Fox News passes Trump's loyalty test: It's about more than lying — it's about teaching how to lie

Fox News' response to their Jan. 6 text scandal proves that shamelessness is the right's superpower

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published December 15, 2021 1:20PM (EST)

Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

After a full day of silence, the hosts of Fox News finally quit ignoring their bombshell text message scandal and came out swinging. It's unclear, however, why they needed an entire day to draft their responses as what they finally offered was both lazy and incoherent.

The text messages sent to Donald Trump's former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, on Jan. 6 indisputably prove that Fox News hosts deliberately lie to their audiences.

Privately, the network's biggest stars were freaked out by the Capitol insurrection. They clearly, and correctly, saw it as something Donald Trump purposefully instigated. Publicly, however, they were willing to deflect blame from Trump, defend the rioters and minimize the violence. But rather than apologize to their viewers for spending 11 months lying to them, the hydra-headed Fox News monster just threw out a bunch of contradictory and not even remotely persuasive excuses. 

Laura Ingraham whined about "left wing media hacks" who are in "spin and defame mode." Tucker Carlson flatly claimed that the texts were "exculpatory" and "a tribute to the people who wrote them." Sean Hannity sneered that the release of his text messages was "a weak attempt to smear yours truly and presumably I guess President Trump." In reality, Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming — who is a hardcore conservative, but is just an outlier in finding fascist insurrections distasteful — simply read the texts verbatim, no garnish needed to expose these two as sleazy liars.

RELATED: Text-gate fallout: Hannity, Ingraham and Don Jr. unveiled as whiny MAGA wimps!

They pretended their "privacy" was being invaded, even though the texts were turned over under legal subpoena. And they continued to pretend that the insurrection didn't actually happen while also insisting that their texts show they took it seriously while it was happening. Hannity even tried to revive the talking point that the insurrection was actually the fault of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, instead of the guy that gathered his supporters together with promises that it would be "wild," and then unleashed them on the Capitol for six hours. 

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Don't try to make sense of all these Fox News excuses. They aren't meant to be rational, logical, or persuasive. On the contrary, the swirl of rationalizations is intended to discombobulate.

While good faith actors are busy picking apart Excuse A, Fox News hosts are busy churning out Excuses B, C, D, and E. There's no keeping up with the firehose of bullshit. This is gaslighting and not just garden variety lying. There's no intent here to fool anyone — not the media, not liberals, and certainly not Fox News viewers. Instead, the intent is to flood the zone with so much nonsense that the opposition becomes exhausted and gives up fighting for truth. Most importantly, Fox is training their audiences to embrace the same approach to politics.

What the average Fox viewer gets from this grotesque display is not a convincing argument that the hosts are blameless victims of a left-wing smear campaign. What he is being persuaded of is the importance of releasing any lingering attachment to truth or decency. Facts and rationality are direct threats to the authoritarian ideology and must be crushed under the heel. What Fox viewers are learning is shamelessness. Fox News hosts are demonstrating a willingness to say or do whatever it takes to advance the cause of what is, ultimately, fascism. 

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

As Andrew O'Hehir argued at Salon Wednesday morning, for Trump, "reality is always contingent, always manufactured." Selling this fake reality does not depend on a convincing or even logical story. Instead, the key is belligerence: "Never break character or let down your guard; never admit doubt or regret or uncertainty." Just keep repeating the lies, loudly and ad nauseum, and exhaust your opponents into giving up. 

The tornado of bullshit emanating from Fox News in response to the text scandal is proof that the students of Trump have become the masters.

Gone are the fearful mice that were worried that inciting an insurrection might make the GOP look bad, or scare their followers away from taking the fascist movement to the next level. Instead, they are more committed than ever to the belief that truth doesn't matter. All that matters is power. Indeed, the more ridiculous and unjustified the claims, the more power they demonstrate by standing by them anyway. This is something Trump has always understood, which is why his first act in office was to insist that his inauguration crowd was bigger than Barack Obama's, and refuse to relent in the face of what should have been indisputable photographic evidence that showed otherwise.  

The bellicosity worked. A study swiftly demonstrated that, when shown pictures of both the Trump and Obama inauguration crowds, a significant percentage of Republican voters rejected the evidence of their own eyes to insist the Trump crowd was bigger. They aren't crazy or deluded. They just understand what is expected of them: Facts don't matter. All that matters is toeing the party line.  

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Back in 2017, more than 40% of Republican voters were shameless enough to parrot the "Trump's crowd was bigger" line, even when they were being embarrassed by pictures that showed otherwise. The situation has only gotten worse since then. Now 7 out of 10 GOP voters will tell a pollster they believe the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen, even though their actual behavior indicates they do not believe this at all. The average Republican voter is now committed to doing and saying whatever it takes to end democracy and has no compunction about telling obvious lies to achieve that goal. 

The situation has gotten worse since 2017, in no small part because Fox hosts spent the past five years or so instructing their audiences in the art of gaslighting. As Trump demonstrated, the trick is to make claims that both the liar and their targets know are untrue, but to make them "true" through the simple but effective method of relentlessness.

In a sense, it's not even really lying. Lying is an attempt to deceive. Gaslighting, however, does not try to convince anyone of anything, except their own powerlessness. Trump's incessant insistence that the election was "stolen" convinces no one. But, by grinding at it day and night, Trump has indoctrinated his followers into parroting the lie, not because they believe it, but as a means to demonstrate loyalty.

So Fox News hosts lie to their audience. They know it, their opponents know it, and most crucially, their audiences know it. The excuses being fanned out to justify it aren't persuasive in the slightest, nor are they meant to be. The only purpose is to fill Fox viewers with hot air that they can, in turn, spew back out when defending their support for Trump. Lies do not offend GOP voters, because they understand that lies are a tactic in gaining power. And power is, ultimately, all that matters to them. 

By 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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