Fox News? More Like Trump’s Impeachment Shield

Nixon lacked the cable network’s advantage, but are its viewers misled?

When President Richard Nixon’s Watergate misconduct was being dissected before congressional committees in 1973 and 1974, Republican support for him collapsed because most Americans shared news sources and inhabited a similar political reality.

In short, facts mattered.

Aides to Nixon did propose to him a plan to create sympathetic television news coverage; Roger Ailes backed the idea; and it eventually evolved into Fox News. And today Fox gives President Trump an important defense system that Nixon never had.

Fox was the most popular television network for watching the first day of impeachment hearings this week, with 2.9 million viewers (57 percent more than CNN had), and Fox viewers encountered a very different hearing than viewers of other channels.

With Rep. Adam Schiff on the screen, Fox News’s graphic declared in all caps: “TRUMP HAS REPEATEDLY IMPLIED THAT SCHIFF HAS COMMITTED TREASON.” At a different moment, the screen warned: “9/26: SCHIFF PUBLICLY EXAGGERATED SUBSTANCE OF TRUMP-ZELENSKY CALL.”

Fox downplayed the news and undermined the witnesses. While Ambassador William Taylor was shown testifying, the Fox News screen graphic declared: “OCT 23: PRESIDENT TRUMP DISMISSED TAYLOR AS A “NEVER TRUMPER.” It also suggested his comments were, “TRIPLE HEARSAY.”

Researchers have found that Fox News isn’t very effective at informing Americans. A 2012 study by Fairleigh Dickinson University reported that watching Fox News had “a negative impact on people’s current events knowledge.”

The study found that those who regularly watched Fox News actually knew less about both domestic and international issues than those who watched no news at all. N.P.R. listeners were particularly well-informed, the study found, but even people who got their news from a comedy program like “The Daily Show” — or who had no news source whatsoever — knew more about current events than Fox viewers.

That may be correlation rather than causation, but at the least it suggests that viewers of Fox News don’t actually learn much.

Yet if Fox News doesn’t inform citizens, it does sway their votes. Two Stanford scholars, Gregory J. Martin and Ali Yurukoglu, published a paper in American Economic Review in 2017 suggesting that without the network, the Republican share of the vote for president would have been 0.46 percentage points lower in 2000, 3.6 points lower in 2004 and 6.3 percentage points lower in 2008.

Let’s pause here to acknowledge that Fox News has some excellent reporters, and let me just say that I’m jealous of Chris Wallace’s interviewing skill. It’s unfair that the real Fox reporters are tainted by blowhards like Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, who engage less in journalism than in presidential public relations.

There’s no easy solution at a time when we’re all so polarized, but we can try to stand up for democratic and journalistic norms. It’s of course true that I live in a glass house. I’ve made countless mistakes in my career, and this newspaper makes them almost every day.

Yet that shouldn’t have stopped us from criticizing Father Charles Coughlin’s anti-Semitic radio broadcasts in the 1930s, and it shouldn’t stop us today from pointing out that Fox regularly hands the microphone to a guest, Joseph DiGenova, who might have made Joe McCarthy blush with this absurd anti-Semitic rant: “There’s no doubt that George Soros controls a very large part of the career Foreign Service at the United States State Department.”

While Democrats feel victimized by Fox News and allies like Rush Limbaugh, it’s also true that this right-wing cocoon is a disservice to its own true believers — because it feeds them misinformation. We saw that in the Iraq War, when Fox News anticipated that troops would be welcomed with flowers and that the war would pay for itself.

Early in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, I spent a scary, violent day with U.S. troops, and that night we watched a feed of Fox News — and our jaws dropped as commentators ridiculed critics of the invasion and blithely insisted that Iraqis were welcoming us as heroes. The troops and I looked at each other in astonishment.

The right-wing media bubble and its conspiracy theories can even be lethal. During the 2009-10 swine flu epidemic, Democrats and Republicans initially expressed roughly equal concern. But then conservative commentators denounced the Obama administration’s calls for vaccination as a nefarious plot. Glenn Beck, then of Fox News, warned that he would do “the exact opposite” of what the administration recommended.

As a result, Democrats in the end were 50 percent more likely to seek vaccination than Republicans, according to the Journal of Health, Politics and Law. Some 18,000 people died in that flu epidemic, so it seems logical that some died because they believed Fox News.

I wonder if Fox viewers are again being misled when they watch Hannity celebrate the opening of the impeachment hearings as a victory for Trump and as “a lousy day for the corrupt, do-nothing-for-three-years radical extreme socialist Democrats.” That is, shall we say, a quixotic interpretation.

