The humiliation of Bret Baier and the Fox “news side”

The network's January 6 hearing coverage gave a clear picture of its actual priorities


Citation Andrea Austria / Media Matters

Thursday was a night of humiliation for Bret Baier and his “news side” colleagues. It was also a perfect encapsulation of the total lack of respect the Fox brass has for its “news” division, whose staff have endured waves of layoffs, reduced hours of programming, and constant signals from network leaders that they are imminently replaceable cogs with no influence compared to Fox’s right-wing propagandists. Fox is Tucker Carlson’s network, and now everyone at the network knows it.

Baier, per the bio on Fox News’ website, is his network’s “chief political anchor.” But at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday night, Baier wasn’t on Fox preempting its regular programming to introduce coverage of the first hearing of the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection, unlike his theoretical peers with similarly lofty titles. Instead, he and fellow anchor Martha MacCallum had been relegated to Fox Business, its lightly watched sister channel. 

Meanwhile, Carlson was airing his Fox show in its usual prime-time timeslot. “This is the only hour on an American news channel that will not be carrying their propaganda live,” he said in an opening monologue. “They are lying and we are not going to help them do it. What we will do instead is try to tell you the truth.” 

Carlson was using the royal “we,” laying down the network’s editorial line that its own right-wing agitprop was of greater value than honest coverage of the congressional investigation into the sacking of the U.S. Capitol by violent Trumpists bent on suborning the 2020 presidential election. Then he spent an hour regurgitating debunked lies about that coup attempt.

Baier reportedly protested to top network executives seven months ago when Carlson explored paranoid, “false flag” conspiracy theories about January 6 in Patriot Purge, a three-part special for Fox’s streaming service. He and Chris Wallace, another longtime “news side” stalwart, “shared their objections with Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott and its president of news, Jay Wallace,” NPR reported, and “those objections rose to Lachlan Murdoch, the chairman and CEO of the network's parent company, Fox Corp.” At the time, those complaints had no apparent impact.

Thursday’s programming shows that Carlson's victory over Baier, Wallace, and their “news side” colleagues was total.

Fox provided Carlson a platform to endorse the motives of the rioters and push the same baseless and obscene conspiracy theories that had drawn criticism from Baier. The network aired his program and Sean Hannity’s during the following hour commercial-free, sacrificing advertising dollars in apparent effort to keep the audience from channel-surfing during breaks and discovering any of the chilling revelations the committee provided — even on Baier’s Fox Business coverage.

Baier, meanwhile, was relegated to Fox’s B-channel to cover the prime-time hearing. At 10 p.m. ET, while CNN and MSNBC were still providing analysis of the hearing, he signed off, and Fox Business aired a docudrama about Ben Franklin. Only at 11 p.m. ET, when it was time for viewers to nod off, did Baier get access to Fox’s airwaves.

The message about the relative positions of Carlson and Baier in the network hierarchy sent by these programming decisions was obvious to all. On Twitter, a Carlson guest with an accurate read on the situation dunked on Baier’s tweet promoting his hearing coverage.

Ryun tweet

Baier was left impotently touting what little access the network was giving him to its airwaves.

baier tweet

Meanwhile, Chris Wallace was a fixture during live coverage of the hearing – but on CNN. He decamped to that network last year, ending his nearly two-decade career at Fox after Carlson’s Patriot Purge conspiracy theories reportedly proved the final straw. Wallace has since become the latest former Fox employee to criticize its programming as right-wing propaganda. “I’m fine with opinion: conservative opinion, liberal opinion,” he told The New York Times in March. “But when people start to question the truth — Who won the 2020 election? Was Jan. 6 an insurrection? — I found that unsustainable.” 

Baier, to this point, apparently finds it eminently sustainable for Carlson and his cronies to question whether January 6 was an insurrection — in prime time, on the network where he putatively serves as “chief political anchor.”

The declining influence of Fox’s “news side” has been underway for some time. But on Thursday, it was on display in prime time, obvious for anyone interested in seeing it. Fox’s brass may occasionally tout the “news” division as a talking point for advertisers, but they will yield to Carlson and his conspiracy theories every time.