When Americans are at odds with the government, Fox News has a lot to say -- but which side Fox figures take in such cases seemingly depends on the politics and race of those involved.
As peaceful protests against police brutality and racism in the U.S. continue to unfold nationwide, Fox News has been laser-focused on demonizing the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP), a recently formed six-block radius zone in Seattle, Washington, that is free of police. Fox has framed CHOP protesters as engaging in “anarchy,” “outright insurrection,” and an “occupation.”
This framing is in stark contrast to the network’s heavy coverage of a 2014 conflict between federal agents with the Bureau of Land Management and Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who refused to pay federal cattle ranching fees for over two decades. (Even Fox’s Laura Ingraham has noticed the double standard in coverage, but she claimed it applies to other media outlets.)
Bundy became a Fox News hero after he and other armed protesters threatened violence toward the bureau for attempting to seize Bundy’s cattle, eventually leading to his supporters pointing guns at federal agents, among other intimidating tactics. Fox figures, in particular Sean Hannity, relentlessly lauded Bundy for his supposed patriotism, stopping only when he went on a wildly racist public tirade roughly two weeks after the standoff came to a head. Hannity even hosted Bundy on both his Fox prime-time show and his radio program. Fox treated Bundy and armed supporters of his cause as hardworking Americans standing up to the government, while downplaying their threats of violence, intimidating behavior, and lawless actions.
Meanwhile, the network has used terms like “militants” and “anarchists” carrying out an “insurrection" to describe the activists in Seattle, where police vacated their East Precinct headquarters on June 8 after eight days of violent confrontations with protesters. Seattle residents and protesters responded by turning the six-block radius into a peaceful, police-free zone. The area now houses community gardens, co-ops, and regular peaceful protests. Occupants of CHOP invited Seattle’s houseless residents to join the area. Organizers in CHOP also released a list of collective demands to the Seattle government, which includes abolition of the Seattle Police Department.
Fox’s coverage of the Seattle zone, by the numbers
Between June 10 and June 16, Fox spent a total of 8 hours and 48 minutes covering CHOP. Evening shows alone accounted for nearly three and a half hours of this coverage, spread out in at least 71 segments, mentions, and teasers. Prime-time host Tucker Carlson devoted 10 segments and nearly an hour of total time to the story, and Hannity and anchor Shannon Bream each spent just over a half-hour covering CHOP within the seven-day time frame.
(CHOP was formerly named the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone before organizers renamed the area. Fox has reported using the two acronyms, CHAZ and CHOP, but both describe the same Seattle zone. This data reflects coverage of the zone under either name.)
Key examples of Fox’s coverage of the Seattle zone
Fox’s coverage has typically portrayed the creation of CHOP as an anarchic, violent city takeover and often obscured the fact that the police were the ones who initially chose to abandon their precinct. Fox personalities have fearmongered to viewers that the supposed chaos will spread elsewhere. When reality doesn’t match Fox’s narrative, the network has turned to fabrication, including unethically edited or misleading photojournalism, and has pushed debunked claims about the protest.
Here are some of the ways that Fox has been covering CHOP:
False or misleading reporting
- Fox News uncritically repeated a Seattle Police Department claim that protesters in the Seattle autonomous zone were extorting local businesses. Christina Arrington, the business development manager of the neighborhood chamber of commerce, stated that no businesses have reported extortion.
- Fox’s website published altered and misleading photos of the autonomous zone and Fox had to issue a rare apology for its egregious violations of photojournalism ethics. In one instance, Fox spliced images taken on different days, and in another, it inserted an image of an armed man from a June 10 protest into other images of CHOP. In yet another case, Fox used an image of burning property from previous protests in Minneapolis to represent CHOP.
Fearmongering that the “anarchy” from CHOP will spread to other parts of the country
- On Fox & Friends, Fox News contributor Dan Bongino said that “this fight’s coming to your front door, to every single person watching.”
- Carlson said that the last time there was an independent nation in the U.S., it led to a “civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of Americans and lasted three years.”
- Carlson hosted the Seattle Police Officers Guild's Michael Solan Michael Solan, who fearmongered that the activists may overtake other police precincts and disrupt the 911 call center in Seattle.
