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.
Those decades of free-market machinations are now paying off, as a quintet of Ronald Reagan administration alumni — Kudlow, Laffer, Forbes, Moore and David Malpass—united by undying affection for each other and for laissez-faire economics, have the run of Washington once more. Members of the tight-knit group have shaped Trump’s signature tax cut, helped install each other in posts with vast influence over the global economy, and are working to channel Trump’s mercantilist instincts into pro-trade policies. Blasted by their critics as charlatans and lauded by their acolytes as tireless champions of prosperity, there’s no denying that the quintet has had an enduring impact on decades of economic policy.
Most recently, in late March, and partly at Kudlow’s urging, Trump announced his intention to nominate Moore to one of two open seats on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, the body that sets the tempo of the global financial system.
The announcement prompted protests from economists across the ideological spectrum—George W. Bush’s top economist, Harvard’s Gregory Mankiw, said Moore lacked the “intellectual gravitas” for the job—who warned that appointing Moore, a think-tanker with no Ph.D., would politicize the Fed. Soon, it emerged that Moore had made a mistake on a 2014 tax return that led the IRS to place a disputed $75,000 lien against him, and CNN dug up scathing comments Moore had made about Trump during the presidential primary.
Whether Moore can survive the scrutiny and pass muster with the Senate will be a test of the supply-siders’ renewed cachet. They believe they can pull it off.
“I understand there are imperfections,” Kudlow told POLITICO. “I think it can be worked out.”
Moore described some of his recent conversations with Trump, which often turn to Fed Chairman Jerome Powell.
“I think his criticism of Powell is excessive and could be counterproductive,” Moore said, because it could actually provoke Powell to prove his independence by defying Trump’s wishes. Generally speaking, Trump wants Powell to keep interest rates low to decrease the chances of any economic slump before the president faces voters again next November.
Moore also recounted how he and Laffer, who began advising Trump in 2016, helped place Kudlow in his current posting.
Roughly a year into Trump’s term, as Trump’s first NEC director, Gary Cohn, prepared to depart the post, the duo sprang into action. Moore said that during this period, whenever he and Laffer engaged in their semiregular consultations with Trump, they would have some version of the following exchange:
“You know, Mr. President, you’re missing one thing,” Laffer or Moore would say.
“What is that?” Trump would ask.
“Larry Kudlow,” Laffer or Moore would tell him.
“We just drilled the message over and over,” Moore recalled. “‘Larry, Larry, Larry, Larry.’”
During that same period, following the 1974 midterms, Laffer first drewhis famous Laffer Curve — a representation of the idea that at a certain level of taxation, lowering taxes would theoretically spur enough growth that government revenue would actually rise—at a meeting near the White House with Wanniski, Dick Cheney, then an aide to President Gerald Ford, and Grace-Marie Arnett, another free marketeer active in Republican politics.
Reagan would go on to fully embrace supply-side theory, a shift from the party’s traditional emphasis on fiscal discipline, appointing Laffer to his Economic Policy Advisory Board.
Then as now, supply-side economics was criticized for favoring the rich and derided by critics as unrealistic “Voodoo Economics.” The critics got an early boost from a 1981 Atlantic cover story in which Reagan’s budget director, David Stockman, aired his doubts that this novel theory was working in practice.
The piece ruined Stockman’s standing with Reagan—Laffer calls him “the traitor of all traitors”—but Stockman’s young aide, Kudlow, now 71, remained a loyal supply-sider and struck up a relationship with Laffer.
Reagan would go on to appoint Forbes as the head of the Board of International Broadcasting, which oversaw Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe, and Moore worked as the research director for Reagan’s privatization commission. Malpass, meanwhile, worked in Reagan’s Treasury department. Representatives for Forbes and Malpass said they were not available for interviews.
In the 1988 presidential primary, another supply-sider, the late New York congressman Jack Kemp, lost out to George H.W. Bush, curtailing the crew’s influence within the party.
But they stuck together. Moore, now 59, first became close with Laffer and Kudlow in 1991, after he recruited them to participate in an event celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Reagan’s first tax cuts for the libertarian Cato Institute.
