Why Are Even Conservatives Calling Fox News ‘Propaganda’ in 2019?

Over the years, there have been many reasons to describe Fox News as anything but a news network. In 2009, Robert Gibbs, Obama’s press secretary, received pushback from Jake Tapper (then at ABC) for the administration’s position that Fox was “not a news organization.”

Gibbs didn’t think it was a difficult thing to prove. “You and I should watch sometime around 9 o’clock tonight,” he told Tapper. “Or 5 o’clock this afternoon.”

If Tapper and Gibbs had watched some broadcasts together, they might have seen Glenn Beck, complete with blackboard and chalk, exploring a new conspiracy theory about Barack Obama. By 2011, they would have watched Donald Trump pushing a lie about Obama’s birthplace.

As of 2019, most media observers believe the ship that is Fox News’s credibility as a news organization sailed long ago. In an in-depth article on the subject appearing in the March 11 New Yorker, Jane Mayer quoted one conservative who described it as “just propaganda” these days.

But trying to pin down a date for that shift gets interesting.

Former Fox News employees think the network crossed the line in 2017-18.

Donald Trump greets talk-show host Sean Hannity at a campaign rally in Cape Girardeau, Missouri on November 5, 2018. | JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Mayer quotes the usual slate of writers and journalism professors describing the network as “the closest we’ve come to having state TV” and “a mouthpiece for the president.” However, some of the strongest criticism comes from people who used to work there.

Joe Peyronnin, who was president of Fox News in the ’90s, told Mayer, “It’s as if the president has his own press organization. It’s not healthy.” Bill Kristol, the conservative editor who worked at the network until 2012, went with a simple “propaganda” label, saying Fox “wasn’t crazy” in his day.

By mid-2017, mainstream reporters like The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel had no problem calling at least the morning show propaganda.

For Greta Van Susteren, who worked at the network from 2002-16, the line got crossed in 2018, when Hannity went onstage to campaign with Trump before the midterm elections. Van Susteren described it to Mayer as “an egregious mistake” that was “way over the line.”

The thing is, Fox News never did anything about that incident. Afterward, the network’s communications team said it “addressed” the matter. Yet no one ever said how. Still, the Scott Pruitt interview scandal from November might have been ever more embarrassing.

That incident, which offered clear evidence of a state-media relationship with Trump’s White House, also ended without clear ramifications. (Fox News did not reply to a request for comments on the Hannity and Pruitt incidents.)

Others trace Fox’s switch to full propaganda way before 2016.

Fox News host Sean Hannity tapes a segment of his show with White House spokesman Sean Spicer at the White House on January 24, 2017. | NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

To many who follow the media for a living, Fox News went into propaganda-mode more than a decade ago.

Howard Kurtz, Fox’s current media critic who then worked at The Washington Post, wrote in 2010 that Beck was undermining the network’s effort to be considered a news org. (Gibbs spoke of tuning in Fox at 5 p.m. because that was Beck’s hour.)

On Twitter, CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski brought up Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist who would appear on Fox & Friends in that same era. Ablow suggested Obama’s childhood traumas made him take out his frustrations on America.

Matt Gertz, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, took the discussion even further back in time. Gertz pulled out a classic from 2008, during Obama’s first presidential campaign. At the time, a Fox anchor described an Obama fist-bump as “a terrorist fist jab.”

In summary, Fox News lost much of its credibility around 2009, went crazy around 2010, and by 2017 allowed for bipartisan consensus that it was a propaganda network.

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