Fearmongering about the conditions of CHOP
- Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee called CHAZ an “outright insurrection” and a “hostage situation” and questioned why those in charge aren’t taking extreme measures like turning off water and electricity and jamming communication to quell the protest.
- Fox News contributor Brian Brenberg called CHOP an “occupation,” “secession,” and “takeover.”
- In his June 12 opening monologue, Hannity declared that in Seattle, “anarchy now reigns supreme,” fearmongering about “armed vigilantes, vandalism, and extortion” while claiming CHOP is like a “failed third-world” country.
- On the June 12 edition of his show, Carlson described the area as having “no police, no laws, no industrial base” and then aired a mock travel ad for the “nation of CHAZ,” an “anarchist utopia.”
- In her June 11 opening monologue, Ingraham described CHOP as a “post-apocalyptic hellscape,” fearmongered about “anarchists” and “militants,” and pushed the lie that local businesses were being extorted.
- Seattle city council candidate Ari Hoffman described CHAZ as a “glorified homeless encampment” where “you’re concerned you might get hepatitis from or, perhaps, coronavirus.”
Fox’s coverage of the Bundy standoff
Fox News -- and Hannity in particular -- regularly cheered on Bundy as a patriotic American throughout the escalation of his standoff with the federal government.
After weeks of being championed by conservative media in 2014, Bundy and his armed supporters set up checkpoints to demand to see locals’ proof of residency and engaged in other intimidating tactics. Bundy’s tension with the Bureau of Land Management rose to a boiling point on April 12, 2014, when the federal agency moved to confiscate Bundy’s cattle. One reporter described the resulting chaos by saying Bundy supporters had been “whipped into a frenzy” by Hannity and others in conservative media. Bundy threatened violence against Bureau of Land Management agents who confiscated his cattle, saying that he would “do whatever it takes” and that he “abide[s] by almost zero federal laws.”
Numerous media outlets reported on supporters pointing guns at federal agents, and one Bundy supporter gained media attention after he presented a strategy of using women as human shields. Another Bundy supporter, who was observed carrying a firearm, was later sentenced to 68 years in prison for his actions threatening law enforcement. Several supporters revealed a common affinity for extremism, including an urge to engage in a “range war.”
Yet here is how Fox News covered Bundy at the time:
- On Fox & Friends, co-host Ainsley Earhardt said that Bundy’s supporters are “good, hardworking Americans” who merely “disagree” with the government.
- Former Fox & Friends co-host Clayton Morris said the ranchers were “protesting peacefully” and “arguing against government intervention here.”
- Fox senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano, who was a contributor at the time, said that the ranch protesters “shows you the resistance of patriotic Americans.”
- Former Fox News contributor Todd Starnes said that the protesters were “law-abiding citizens” and “patriots.”
- Starnes also characterized the federal government seizing Bundy’s cattle as “stealing” and said that authorities “used to string folks up for stealing cattle.”
- On his prime-time Fox show, Hannity sympathized with Bundy's claims against the government and argued that allowing Bundy's cattle to graze on public lands “keeps the price of meat down for every American consumer.”
- Fox & Friends complained about the grazing regulations implemented to protect threatened desert tortoises that sparked the initial dispute between Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management. Co-host Brian Kilmeade said, “We're not anti-turtle, but we are pro-logic and tradition.”
- Hannity floated a conspiracy theory on his show that the federal government would kill Bundy and bragged about his role in escalating the standoff.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video archive for all original programming on Fox News Channel for any of the terms “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone,” “CHAZ,” “CHOP,” “Capital Hill Occupied Protest,” “Free Capitol Hill,” “Seattle Police Department,” or “East Precinct” from June 8 through June 16, 2020, for coverage of the Capitol Hill occupied protest. We timed teasers for upcoming segments about the Capitol Hill occupied protest, passing mentions about the Capitol Hill occupied protest in segments on other topics, and segments about the Capitol Hill occupied protest. We included as segments when the Capitol Hill occupied protest was the stated topic of discussion or where we found “significant discussion” of the Capitol Hill occupied protest in segments about other topics. We defined “significant discussion” as instances when two or more persons discussed the Capitol Hill occupied protest with one another. We timed only the speech relevant to the Capitol Hill occupied protest in those instances.