In the meantime, Fox News is aggressively defending Trump, joining in smears of public servants and playing a role in history that embarrasses many of us in journalism.

How to Win an Argument About Guns

Tragically, predictably, infuriatingly, we’re again mourning a shooting — this time at YouTube’s headquarters — even as the drive for gun safety legislation has stalled in Washington. Polls show that nine out of 10 Americans favor basic steps like universal background checks before gun purchases, but the exceptions are the president and a majority in Congress.

Usually pundits toss out their own best arguments while ignoring the other side’s, but today I’m going to try something new and engage directly with the arguments made by gun advocates:

You liberals are in a panic over guns, but look at the numbers. Any one gun is less likely to kill a person than any one vehicle. But we’re not traumatized by cars, and we don’t try to ban them.

It’s true that any particular car is more likely to be involved in a fatality than any particular gun. But cars are actually a perfect example of the public health approach that we should apply to guns. We don’t ban cars, but we do work hard to take a dangerous product and regulate it to limit the damage.

We do that through seatbelts and airbags, through speed limits and highway barriers, through driver’s licenses and insurance requirements, through crackdowns on drunken driving and texting while driving. I once calculated that since 1921, we had reduced the auto fatality rate per 100 million miles driven by 95 percent.

Sure, we could have just said “cars don’t kill people, people kill people.” Or we could have said that it’s pointless to regulate cars because then bicyclists will just run each other down. Instead, we relied on evidence and data to reduce the carnage from cars. Why isn’t that a model for guns?

Because of the Second Amendment. The Constitution doesn’t protect vehicles, but it does protect my right to a gun.

Yes, but courts have found that the Second Amendment does not prevent sensible regulation (just as the First Amendment does not preclude laws on defamation). There is no constitutional objection to, say, universal background checks to obtain a gun. It’s crazy that 22 percent of guns are obtained without a check.

We all agree that there should be limits. No one argues that there is an individual right to own an antiaircraft gun. So the question isn’t whether firearms should all be sacrosanct but simply where we draw the line. When more Americans have died from guns just since 1970 (1.4 million) than in all the wars in American history (1.3 million), maybe it’s worth rethinking where that line should be.

Whoa! You’re inflating the gun violence numbers by including suicides. Almost two-thirds of those gun deaths are suicides, and the blunt reality is that if someone wants to kill himself, he’ll find a way. It’s not about guns.

Actually, that’s not true. Scholars have found that suicide barriers on bridges, for example, prevent jumpers and don’t lead to a significant increase in suicides elsewhere. Likewise, almost half of suicides in Britain used to be by asphyxiating oneself with gas from the oven, but when Britain switched to a less lethal oven gas the suicides by oven plummeted and there was little substitution by other methods. So it is about guns.

No, it’s more about our violent culture. The Swiss and Israelis have large numbers of firearms, and they don’t have our levels of gun violence.

Yes, there’s something to that. America has underlying social problems, and we need to address them with smarter economic and social policies. But we magnify the toll when we make it easy for troubled people to explode with AR-15s rather than with pocketknives.

You liberals freak out about guns. If you have a swimming pool or a bathtub, that’s more dangerous to neighborhood kids than a gun is. Kids under age 14 are much more likely to die from drowning than from firearms. So why this crusade against guns, but not against bathtubs and pools?

Your numbers are basically right, but only because young children routinely swim and take baths but don’t regularly encounter firearms. But look at the picture for the population as a whole: Over all, 3,600 Americans drown each year, while 36,000 die from guns (yes, including suicides). That’s one reason to be talking more about gun safety than about pool safety.

Note also that a backyard pool isn’t going to be used to mug a neighbor, or to invade a nearby school. Schools don’t have drills for an “active pool situation.” And while some 200,000 guns are stolen each year, it’s more difficult to steal a pool and use it for a violent purpose.

Moreover, we do try to make pools safer. Many jurisdictions require a permit for a pool, as well as a childproof fence around it with self-locking gates. If we have permits and safe storage requirements for pools, why not for guns? What’s wrong with trying to save lives?

Why I Was Wrong About Elizabeth Warren

And her growing popularity suggests others are coming around, too.

As the Democratic presidential campaign began, I was deeply skeptical of Elizabeth Warren.

My first objection was that she appeared to have parlayed possible Native American heritage to gain academic jobs (Harvard Law School listed her as Native American beginning in 1995). That offended me, and I knew it would repel huge numbers of voters.

Second, I thought she shot from the hip and, with her slight political experience, would wilt on the campaign trail.

Third, I thought she was a one-note Sally, eloquent on finance but thin on the rest of domestic and foreign policy.

