The ongoing legal battle between Dominion Voting Systems and Fox Corporation has yielded a treasure trove of evidence pointing to a verdict that the right-wing cable infotainment channel willfully propagated lies about the 2020 election. It’s also revealed another truth: No one in the right-wing media ecosystem likes disgraced ex-president Donald Trump.
“I hate him passionately,” Fox’s number-one anchor Tucker Carlson privately confided in a text message to one of his producers on Jan. 4, 2021, reproduced in Dominion’s legal filings.
“We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights,” he fantasized.
Two days later, after Republican zealots stormed the U.S. Capitol seeking to hang then-vice president Mike Pence and delay the Electoral College certification of Pres. Joe Biden’s 2020 victory, Carlson raged to his producer that Trump was a “a demonic force” and “a destroyer.”
While the formerly bow-tied host’s hatred for Trump was the most explicit among his colleagues, he’s far from alone as a prominent Fox figure who’s trying to discard the twice-impeached former president.
Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch has been anything but subtle in trying to manipulate Republican voters into dumping Trump in favor of Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor who is the heavy favorite among the right-wing donor class to be the GOP’s 2024 presidential nominee.
Up until his speech at last week’s CPAC political conference, Trump had not appeared on Fox’s airwaves since he declared his third presidential candidacy, a soft ban that has been obvious to everyone in Republican politics. By contrast, Murdoch’s book company HarperCollins is the publisher of the Florida governor’s new book and he’s received the red-carpet treatment at Fox, receiving five separate promotional interviews on the right-wing infotainment channel.
Laura Ingraham, Carlson’s prime-time anchor colleague, even went so far as to emcee a private fund-raising event for DeSantis in February and then invite him onto her show a few days later. Calling him “the man everyone’s talking about,” she declined to disclose where and why she had just seen the Florida governor.
Ingraham’s shameless refusal to inform viewers of her secret political agenda is par for the course at Fox, which has been indisputably revealed in the Dominion suit to be nothing more than an oligarch’s machine for fleecing uninformed Christian fundamentalist viewers whose raging discomfort at modernity has drafted them in a non-stop war against modernity.
Reactionary media outlets have been busy stoking this rage and monetizing it for decades.
“Right wing media have been engaged in a 70-year project to ensure that their audiences only trust conservative news outlets,” historian Nicole Hemmer told Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent. “They’ve worked to discredit other sources of more-objective information, so that their audiences are unwilling to trust outlets more rooted in reality.”
Fox CEO Suzanne Scott, who’s worked at the infotainment channel since its founding in 1996, demonstrated repeatedly in private emails and texts produced in the Dominion lawsuit that she understands intimately what her audience wants.
“Pivot but keep the audience who loves and trusts us,” she wrote Murdoch in a Nov. 9, 2020 text message as the two discussed how to help viewers process Trump’s loss. “We need to make sure they know we aren’t abandoning them and still champions for them.”
Shielding Fox viewers’ tender feelings was a theme to which she returned in the weeks that followed.
“I can’t keep defending these reporters who don’t understand our viewers and how to handle stories,” she wrote in a Nov. 19 message to Fox News president Jay Wallace complaining about a reporter who had dared to debunk Trump’s lies about losing. “The audience feels like we crapped on [them] and we have damaged their trust and belief in us.”
It is difficult to argue with journalism professor Jay Rosen, who describes Fox as “the commercial arm of a right wing political movement, specializing in strategic resentment and aggregated grievance in the attention economy, while behind the scenes it tries to be a kingmaker and party boss, riding the tiger of manipulated rage.” But that definition is also true for the Republican Party at large, which has for decades sought to include an ever-growing circle of far-right Americans into its electoral coalition rather than moderate its radical anti-government ideology. Republican voters aren’t casting ballots for their party so much as they are against an America they see as fallen from its divinely endowed Christian heritage.
This oppositional approach, or negative partisanship, is also how Republican-leaning voters view Trump himself. He is their instrument rather than their leader, a position they’ve made quite clear by booing every time he touts Covid-19 vaccines or candidates they don’t like at campaign rallies.
Despite their refusal to go along with everything he says, Trump remains the preferred candidate for Republican voters, not because he’s got the best ideas or is the most intelligent, but rather because he hates the same people they do.
The disgraced ex-president made that clear in his CPAC address last week, calling his 2024 campaign bid “the final battle” for America.
“In 2016, I declared, ‘I am your voice,’” he said. “Today, I add: I am your warrior. I am your justice. And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution.”
The Republican donor class desperately wants Trump to go away. His vicious personality and support for sedition is electoral poison for a reactionary movement that has never enjoyed public support for its agenda of slashing government spending. But just like Fox, they cannot rid themselves of him.
TYT National Correspondent Matthew Sheffield reports about politics, media, and technology. You can follow him on Twitter or Mastodon.