Fox News is rubbing its bigotry and volatility in the faces of would-be and current advertisers, leaving them without a shred of plausible deniability as they consider a business relationship with a network that prioritizes the promotion of white supremacist conspiracy theories.
Yesterday, Fox held its upfronts presentation, an industry tradition in which networks bring in advertisers and media buyers and pitch them on buying ads for the next year. It was the first time Fox has held the event in person since 2019. In the intervening years, the network has cemented its control over the Republican Party, helped to bring about and then justify the January 6, 2021, Trumpist attack on the U.S. Capitol, run a remarkably effective campaign to dissuade people from taking COVID-19 vaccines; and demolished its “news side” in favor of more propaganda.
Fox’s crucial event came at a particularly inopportune moment for the network. On Saturday, a white supremacist gunman killed 10 people at a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo. The manifesto he allegedly posted online invokes the “great replacement” theory as his motivation, which posits that shadowy forces are masterminding nonwhite immigration in order to “replace” the white population. This blood-soaked conspiracy theory, once largely confined to internet fever swamps and the political fringe, has in recent years been mainstreamed by Fox News hosts. The network – and in particular its biggest star and the theory’s most prominent supporter, Tucker Carlson – have received abominable press over the last few days, as the overlap between their commentary and that of the shooter have drawn scrutiny everywhere from the front pages of newspapers to the floor of the U.S. Senate.
While Carlson and his primetime colleagues went all but unmentioned during Fox’s pre-recorded presentation, their style of bigotry and mendacity was represented in the room by Pete Hegseth, a Fox & Friends weekend host who pitched advertisers on the network’s streaming service. Hegseth has repeatedly pushed the same “replacement” narrative on Fox, warning viewers of a “full-scale invasion” of Haitian immigrants “coming to your backyard” and arguing that Democrats are deliberately allowing unchecked immigration for political gain. He is one of the network’s staunchest supporters of the insurrectionists who sacked the U.S. Capitol, validating them the very next day as people who simply “love freedom” and want to “defend our republic.” A member of former President Donald Trump’s Fox cabinet of network advisers, Hegseth has refused to admit Trump lost the 2020 election.
Fox’s on-air programming had largely avoided talking about the Buffalo shooter’s “great replacement” motivation. But as prospective advertisers mingled with the Fox brass and presenters at the afterparty following the network’s pitch, Fox’s stars were on-air making clear that they not only have no intention of apologizing for promoting white supremacist conspiracy theories – but that they consider themselves among the victims of the massacre.
On his 7 p.m. broadcast, Jesse Watters, who has accused Democrats of “breaking the border on purpose” to “overwhelm the system in order to achieve more political power,” described criticism linking the shooter’s manifesto to right-wing invocations of “replacement theory” as an attempt to “further divide this country by race and profit from that division politically” and as a “psy ops game.”
Carlson has accused President Joe Biden and the Jewish financier and philanthropist George Soros of trying to alter the “racial mix” of the U.S. through "’the great replacement,’" “the replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from far-away countries,” because they want to “destroy” the country, and even urged his viewers to take action in response.
On Monday night, he lashed out at his critics, arguing that they were using “race politics” in a manner that “always leads to violence and death,” and invoking the Rwandan genocide.
Sean Hannity, who has accused Democrats of engineering “a quid pro quo: We'll give you citizenship for free, we hope you vote Democrat,” said the following hour that “many on the left” were “exploiting” the shooting by “blaming Republicans and conservatives and talk show hosts and Fox News.”
And in the 10 p.m. hour, Laura Ingraham, who has told her viewers that Democrats “want to replace you, the American voters, with newly amnestied citizens and an ever-increasing number of chain migrants,” said that while some critics say that the shooter’s “accomplices” are Republican politicians parroting the same talking points, “the real accomplices are in the media” for trying to “censor opposing views.”
Fox is denying its advertisers any wiggle room whatsoever. Its biggest stars are clearly signaling that they will continue to use the same rhetoric that motivated the Buffalo shooter and an array of terrorists before him. The Fox brass, from the Murdochs on down, have no apparent qualms about what they are doing and no intention of getting them to stop. The only question for Fox’s advertisers is whether they are willing to continue their own complicit participation.
Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott closed the network’s presentation on Monday by highlighting its “loyal audience.” Advertisers should worry about whether Fox’s programming might be driving that audience to do something other than buy their products.