In 1993, Kudlow and Forbes teamed up to craft a tax cut plan for New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Christine Todd Whitman, who went on to unseat incumbent Democrat James Florio.
Meanwhile, Kudlow hired Malpass to work for him at Bear Stearns, where he had been flying high as the investment bank’s chief economist.
The next year, Kudlow crashed to earth—he left the bank and entered rehab for alcohol and cocaine addiction. Laffer stuck by Kudlow, hiring the investment banker to work for his consulting firm in California when he emerged.
In 1996, Forbes, backed by Moore, entered the Republican primary and lost out to Bob Dole, but the group takes credit for getting Kemp picked for the bottom half of that year’s ticket, which lost to incumbent Bill Clinton.
And they have not stopped partying since. Members of the group have continued to actively socialize with each other over the decades, with some spending New Year’s eves together. At one birthday party for Laffer in New York, they presented the aging economist with a signed poster of the Jedi master Yoda. “I’m short, a little bit fat. I’ve got big, green ears,” Laffer explained. “I look sort of like Yoda.”
In 2015, Forbes, Laffer, Kudlow and Moore created the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, a group intended in part to counter the emergence of the “Reformicons,” a rival gang of Republican eggheads who felt the party had gone too far in the direction of laissez-faire policies favoring the rich.
Among the other 29 committee members listed in a press release were both Malpasses, Kevin Hassett, now chairman of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers, and Andy Puzder, who was Trump’s initial pick for labor secretary until allegations of domestic abuse unearthed by POLITICO derailed his nomination.
The group sought, with considerable success, to vet Republican presidential candidates for their supply-side credentials and to influence their platforms, holding large private dinners at Manhattan venues such as the Four Seasons and the 21 Club, so that committee members and other notable invitees—like Rudy Giuliani and Roger Ailes—could feel out the candidates.
Before meeting with the larger group, candidates would huddle with the committee’s founders to receive economic tutorials. Or in the case of Ohio Governor John Kasich, to give one. “We were all sitting there, and he would talk for an hour,” Moore recalled. “We’re like, ‘No, we’re supposed to be talking to you,’ and he’s talking to us.” Moore called the episode “Classic John Kasich.”
Though the events were supposed to be off the record, journalists often attended, and an otherwise lackluster February 2015 dinner for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker made headlines when Giuliani barged in, proclaimed he did not believe that President Barack Obama “loves America,” and insisted a POLITICO reporter could print the quote.
But after Mr. Trump entered the Oval Office, the network’s opinion hosts — from the cast of the president’s favorite morning show, “Fox & Friends,” to the anchor of “Hannity” — began to cheerlead his agenda more and more. Ratings and revenue increased, thanks to the overlap between the network’s audience and the Make America Great Again crowd.
On Monday night, though, with its biggest star joining Mr. Trump at a raucous campaign event, Fox News entered new territory — a thicket in which it’s hard to tell where the network ends and the president begins. The morning after, Fox News employees were complaining about what had happened in Cape Girardeau.
Mr. Trump introduced Mr. Hannity — an informal adviser and close confidant since the 2016 campaign — as someone who had been “with us since the beginning.” After a firm handshake and a warm bro-hug, Mr. Hannity pointed toward the reporters in the back and said, “By the way, all those people in the back are fake news.”
The host and the president smiled as the crowd jeered the press pen — which included the Fox News White House correspondent Kristin Fisher. Then Mr. Hannity delivered, in a thunderous voice, one of the Trump campaign’s slogans: “Promises made, promises kept!”
His Fox News colleague Jeanine Pirro also appeared on the rally stage that night. “Do you like the fact that this man is the tip of the spear that goes out there every day and fights for us?” she said, to cheers.
.. For all his many faults, Mr. Ailes understood the value of maintaining at least the semblance of separation between the network and the political party he was effectively commandeering from his desk in Manhattan. And he believed he had to protect his stable of news correspondents and producers to give Fox News some credibility beyond the core viewers who tuned in for its opinion hosts.
So, for instance, when Mr. Hannity went to Cincinnati to headline a planned Tea Party event in 2010, the boss forced him to cancel, angry that he had even said yes to such a thing.
