Although the references to Fox News in this post have been noted by many, the divergent national media coverage of the disease’s spread, continuing as it did into March, is a stark reminder of the power of propaganda. Below is a link to a March 16 Washington Post article documenting (with embedded video) Fox News personalities doing a figurative 180-degree turn on the severity of the Coronavirus as President Trump changed the tone of his message. Hopefully, most that read these pages can access the article, because the juxtaposition of what Fox News commentators were saying before President Trump decided to treat the disease seriously, and after the President awakened, is best grasped through video and sound, not text; even so, the article itself is damning:
“For weeks [while President Trump was discounting the severity and spread of the virus], some of Fox News’s most popular hosts downplayed the threat of the coronavirus, characterizing it as a conspiracy by media organizations and Democrats to undermine President Trump.
Fox News personalities such as Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham accused the news media of whipping up ‘mass hysteria’ and being ‘panic pushers.’ Fox Business host Trish Regan called the alleged media-Democratic alliance ‘yet another attempt to impeach the president.’
With Trump’s declaration on Friday [March 13] that the virus constitutes a national emergency, the tone on Fox News has quickly shifted.
On his program on Friday, Hannity — the most watched figure on cable news — lauded the president’s handling of what the host is now, belatedly, referring to as a ‘crisis.’
Regan’s on-air speculation at the start of last week that coronavirus was merely another impeachment gambit for Democrats drew widespread pushback… The network announced late Friday that her discussion-and-commentary program on Fox Business would leave the air indefinitely …
Fox insiders said that Regan’s removal from air showed that only some hosts — those with the biggest ratings — are protected at Fox News.”
It has become a cliché – recognizing that premises become clichés because they are true — that during his rise to power, President Trump didn’t create our citizens’ divisions, fears, and resentments, but merely exploited them. While such is the clearly the case, I would add that Fox News, likewise, didn’t create them … but, purely for profit, has done the most to accentuate and aggravate them. I would submit that the network has been a greater catalyst for hyper-partisanship, biases, and antipathy between our people than any other single factor, including Mr. Trump himself.
In The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, published in 1959 and I believe still considered the definitive account of the genesis and collapse of the Nazi regime, William Shirer wrote the following of Germany in the mid-1930s, after Adolf Hitler seized absolute power but before the Second World War:
“[A] German listener could still turn his dial to a score of foreign radio stations …. [T]hough as the years went by, [Nazi Propaganda Chief Joseph] Goebbels … proved that the radio [Comment for the young: there was then no television] … did more than any other single instrument of communication to shape the German people to Hitler’s ends.
I myself was to experience how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio …. Though unlike most Germans I had daily access to [London, Paris, and Zurich] newspapers … and though I listened regularly to the BBC and other foreign broadcasts, my job necessitated the spending of many hours a day in combing the German press, checking the German radio, conferring with Nazi officials and going to party meetings. It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts … a steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and often misled it. No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and incessant propaganda. [Emphasis Added]”
While there is an undisputedly liberal bias in the mainstream media, I would submit that the mainstream media strives to present the truth, and that the news sections of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal remain our definitive American chroniclers. I don’t think it’s unwarranted to supplement Mr. Shirer’s statement regarding the effect of totalitarian propaganda with the observation that until Fox News, it was difficult for us in American society to conceive that a dominant media outlet would so purposefully and irresponsibly slant its message and manipulate its audience. On the Coronavirus, which may be the most significant public health challenge of our lifetimes, Mr. Trump’s change in tone caused the network — named last summer in a Suffolk University poll as the “most trusted” news source by almost 25% of our people — to shift the tenor of its coverage from “hoax” to “crisis” like … that.
We bear a heavy, although obviously necessary, burden for our First Amendment Freedom of Speech. Since all of us know one or more Fox News watchers, the YouTube links below (each containing some of the same clips) might be worth saving to forward to a conservative friend with a short memory of Fox’ sudden Coronavirus reversal when – not if – Fox begins to spread a particularly egregious distortion during the coming election campaign — such as Mr. Trump’s latest claim that mail-in voting is inherently corrupt. May I suggest: if former New York, NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg is serious about maintaining the American way of life, he should be ready — soon — to start devoting his billions to creating media spots refuting Donald Trump’s and his surrogates disinformation campaigns.