Angelo Carusone and Chris Hayes explain how the Fox News echo chamber will be its own demise

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Citation From the April 19, 2023, edition of MSNBC's All In With Chris Hayes

CHRIS HAYES (HOST): Fox News has settled the defamation suit brought against them by Dominion Voting Systems, but the underlying problem -- and it's a deep and profound one -- is not going anywhere. And now Fox has to pay 787 million dollars for a bind they got themselves into. It's a bind that the whole country is in, in a certain way, but what I'm talking about is the problem, which is that tens of millions of our fellow citizens live in such a constrained informational environment and are so distrusting of any alternative sources of information, they operate in what is basically an entirely separate informational sphere.

I think the best way to understand this is just to look at some data, right? The spectrum of sources, for instance, that the median Republican primary voter consumes versus the median Democratic voter. So, Democrats consume and trust a wide variety of sources -- The New York Times, The Washington Post, this network -- a broad spectrum of the mainstream media, the progressive media, across the board. The spectrum of what Republicans consume is way, way smaller. First and foremost, they trust Fox News. That is their dominant source along with just a few others, like talk radio and OAN. It's a very, very small universe of ideologically partisan-aligned sources of information.

And here's the thing, that didn't happen by accident. That is the product of a successful effort by Fox News and others, a lot of other conservatives who have waged a decades-long war -- going back to the 1960s -- on the mainstream media and any other trusted American institutions.

The late Rush Limbaugh enshrined the battle lines in what has become a famous or infamous model -- monologue on what he called the Four Corners of Deceit.


RUSH LIMBAUGH: So we have now the Four Corners of Deceit, and the two universes in which we live. The Universe of Lies, the Universe of Reality, and The Four Corners of Deceit: government, academia, science, and media. Those institutions are now corrupt and exist by virtue of deceit.


HAYES: Government, academia, science, the media. Corrupt, exist by virtue of deceit. This is what Limbaugh and the conservative movement taught people, hammered into their heads after day after day, month after month, year after year, that they -- the Rush Limbaugh's of the world, the Fox News's of the world -- are the sole source of reality. They exist in the universe of reality and everyone else is in the universe of lies. And you can't trust anyone but them, the Rush Limbaugh's and the Fox News's. You can't trust the government, government official or government statistics. You can't trust scholars. You can't trust scientists or the mainstream media reporters.

And, of course, knowledge, what we know about the world is inescapably predicated on trust. We just can't verify firsthand the overwhelming majority of things we know about the world. I wasn't there for the randomized control trials for the vaccine, for instance, right? So, what we do is we use trust as a means of coming to know about the world. For example, if a reporter from the New York Times says, "I have seen this atrocity happening on the ground in Ukraine and I've talked to folks who saw it, firsthand witnesses, they told me about it," I can't go check for myself, right? My disposition is to trust that it's true. And not completely, right? I would look for other verifications, see if other outlets report similar findings as a kind of verification. We've seen that with atrocities and massacres that have happened in Ukraine.

But trust is the foundation here. And those trust relationships -- with credible media sources, researchers, again, government bureaucratic statistical entities -- they end up being the way that we form a lot of knowledge of the world. The American right has made it their mission to sever each of those trust relationships, to cut their base off from any other institution that produces knowledge.

Now, this has created this incredibly dangerous situation, in which conservatives are -- really are -- severed from any connection, again, to the main institutions of knowledge production in our society. Think about it, think of what the Four Corners of Deceit: government, academia, science and media. Because they are severed from those institutions, these tens of millions of folks can then be sort of captured, dominated entirely by Fox News and its conservative allies. This is an incredibly lucrative thing. They've got customers who only come to them. Rush Limbaugh -- who died a very, very, very, very wealthy man -- understood this.

But here's the thing. Disconnecting their audience from other possible sources of authority has also left Fox vulnerable. They're vulnerable to someone else who is even more of a grandiose liar, an even more effective demagogue coming along and winning over their audience's trust. And this is precisely what happened with the phenomenon of Donald Trump.

Now, remember, in the beginning, when he first got in the 2016 race, Fox and the Republican establishment wanted Trump out.


GLENN BECK: I am really trying to understand how conservatives can look at Donald Trump's record, which he himself self-identifies more as a Democrat than as a conservative or a Republican, and say, "That's our guy."

RICH LOWRY: He's insulted and bullied his way to the top of the polls

KARL ROVE: We saw an angry, defiant, you know, fuming, threatening bully.

MEGYN KELLY: You've called women you don't like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: I don't think I've ever heard such a stream of disconnected ideas since I quit psychiatry 30 years ago.


HAYES: Of course, that didn't work. The base decided they trusted Trump more than they trusted Fox. And again, here's -- this is what's key here, Fox themselves had produced a situation in which they were helpless to do anything, right? They created an audience that was completely unwilling to believe anyone else who would say, "Yes, he's a sexist and a crook and he's dangerous."

And we saw the same thing play out again after the 2020 election. Fox wanted to, in the main, institutionally, rely on their trust relationship with their audience and tell the viewers the basic truth that Joe Biden won the election. It wasn't rigged, and that what Donald Trump did was, as Rupert Murdoch actually wrote in an email, "Pretty much a crime." I agree, Rupert. So Fox tried that for a couple weeks after the election. But the viewers started to turn away because they no longer trusted Fox, they trusted Donald Trump who was telling them that the election was stolen.

Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott understood this. She laid it out plainly in another e-mail made public, again, thanks to the Dominion lawsuit: "We have damaged their trust and belief in us." Yes, it was basically a trust showdown. One that Fox couldn't win unless they adopted Trump's line, which they did.

