Fox News’ near-total silence on former President Donald Trump’s meeting with Nick Fuentes and the rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, points to the inroads that white nationalism and virulent antisemitism have made at the network — and the difficulty the Republican Party would have in trying to remove that faction from its coalition.
The news that Fuentes and Ye had dined with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago home and resort last Tuesday triggered a stream of denunciations from civil rights groups and calls for Republicans to speak out. The friendly sitdown came in spite of a weekslong firestorm surrounding Ye’s increasingly open anti-Jewish rhetoric. Fuentes, meanwhile, is a white supremacist leader who attended the deadly 2017 Unite the Right white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, called for a “white uprising” to install Trump as a dictator, and has generated a lengthy list of bigoted statements, including his recent exhortation for Jews to “get the fuck out of America.”
Republican leaders are divided over whether bigots like Ye and Fuentes should be shunned and the former president condemned for meeting with them. Ultimately, this argument is a proxy fight over the question of whether the white supremacists, Proud Boys, antisemites, and other deplorables who made common cause with Trump should be ushered out of the party. Some, like former Vice President Mike Pence, have spoken out. Others have criticized Fuentes while letting Trump off the hook, like potential House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), or remained silent, like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Fox’s propagandists have joined the side of the silent. The network devoted a mere seven minutes to the dinner from the time the story broke on Friday through the weekend, and ignored it altogether on Monday. Notably, influential prime-time hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham have not mentioned the story at all. Fox is signaling to the viewers who trust it above all other news sources that the story is not important.
Fox’s quiet acquiescence points to a quandary for the network. It would apparently be a step too far for Fox to support Trump meeting with such despicable bigots – that could threaten its relations with advertisers and cable carriers. But the network is also too tightly intertwined with that world to criticize him for it. It has a Tucker Carlson problem.
Fox personalities condemning Trump for meeting with Ye would amount to a hairpin turn for the network. They were touting Ye’s bravery just weeks ago after Ye talked up Trump in Carlson’s fawning interview with him. But as they lavished praise on the rapper, the network was keeping under wraps some of the the anti-Jewish comments West made in the same discussion. When Ye started making similarly antisemitic remarks on social media, some at Fox criticized him – though not Carlson, who pretended that outburst hadn’t happened and continued to laud him.
Fuentes’ noxious racism and antisemitism are more explicit than what is typically found on Fox, and the network would seem to face less risk in condemning him. But Carlson in particular has made his show a clearinghouse for antisemitic tropes, white nationalist talking points, and fringe-right bigots. All the while, he has denied the existence of the white supremacists who praise him for mainstreaming their worldview. How could Carlson plausibly berate Trump for meeting with a white supremacist when he’s spent years telling his viewers that white supremacists don’t exist? And how could anyone else at the network convincingly draw a line between Fuentes’ commentary and what viewers see in its 8 p.m. hour?
Fox’s problem mirrors that of the GOP. Republican leaders believe that it needs the extremists Trump ushered into the party in order to win elections. Fox hosts and executives likewise recognize that if they aim at such deplorables, they may hit their own viewers. The result is that rank and file Republicans may not hear that the meeting ever happened – and if they do, the source will be a mainstream outlet that Fox has relentlessly trained them to ignore. If Fox creates the context through which its viewers interpret news, the message it is sending is that Trump dining with bigots is not important.
The Fox mantra is to “respect the audience.” In practice, that means keeping them cosseted from information that may displease them, no matter how extreme they become or what conspiracy theories they end up believing.