Fox News played itself in Georgia

Fox News logo in front of map of Georgia

Citation Molly Butler / Media Matters

Reality briefly broke through on Fox News Wednesday morning as Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade attempted to explain to his audience how the Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, had defeated Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler in Tuesday’s runoff election in Georgia. 

Kilmeade suggested that Loeffler and Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), who appears on track to lose his own runoff to Democrat Jon Ossoff, benefited from strong fundamentals coming out of the November election. “What happened over the last six weeks?” Kilmeade asked. “Well, Republicans were at each others’ throats, and there’s a belief in Georgia that the election’s not accurate, that it’s been stolen.” Citing exit polls showing that only 30% of Republicans were confident in the general election results, Kilmeade concluded, “That could have led to the turnout problem.” 

Kilmeade was obliquely referencing Trump’s constant promotion of fact-free conspiracy theories that Democrats had stolen the election from him in Georgia and nationwide and his attacks on Republican Georgia officials who refused to support his attempt to overturn the results. The Fox host’s analysis tracks with the fast-setting conventional wisdom among Republican strategists and officials. “Republicans, who enabled President Trump with their silence and compliance, are privately furious with him for blowing their Senate majority,” Axios founders Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei reported on Wednesday. 

But for Kilmeade to make that point is rather like an arsonist complaining about the damage caused by the fire he set. Fox has spent the weeks since Trump’s defeat furiously supporting his attempt to use fake election fraud claims to subvert the vote and stay in power. 

Facing criticism from Trump and a rising challenge from fringe-right competitors after the network called the election for President-elect Joe Biden, Fox personalities responded with a sustained effort to systematically delegitimize the election. The network’s news and opinion sides pushed conspiracy theories about the vote and cast doubt on its results hundreds of times.

That coverage included the frenzied pursuit of fabricated conspiracy theories related to the presidential election in Georgia that Biden won. Sean Hannity, the Fox star host and Trump political operative, used his show to lash out at the state’s Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, both Republicans, for not playing along with Trump’s attempt to steal the election. Following the revelation of a phone call in which Trump demanded that Raffensperger “find” enough votes to overturn the result, Fox personalities took Trump’s side and attacked the secretary of state for leaking the call.

Kilmeade himself pushed some of the most flagrant election fraud falsehoods on offer, including the conspiracy theory that a government computer system called “Hammer” and a software program known as “Scorecard” were used to flip votes in some states from Trump to Biden. In mid-December, he was questioning whether Biden was actually president-elect.

And his Fox & Friends colleagues spent Monday and Tuesday defending Republican efforts to hand reelection to Trump in spite of the election results by claiming that many Republicans “feel” that there was fraud involved. Rather than explain that those Republicans -- their viewers -- were wrong, the hosts chose to inflame their inaccurate belief that the election had been stolen from the president.

That’s been Fox’s modus operandi since Election Day, a near-full-throated support of the president regardless of the potential damage done to American democracy. And now, it appears to have helped cost Republicans control of the U.S. Senate.