If you tuned in to Fox News over the last week, you may have heard Democrats described as a nascent “brown shirt party” or a “lynch mob” led by a “street thug” who is urging party activists to physically assault Republicans.
The conservative network has been warning its audience of GOP base voters that their very lives may be at stake if they don’t turn out to vote in the midterm elections and allow Democrats to triumph. That message aligns with what President Donald Trump, the Republican National Committee, and congressional Republicans have been arguing as the elections approach.
Fox has long acted as the Republican Party’s communications arm, serving as a megaphone for the party and championing its candidates. Now, that effort has been super-charged by its feedback loop with the president as he and the network unite to try to get Republican voters to the polls next month.
On Monday morning, Trump tweeted:
Trump was citing a comment Fox host Ben Shapiro made the previous night on his weekly show putatively devoted to the election. Shapiro brought up the purported Democratic “mob rule” plan during a segment highlighting “10 reasons you should go out to vote on November 6 and vote Republican.” “Your vote matters, your vote counts,” Shapiro said to close the segment. “Get out there on Election Day and ensure the Democratic Party of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton aren’t allowed anywhere near the levers of power.”
That same morning, the hosts and guests of Fox & Friends, one of the president’s favorite programs, pushed this strategy in at least three different ways: They contrasted the purported Democratic message of violence against a supposed Republican message of policy; they lifted up cases of left-wing violence while ignoring cases of right-wing violence; and they took comments made by Democrats out of context to pretend they were actually calls for violence.
Democratic “mobs” versus Republican “jobs”
Fox & Friends’ commentators depicted the choice voters face in November as one between a Republican message of jobs and a Democratic one of “mob rule.”
“I don't think America likes violence in the street. Political violence has no place in America,” Fox’s Stuart Varney argued. “The emotion of the mob and the nonsense of socialism combined, I think, is an untenable position. Meanwhile, as you point out, President Trump’s out there holding these rallies, pounding the table, very confident of the performance of the economy. There is a sharp contrast here.”
Trump himself couldn’t have said it better.
Ignoring far-right violence
On Friday, before a scheduled appearance in which Gavin McInnes had promised to re-enact the violent 1960 murder of a Japanese socialist, the Metropolitan Republican Club in Manhattan was vandalized with anarchist graffiti and broken windows. McInnes, who is the founder of Proud Boys, a far-right violent street gang, has a long record of making calls for violence against the left, and after the event, his minions acted. Proud Boys “got in a violent encounter on the streets of New York on Friday night after a speech from … McInnes, with videos showing more than a dozen members of the group kicking and punching people on the ground,” The Daily Beast reported. New York Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo subsequently asked federal and state law enforcement to aid the New York Police Department’s probe.
But when Fox & Friends discussed the situation on Monday, the hosts focused solely on the left-wing vandalism -- which they attributed to “antifa,” the anti-fascist activists who have long been a network bugaboo -- and ignored the right-wing violence. The program did something similar over the weekend.
Over the caption “Antifa Threatens NY Republicans,” on Monday, co-host Steve Doocy asked Marc Molinaro, the Republican nominee for governor of New York, his thoughts on the group. Molinaro responded that the vandalism was “an outrageous attack” that “threatened staff and the people in that building” before saying there’s a need for those on “all sides of the aisle” to “tone down the rhetoric.” He went on to criticize Cuomo for supposedly wanting “nothing more than to talk about that.”
The point about Cuomo might have confused viewers, as Fox & Friends had not mentioned either the violence by the Proud Boys or Cuomo’s subsequent actions.
Pretending that Democrats are calling for violence
Much of the right-wing’s “mob” critique involves breathlessly reading comments from Democrats in bad faith to claim that those Democrats are issuing calls for violence, rather than using metaphors. For much of last week, right-wing media were transfixed by comments by former Attorney General Eric Holder, which conservatives took out of context to suggest that he literally called for Democrats to “kick” Republicans. It was mind-numbingly obvious that Holder was speaking metaphorically -- indeed, he specifically said as much at the time.
On Fox & Friends this morning, the crew attempted a similar smear against actor Alec Baldwin. During a Sunday night speech at a fundraiser for the New Hampshire Democratic Party, Baldwin said, “The way we implement change in America is through elections. We change governments here at home in an orderly and formal way. In that orderly and formal way and lawful way, we need to overthrow the government of the United States under Donald Trump.” There is no fair way to read these comments as anything other than a call for Americans to vote for Democrats in order to change the party that controls Congress.
Nonetheless, Fox & Friends did it. The program aired portions of Baldwin’s remarks -- neatly excising his specific references to elections -- then hosted right-wing commentator Dan Bongino to discuss them. Bongino called Baldwin a “deranged lunatic,” adding, “There isn’t a lawful way to overthrow the government.”
Edging perilously close to the truth, Doocy responded by suggesting that Baldwin might have been referring to elections. But after Bongino and co-host Brian Kilmeade quickly rejected this obviously correct theory, Doocy responded, “I don’t know what he’s talking about.”