Fox News’ notoriously aggressive PR shop has been struggling to save face in recent weeks following former anchor Shepard Smith’s unexpected on-air resignation after more than 20 years at the network. Amid Fox’s ongoing exodus of journalists, mainstream media outlets have been flooded with Fox personalities insisting that the news side of the business remains strong and independent. Anchors Shannon Bream and Bret Baier and correspondent Jennifer Griffin have all received write-ups emphasizing their journalistic gravitas.
One opinion-side personality has also slipped into the PR blitz. Ainsley Earhardt’s recent profile in People Magazine demonstrates why mainstream outlets should be skeptical of Fox’s efforts to rebrand the network as a reliable news source. Anchors like Bream and Baier are just a fig leaf for personalities like Earhardt, with her hardcore Trump sycophancy and folksy racism. When outlets publish uncritical coverage of Fox’s efforts to clean up its toxic image, they help paper over the ethical, journalistic, and corporate governance crises at the network, which boomerang back and undermine the legitimacy of the media as a whole.
If Fox’s new PR campaign is to promote its “news side” anchors to inoculate the network against criticism about its lack of journalistic standards, then Earhardt’s profile in People is just another side of that same strategy, helping the network clean up the mess made by the chaos of its runaway opinion side. The article discusses her challenges juggling life as a single mother and working at Fox “The Fox family has completely embraced me through it all,” she says. “My life at Fox is amazing.” It’s worth noting that this is not the first time People has given Earhardt a safe space to do damage control for the network.
There are consequences for mainstream outlets allowing Trump apologists to use corporate female empowerment narratives to launder the damage Fox has done to the news industry. It creates space for the network to continue to get away with the racism and xenophobia that props up Trump’s worst policies and impulses and is driving the “news side” exodus in the first place.
Despite her sickeningly sweet image, Earhardt is a corrosive misinformer who launders bigotry through her sunny morning show demeanor, and People is helping her get away with it. She’s a favorite friendly face to President Trump, always willing to provide him with a softball interview. Earhardt regularly runs defense for the president’s alleged crimes as the wheels of impeachment turn closer and closer to the White House. She enthusiastically defends Trump’s racist immigration policies, fearmongers that undocumented immigrants are “using” kids to enter the United States, and got angry at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) for encouraging her constituents to know their legal rights in anticipation of sweeping immigration raids. Earhardt has repeatedly lied about the meaning of various abortion proposals including by lamenting that Democrats “care about the children and the women down on the border” want to let newborn babies be killed. (This is a lie.)
As a Roger Ailes acolyte, she’s used her position as a female anchor to make excuses for his sexual misconduct and protect the network after it enabled his harassment for decades. After allegations against Ailes were reported in the press in the summer of 2016, Earhardt defended him as a “family man” and a “father figure” with “a really good heart.” She also appeared on Hannity to praise Ailes after his death. When Bret Kavanaugh’s nomination was on the rocks after he was accused of sexual assault when he was a teenager, she ran defense for him too. She’s made clear that her primary concern when it comes to other ciswomen is that men hold doors open for them.
In the context of Earhardt’s background as a state media shill, I can only laugh at her attempts to cast herself as a working woman/mommy hero, in order to keep from crying. Fox News is desperate for whatever good press it can dredge up as advertisers continue to flee the network, and this piece is a slam-dunk. But outlets be warned -- this PR campaign is only to protect the network’s bottom line so Fox personalities can keep attacking their peers in the press at the direction of their audience of one. It’s in the best interest of all good-faith actors in the media to remain skeptical when Fox’s spin room comes asking for a favor.