.. These days, it seems, Fox News doesn’t have anyone drawing the line. It has been that way since the departure of Mr. Ailes, who was booted from the network in 2016 after multiple women accused him of sexual harassment and who died the next year.
- .. Mr. Hannity has called the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, part of a “deep state” conspiracy run by a “crime family.”
- Laura Ingraham has likened the federal detention facilities holding migrant children to “summer camps.” And
- Tucker Carlson has described the caravan of asylum seekers as “highly dangerous.”
.. Ainsley Earhardt, a “Fox & Friends” host, did not score one for journalism when she offered an on-air defense of Mr. Trump’s use of the phrase “enemy of the people” to describe the news media. “He’s saying: ‘If you don’t want to be called the enemy, then get the story right. Be accurate and report the story the way I want it reported,’” Ms. Earhardt said.
.. I have yet to see Rachel Maddow showing up at a campaign event for Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer.
.. The morning after the rally in Missouri — after in-house complaints from anchors and reporters and a broader social media backlash — the network issued a statement that mentioned neither Mr. Hannity nor Ms. Pirro by name. “Fox News does not condone talent participating in campaign events,” it said, before referring vaguely to “an unfortunate distraction” that had “been addressed.”
.. Two weeks ago, a guest on Lou Dobbs’s show on the Fox Business Network, the conservative activist Chris Farrell, made the false allegation that the liberal political donor George Soros, who is Jewish, had paid migrants to come to the United States; he also asserted without evidence that Mr. Soros had undue influence in the State Department. Those false charges hark back to common anti-Semitic tropes. After deafening blowback, Fox News said Mr. Farrell would no longer appear on its channels.
.. And earlier this month, Ms. Pirro headlined a fund-raiser for Scott Wagner, the Republican candidate for governor in Pennsylvania. As The Philadelphia Inquirer reported, she earned $24,500 for serving as an “event speaker.” (Fox News had no official statement on that one.)
.. The only guardians of the old rules separating Fox News journalists from the people they are supposed to cover are the working journalists at the network. Apparently fed up with the caravan hysteria promoted by the prime-time pundits, the Fox News anchor Shepard Smith said on-air, “There is no invasion. No one is coming to get you. There is nothing at all to worry about.” Others, like the Fox News anchor Bret Baier and the Sunday host Chris Wallace, have at times made public complaints. As Mr. Wallace once said about the network’s pundits parroting Mr. Trump’s anti-press attacks, “It bothers me.”
.. When companies pulled their commercials from “The Ingraham Angle” after its host poked fun at David Hogg, a student survivor of the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., the show’s ratings went up.
.. Administration officials with former on-air roles at the network include Ben Carson, the housing secretary; John Bolton, the national security director; Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman; and Mercedes Schlapp, the White House strategic communications director. Oh, and Mr. Trump’s former communications director, Hope Hicks, has been hired as the communications director at Fox News’s corporate parent.
As long as I’ve covered politics, Republicans have been trying to scare me.
Sometimes, it has been about gays and transgender people and uppity women looming, but usually it has been about people with darker skin looming.
They’re coming, always coming, to take things and change things and hurt people.
A Democratic president coined the expression, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” But it was Republicans who flipped the sentiment and turned it into a powerful and remorseless campaign ethos: Make voters fear fear itself.
The president has, after all, put a tremendous effort into the sulfurous stew of lies, racially charged rhetoric and scaremongering that he has been serving up as an election closer. He has been inspired to new depths of delusion, tweeting that “Republicans will totally protect people with Pre-Existing Conditions, Democrats will not! Vote Republican.”
He has been twinning the words “caravan” and “Kavanaugh” in a mellifluous poem to white male hegemony. Whites should be afraid of the migrant caravan traveling from Central America, especially since “unknown Middle Easterners” were hidden in its midst, an alternative fact that he cheerfully acknowledged was based on nothing.
The word “Kavanaugh” is meant to evoke the fear that aggrieved women will hurtle out of the past to tear down men from their rightful perches of privilege.
Naomi Wolf told Bill Clinton, and later Al Gore, they should present themselves as the Good Father, strong enough to protect the home (America) from invaders.