Josh Marshall: ‘The Deep Archeology of Fox News’

Josh Marshall, writing at TPM:

The evidence emerging from the Dominion lawsuit against Fox News has the quality of liberal fever dreams. What’s the worst you can possibly imagine about Fox? What’s the most cartoonish caricature, the worst it could possibly be? Well, in these emails and texts you basically have that. Only it’s real. It’s not anyone believing the worst and giving no benefit of the doubt. This is what Fox is.

In a moment like this it’s worth stepping way, way back, not just to the beginning of Fox News in 1996 but to the beginning of the broader countermovement it was a part of and even a relatively late entry to.


One of the things that is clear from the very start of the conservative movement was a basic failure to quite understand the thing they rallied themselves against, the history that in Bill Buckley’s famous phrase he was standing athwart and yelling “Stop!” None of the organizations that the right took issue with — the think tanks, the news publications, the movie studios, the nonprofits, the book publishers — were ideological, let alone partisan, organizations. When the founders of modern conservatism looked at CBS News they saw the shock troops of liberalism and the Democratic Party. Same with Brookings and the Washington Post and all the rest. And when they went to build their own versions of these institutions they patterned them off their own cartoonish understandings of how these operations functioned. The idea that institutions like CBS News or The New York Times were, whatever their faults and unexamined biases, fundamentally rooted in an ethic of news gathering and reporting was really totally lost on them.

In a broad sense it all comes back to Stephen Colbert’s iconic line from his Colbert Report alter ego: “It is a well known fact that reality has a liberal bias.” U.S. conservatives couldn’t/can’t see that, or refuse to see it, and instead operate on the assumption that all journalism — and science — that points toward liberal conclusions is ideological. Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously quipped, “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” The foundational element of the modern U.S. conservative movement is that facts and opinions are interchangeable, that their opinions not only can trump our facts, they do, purely by the force of their convictions. Whoever shouts loudest wins, not whoever presents the best evidence.

Hence the other defining difference between Fox News and all non-rightwing TV news organizations: anger. Put partisanship and ideology aside. The anchors at other news channels are dispassionate; the anchors on Fox are angry, and they drum up anger amongst their viewers. You could see this difference best if you didn’t understand English. The anger is palpable and it never ends. Their product is outrage, not edification. They were angry under Clinton, Obama, and now Biden, yes. But they were just as angry under George W. Bush and Donald Trump. The feelings over facts worldview demands it, but it is to the detriment of us all.

Be sure to watch the video clip Marshall includes in his column, of Tucker Carlson speaking at the CPAC conference in 2009. It’s an utterly different Carlson than the one who today leads Fox News. He argued then, correctly, that conservatism needs fact-first news organizations. He almost got booed off the stage. The rest is history.

Sunday, 5 March 2023