higher subsidy than other non-sports channels, like FX ($1.79), CNN ($3.18), and TBS ($2.79), receive. And none of those channels regularly spreads white nationalist talking points to millions of viewers. 

So how can Americans who don’t watch Fox News and find Carlson’s conduct repugnant stop subsidizing his $10 million salary? One option would be for major cable operators like Comcast, Spectrum, and AT&T to offer cable TV packages that exclude Fox News. This would allow people the choice of whether to pay for Fox News, just as people choose whether to pay for HBO. 

But, for the moment, corporate America seems loathe to take on the Murdochs or alienate Fox News’ passionate fan base. So the only way to stop sending cash to the Murdochs is to “cut the cord” and find a combination of streaming services that doesn’t include Fox News.

Unquote.

If you want to stop paying for cable TV but still want your local stations (which include ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and even Fox, but not Fox News), there’s a not-for-profit streaming service called Locast. It’s now available in 31 major TV markets around the country (plus Puerto Rico):

Get the local channels you love [note: or hate] without a monthly bill. Locast is a not for profit service offering users access to broadcast television stations over the internet. It’s time to shred those cable bills and contracts!

If you’re part of the international elite who rub shoulders with the odious, 90-year-old Rupert Murdoch and his evil spawn Lachlan, you can treat them with the disrespect they deserve. You might tell them to stop the propaganda and then spit in their soup.

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