COMMENTARY

Jan. 6 committee just proved Fox News knowingly lies on air — but don't expect their viewers to care

Fox News' biggest hosts privately blamed Trump for the Capitol riot — but told a different story publicly

By Amanda Marcotte

Published December 14, 2021 12:49PM (EST)

Laura Ingraham, Donald Trump and Sean Hannity (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Laura Ingraham, Donald Trump and Sean Hannity (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Monday night, the House of Representatives' bipartisan Jan. 6 committee voted to advance a contempt of Congress resolution against Donald Trump's former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, for suddenly dropping his cooperation with the probe after Trump engaged in his favorite sport, witness intimidation. While the vote was expected, it came with a true and welcome surprise when the committee offered what can only be described as dispositive proof that Fox News hosts knowingly and shamelessly lie on air.

Text messages that were turned over to the committee by Meadows, prior to his withdrawal from further cooperation, prove two things: Fox News hosts like Sean Hannity, Brian Kilmeade and Laura Ingraham, as well as Donald Trump Jr., all believed Trump was to blame for inciting the Capitol riot — and believed Meadows was the only person who could call it off. 

Yet all of these people turned around and told Republican voters the opposite story.

RELATED: REVEALED: Fox News hosts, Donald Trump Jr. bombarded Mark Meadows during Capitol riot

After pleading with Meadows for Trump's help, these same Fox News hosts told their audiences that the siege on the U.S. Capitol wasn't Trump's fault, that it wasn't really a Trump riot and that Trump's coup is no threat to democracy. The texts revealed on Monday, however, prove that these folks have spent 11 months lying and gaslighting, and that not one of them believes a single word they say publicly about the attempted coup or the Capitol riot. 

But don't hold your breath waiting for the Fox News audience to express outrage that they've been lied to for 11 solid months. Most of them already know the hosts and frequent GOP guests on their favorite network are a bunch of liars. That's why the average Fox News viewer tunes in. They don't care about the truth. They just want to learn the favored lies of the day, so they can parrot them and be active participants in the destruction of American democracy. 

The text messages released by the committee are too extensive to recount here — though it's well worth reading them all — but what really comes across is how much these people were not confused about who was responsible for the riot: Donald Trump. Fox host Laura Ingraham texted, "He is destroying his legacy." Trump Jr. texted that this has "gone too far and gotten out of hand," language that indicates he saw the riot as a continuation of other efforts to overturn the election. Meadows repeatedly replied that he was "pushing" Trump to call it off, but Trump refused. This went on for six hours.  


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But while Fox News hosts, Meadows and Trump Jr. clearly saw the insurrection as Trump's fault, and tied to the larger conspiracy (which they eagerly backed) to overturn the election, that's not at all what they said on air. As has been extensively documented, Fox News has spun out a bunch of often-conflicting narratives about Jan. 6. Tucker Carlson alone, as Media Matters documented, shamelessly switches between contradictory accounts on his highly rated show: 

Tucker Carlson began painting an alternate reality about the event, insisting there was no insurrection and pushing the repeatedly disproven claim that white supremacists were not responsible. In Carlson's telling, moreover, the rioters were indeed great American patriots: "A mob of older people from unfashionable zip codes somehow made it all the way to Washington, D.C., probably by bus. They wandered freely through the Capitol, like it was their building or something. … They talked about the Constitution and something called their rights."

RELATED: Tucker Carlson plays dumb on TV — but his stupidity is strategically weaponized

"It wasn't real" directly contradicts "it was a glorious act of patriotism." But the seamless shifting between these two lies doesn't seem to rattle the Fox audience. Viewers aren't deluded or confused about what is going on. They watch because Fox News is propaganda. They know the riot was real and that it was an attempt to overthrow the government. What they seek from Fox News is to learn the official party line — or lines — that they can use when lying online or to the people in their lives. Fox viewers shouldn't be viewed as innocent dupes, but as active participants in an effort to rewrite reality and stand up a fake story that justifies the insurrection. 

All of which is why few Fox viewers will be rattled when faced with this direct evidence that Fox hosts deliberately lie to them. Lies are what they tune in to hear. If confronted about it, most will resort to the usual tactics of deflection and whataboutism, falsely accusing the "liberal" media of doing the same thing. That's why Republicans love yelling "fake news" at the real news. It helps them rationalize their own love of lies with an "everyone does it" excuse. Which is, of course, just another lie. 


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This is another example of a crucial rule of right wing propaganda, as articulated by professional debunker Brooke Binkowski: Disinformation is permission, not persuasion.

Fox viewers aren't fooled by the lies, generally speaking. What they get out of lies is permission to be liars themselves. Seeing famous people on TV openly lie in the name of fascism emboldens Fox viewers to do the same. Which is why countering your uncle's nonsense on Facebook with facts doesn't change his mind. He always knew it wasn't true. He just doesn't care. 

All of which is why Democrats are fooling themselves if they believe that simply getting the truth out there is enough to move the needle. Everyone already knows that Trump, the people that surround him and his propagandists at Fox News are shameless liars. Liberals know this, but so do the most enthusiastic Fox heads. Proof is important for the historical record, but as it just confirms what everyone already knows, it's not going to change voting behavior or motivate new activism.

If voters and activists are going to care, they need to start seeing consequences happen, and not just to the foot soldiers who stormed the Capitol. Trump, Meadows and other co-conspirators who organized and led the coup are all walking around free, openly plotting another coup, while also cooking up various schemes to defraud their own supporters. As long as the Department of Justice treats an organized conspiracy to overthrow the government as beneath attention, Democrats can't expect voters to take this seriously. Yes, even if they release a bunch of text messages proving what everyone already suspected. 


Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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