So much for my judgment: I now believe I was wrong on each count, and her rise in the polls suggests that others are also seeing more in her. Warren has become the gold standard for a policy-driven candidate, and whether or not she wins the Democratic nomination, she’s performing a public service by helping frame the debate.

Let’s examine my misperceptions. First, The Boston Globe conducted a rigorous examination of Warren’s legal career, and it is now clear that she never benefited professionally from Native American associations.

“The Globe found clear evidence, in documents and interviews, that her claim to Native American ethnicity was never considered by the Harvard Law faculty, which voted resoundingly to hire her, or by those who hired her to four prior positions at other law schools,” the newspaper concluded.

Then there’s the concern about political naïveté and inexperience. Warren first ran for office only in 2012; even Pete Buttigieg has been in elective politics longer.

It’s reasonable to worry about her electability, partly because last year she won re-election in Massachusetts as senator with a smaller share of the popular vote than Hillary Clinton had received two years earlier in the state. In contrast, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota hugely outperformed Clinton.

I worried about a tendency to shoot from the hip when Warren misread an article and in 2016 wrote a Facebook rant denouncing a supposedly greedy Trump-supporting investor, Whitney Tilson. In fact: Tilson opposed Trump and agrees with Warren on most issues; indeed, Tilson had previously donated to Warren.

The unbalanced screed resembled a Trump tweet and made me wonder about Warren’s judgment. But Warren later apologized, and she has been more careful since. Tilson told me that he thinks the rant was not part of a pattern but perhaps reflected a sleep-deprived moment.

More broadly, Warren has improved tremendously as a politician. Early on, she sometimes came across as a stern Harvard professor eager to grill you about an obscure tort case. She’s now much better on the hustings. Forget the tort case and Harvard Law; she’s an Oklahoma gal who wants to have a beer with you.

Finally, I was manifestly wrong on Warren’s policies. She has been a geyser of smart proposals, including one I particularly like for universal child care. This would resemble the outstanding child care program operated by the U.S. military and would benefit both working moms and at-risk kids.

Warren also has a range of other proposals, pertaining to everything from election reform to housingantitrust to corporate governance. Then she offers a wealth tax to help pay for social programs.

One of America’s biggest problems is the collapse of the working class and the lower middle class, with suicide at a 30-year high and drug and alcohol abuse causing life expectancy to fall. Warren confronts that crisis head-on both with her personal story and with sharp policies to boost opportunity. Her 2017 memoir, “This Fight Is Our Fight,” is that rarity of campaign books: a decent read.

Warren’s proposals might or might not succeed, but they are serious, based on work by top scholars. She is a believer in a market economy, regulated to keep it from being rigged, and in corporations that contribute to the well-being of all. And while she’s no expert on foreign policy, her instincts on avoiding war with Iran and showing concern for Palestinians seem good ones.

At her best, Warren is also brilliant at shaping the narrative. In 2011, she explained why taxing the rich isn’t “class warfare.”

“There’s nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody,” she said in a clip that went viral. “You built a factory out there? Good for you! But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces the rest of us paid for.”

She ended: “You built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless! Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay it forward for the next kid who comes along.”

That’s a conversation we need to have in America, and I’m glad Warren is getting attention so that she can make her case.

‘He Is a Racist, He Is a Con Man, and He Is a Cheat’

Nixon was bad, but nothing compared to Michael Cohen’s portrayal of “gangster” Trump.

.. What was almost as dispiriting as the range of misconduct alleged was the behavior of Republicans on the committee. They seemed less interested in ferreting out the truth than in covering it up; all they wanted to do was protect Trump and discredit Cohen.

It was three hours into the hearing before a Republican even asked Cohen a question about Trump.

.. And I hope the Republicans listened when Cohen told one of his G.O.P. interrogators: “I did the same thing you are doing now for 10 years. I protected Mr. Trump for 10 years.” He added: “People who follow Mr. Trump blindly will suffer the same consequences I’m suffering.”

Trump’s Ignoring Our Real ‘National Emergies’

  • If the caravan proceeds by foot, during the period of its journey 16,800 Americans will die from drugs.

  • In the period of the caravan’s journey, perhaps 690,000 Americans will become homeless, including 267,000 children.

  • In the period of the caravan’s journey, 8,850 Americans will die from guns, including suicides and murders.

  • In the period of the caravan’s journey, perhaps 9,000 Americans will die from lack of health insurance (people die at higher rates when they’re uninsured, although there’s disagreement about how much higher).

Maybe the real “National Emergy” is drugs, homelessness, gun deaths and lack of health insurance?

