Fox News was always partisan, but now it is rudderless and "anti-democratic"

Building on her excellent work in 2017's Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, Jane Mayer takes to The New Yorker with a deeply researched, lively and alarming 12,000-word longread on the radical shifts at Fox News that have taken place since the Trump election, as #MeToo has claimed the organization's senior leaders, leaving it rudderless and under the nominal command of an ailing Rupert Murdoch, whose main management contributions have consisted of purging the minor dissenting voices at Fox, leaving behind a kind of Hannity-and-Co version of Lord of the Flies.

Mayer traces the current state of Fox to the disgraced departure of Fox's top brass, starting with CEO Roger Ailes (who promptly dropped dead) and then Bill O'Reilly, both implicated in a string of grotesque, longrunning sexual abuse scandals that also claimed Bill Shine, abettor of these abuses, who quickly took over as Trump's communications director, where he serves while collecting millions of dollars from Fox.

The departures left Fox rudderless, for while Ailes was a monster who raped a female subordinate for decades (she was eventually paid off for $3.1 million) and kept a "Black Ops" department that performed oppo research on a long list of his enemies (including his biographer!), he also represented (incredibly) the voice of reason and balance at the company, punishing on-air talent who campaigned for and provided cover to Republican politicians.

With Ailes gone, Murdoch himself took over, purging the company of those dissenting voices who had kept things somewhat in check in Ailes absence. Then Murdoch, who is elderly and frail, was hospitalized with an injury that also necessitated a long convalescence.

Thus began the new Fox, where anything that protects Trump goes. Where once Glenn Beck was fired for spouting deranged conspiracy theories on-air, now Hannity can say pretty much anything he wants, so long as it's good for Trump.

And Trump has returned the favor: under Trump's rule, Fox and Murdoch have benefitted from regulatory decisions that permitted the Fox Studios' merger with Disney (which put billions into Murdoch's pockets), a block on the merger between Sinclair and Tribune (which would have created a national right-wing competitor for Fox), and a near-block on the Time-Warner/AT&T merger (Trump ordered that this be prevented, but his top aides secretly vetoed him because they didn't want the appearance that Trump was punishing Time-Warner for CNN's unflattering coverage).

With Shine acting as a conduit between Fox and the White House, Fox has been transformed into a kind of state media under presidential control, with power flowing in both directions: Fox enjoys near-exclusivity when it comes to interviewing Trump, while Trump can simply call the network and reverse their policies, for example, he got Ann Coulter reinstated to the network after she was blackballed for being an obnoxious troll.

And if Murdoch is absent from the daily operations of Fox, he remains solid in his role as kingmaker for far-right regimes, with reported daily phone calls between Kushner and Murdoch where Kushner seeks Murdoch's advice on how to run the country.

From its beginning, Fox was not exactly a "conservative" voice, rather, its business model was to build ratings through "fear-based, anger-based politics that has to do with class and race." But in the post-Ailes era, Fox's has a new role that it has never quite had before: running defense and interference on behalf of the White House.

As Murdoch’s relations with the White House have warmed, so has Fox’s coverage of Trump. During the Obama years, Fox’s attacks on the President could be seen as reflecting the adversarial role traditionally played by the press. With Trump’s election, the network’s hosts went from questioning power to defending it. Yochai Benkler, a Harvard Law School professor who co-directs the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, says, “Fox’s most important role since the election has been to keep Trump supporters in line.” The network has provided a non-stop counternarrative in which the only collusion is between Hillary Clinton and Russia; Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is perpetrating a “coup” by the “deep state”; Trump and his associates aren’t corrupt, but America’s law-enforcement officials and courts are; illegal immigration isn’t at a fifteen-year low, it’s “an invasion”; and news organizations that offer different perspectives are “enemies of the American people.”

Benkler’s assessment is based on an analysis of millions of American news stories that he and two co-authors, Robert Faris and Hal Roberts, undertook for their 2018 book, “Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation and Radicalization in American Politics.” Benkler told me that he and his co-authors had expected to find “symmetric polarization” in the left-leaning and the right-leaning media outlets. Instead, they discovered that the two poles of America’s media ecosystem function very differently. “It’s not the right versus the left,” Benkler says. “It’s the right versus the rest.”

The Making of the Fox News White House [Jane Mayer/The New Yorker]

(via Kottke)