Because here's the thing, they couldn't go to their base and tell them, "Hey, look, don't just listen to us. Look at every other independent assessment of the election. Look at the official numbers provided by government. Look at the courts, another part of the government. Look at the reporting in the media, in the New York Times and the Washington Post and the LA Times and NPR and on and on and on." They couldn't do any of that because they are the ones who told their audience not to believe any of those people, because those people were -- in Rush Limbaugh's words -- the Four Corners of Deceit. So Fox was left on its own, desperate to win back their audience. And so they decided to peddle Donald Trump's lies.

And this is still a very much live issue because, listen to me here, the exact same problem is happening now, again, in the 2024 Republican primary. When Donald Trump attacks his likely opponent, Ron DeSantis, claiming, for example, that "He is, for a Republican, an average Governor who got 1.2 million less votes in Florida than me," DeSantis can't really hit back. So in that example, right, Trump fails to mention that he won Florida by less than four points. DeSantis swept the state, with a margin of nearly 20 points. I mean, he only got fewer votes because it was a midterm, not a presidential.

But again, who is going to say that? Who is going to inject that context? Republican primary audience is so cut off from reality those facts can't get through. And where can Ron DeSantis turn to appeal to? Like a Washington Post fact-check? Not going to work. There's no referee. Fox News and the conservative movement destroyed the conditions for that.

So now, it's just a head-to-head battle of who you like more, who you believe, who you trust more. They trust Donald Trump. And until Rupert Murdoch and Suzanne Scott and the rest of the Republican party and the political operatives -- Ron DeSantis will be working on his campaign -- unless they figure out how to dismantle the situation they themselves built, Fox News and the rest of the right will always lose to Donald Trump or anyone else who can out-demagogue him.

Angelo Carusone is the President and CEO of Media Matters For America -- a watchdog group for right-wing media -- and he joins me now. How much, do you think -- we played that Ben Smith clip in the opening -- when it comes to the Dominion case itself, Fox has put it on the air for about a few seconds, maybe a few minutes. There's a very funny graphic of their website in which it's just like utterly buried and there's just 200 words and doesn't name the settlement figure. How much have they just kept their viewers away from this entire story? 

ANGELO CARUSONE (MEDIA MATTERS PRESIDENT) Oh, entirely. They've just entirely kept them away. Even when they've mentioned it, they haven't mentioned the settlement to their audience, like the number, they just sort of say "settled." And when they talked about it, to your monologue, they actually talk about it in the context of "It's gonna sure disappoint the rest of the news media that was so excited for this trial to take place." That's how they framed it for their audience. They actually frame it within the context of the Four Corners of Deceit.

So, there's no acknowledgment -- even that little bit of acknowledgement they gave to the court that said, "Well, we acknowledge what the court said, that maybe some of the things we said were false," they don't even give that statement to their audience. So, they are keeping them pretty far away from it.

And the other parts of the right-wing media, because there is this sort of resorting, reshuffling that's happening right now. You know, they've been waiting for Fox to be on the ropes too because it meant bigger audience share and more power for them. Other parts of the right-wing media, like the Daily Wire and elsewhere, which is sort of the closest analogue to a Fox competitor, an emerging Fox competitor, they mention it, but barely.

They'll say, "Well, yeah, Fox kind of lied because they had to give something to their audience. They whiffed it here, but Fox is still pretty good. But it does show you that, maybe, you should think about some other places, perhaps like our show." So, they're even being very careful with how they sort of introduce this to the sort of larger Fox ecosystem. 

HAYES: Well, you would think, right, you would think there's an opening here. I mean, I've seen Steve Bannon get up and say, "Read the transcripts. They think nothing of you." About Fox, right? And this is purely a self-interested thing for him to say. He's got his podcast while he awaits trial, which is cute. And he wants people to listen to that rather than listen to Fox. And he's trying to pry them away in exactly the way that Trump pried people away from Fox. It's all just these trust relationships, but no one can referee any of it. There's no one to appeal to outside of this universe 

CARUSONE: No, and to your, you know -- one of the mechanics of how Trump was able to hijack the Fox audience is that he used those other outlets as a cudgel. You know, the first time One America News and others were used against Fox was not the election. You can go all the way back to 2016, when Trump was boycotting Fox News for two weeks and Sarah Palin suddenly had a show on One America News where Donald Trump was the featured guest. Or during COVID, where they had Chanel Rion from One America News come in and say all the things that Fox News wasn't saying for a couple weeks, until Fox News finally started to get in line on some of this, right? So, he used -- because there is a fusion of the right-wing media and the Republican political power. So, whoever sort of has the key within the right-wing media then gets to exercise that political power. 

HAYES: And this is the thing that I think is important, and one of the takeaways from Dominion and from the primary, is they're chasing as much as they're leading. And they're more dangerous the more they're chasing. This is the thing that everyone has to understand, right? That like, the further they're chasing, the more they're driving down to the most lizard brain parts of their audience. They're just trying -- that is the most dangerous it gets, but that's always the project. 

CARUSONE: Yes, what you just said is so very important because now, it's starting to transcend well beyond just misinformation and false ideas and false narratives. There's a bloodthirstiness within the right-wing media. Because, keep in mind, in 2022, it was the first time in a quarter century that Rush Limbaugh wasn't the single largest name in the get out the vote operation in the country. Fox News has been on its heels for the past year and a half because they're trying to figure things out. And the entire right-wing echo chamber's resorting.

There's a bloodthirstiness right now, and Fox News just got a license to lie. They are going to satisfy that bloodthirstiness, because they're back off their heels and they need to shore up that power, fast. Before somebody else comes in and hijacks it