.. the issue isn’t really even immigration. Rather, it’s fearmongering. Scholars have found that reminding people of dangers makes them temporarily more conservative, so this kind of manipulation can be an effective campaign tactic.

Remember the 2014 midterm elections? This is a replay. In the run-up to voting, Republicans ratcheted up fears of a “border crisis” with terrorists sneaking in from Mexico to attack us, plus alarm about Ebola and the risk that the outbreak in West Africa could reach America.

.. Trump also tweeted then that if a New York physician who returned from West Africa developed Ebola (as he later did), “then Obama should apologize to the American people & resign.”

In the 2014 elections, Republican candidates ran hundreds of ads denouncing the Obama administration’s handling of Ebola. News organizations chronicled this “debate,” but in retrospect they were manipulated into becoming a channel to spread fear — and win Republican votes.

.. Yet Ebola, like the Central American caravan, is a reminder of the distinction between grandstanding and governing.

.. Obama’s technocratic Ebola program — working with France and Britain, plus private aid groups — may have worried voters, but it was effective.

.. the Ebola virus was contained and eventually burned out. Good governance often turns out to be bad politics, and vice versa.

.. Perhaps the approach with the best record is aid programs to curb gang violence in countries like Honduras, to reduce the factors that lead people to attempt the dangerous journey to the United States. Yet it’s not tangible and doesn’t impress voters. So Trump instead is talking about an expensive wall and about cutting aid to Central America, even though this would magnify the crisis there and probably lead more people to flee north.

.. I fear that we in the media have become Trump’s puppets, letting him manipulate us to project issues like the caravan onto the agenda.

.. Trump is right that, although there’s no evidence of it, “there could very well be” Middle Easterners hiding in the caravan. It’s equally true that the Easter Bunny “could very well be” in the caravan. Speaking of Easter, Jesus Christ “could very well be” in the caravan.

.. So let’s stop freaking out about what “could very well be” and focus on facts. Here are two:

  1. First, the Caravan won’t make a bit of difference to America.
  2. Second, we have other problems to focus on, from drugs to homelessness to health care, that genuinely constitute a “National Emergy.”

Three Questions for Judge Kavanaugh

Judge Kavanaugh, I don’t know what happened in 1982. But I’m deeply troubled by what I perceive as your lack of integrity last week. You told the Senate Judiciary Committee under oath that your “have you boofed” yearbook question referred to farting, that “devil’s triangle” was a drinking game, that a “Renate alumnius” was simply a friend of Renate with no sexual insinuations, that the drinking age was 18.

Really? As James Comey tweeted: “small lies matter, even about yearbooks.” No one sensible is going to hold teenage drinking against you, but we are bothered when you mislead senators and the public today and deny what is obvious: As you put it in 1983, “we’re loud, obnoxious drunks.”

.. What can we call these but lies? And they come on top of deeply misleading testimony about your knowledge of stolen documents when you were in the Bush White House and your involvement in judicial nominations then.

.. 2. Do you have empathy for those who aren’t so blessed as yourself?

An air of entitlement hangs over both your testimony

.. Where the Supreme Court has made its worst mistakes, the problems have arisen often not from a lack of intelligence but from a failure of empathy.

  • In Dred Scott and Plessy, justices did not appreciate what it meant to be black in America;
  • in Korematsu, what it meant to be a Japanese-American facing internment;
  • in Buck v. Bell, what it meant to be a marginalized woman;
  • in Lochner, what it meant to be a laborer;
  • in Bowers v. Hardwick, what it meant to be gay.

If you had been on the court, Judge Kavanaugh, in 1873 for Bradwell v. Illinois, which upheld the State of Illinois’s decision to deny a woman a license to practice law based on her gender, your opinion no doubt would have been well reasoned — but would it have been just?

The American Bar Association’s Model Code of Judicial Conduct states, “A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.” Sneering at senators, even when feeling provoked, does not fit that code.

.. I’ve learned from my criminal justice reporting that witnesses err surprisingly often. You have earned a reputation as a first-rate conservative judge, and I thought it possible that there was some mistake and that you had been terribly wronged. But ultimately what perhaps damaged you most was not the unproven allegations of assaults decades ago, but your own lies and partisanship just last week.

.. President Trump has mocked Dr. Blasey, and Republican senators have released an explicit sexual statement to shame Julie Swetnick, another woman whom they have not bothered to listen to. So it appears that your side’s strategy is not to dispel the suspicion but rather to humiliate the accusers — violating them in a display of power and entitlement that is an echo of what they say took place so many years ago.

If that’s the path you choose, you should not sit on the Supreme Court.