ALICIA MENDEZ (HOST): Time, again, to raise the alarm about the danger of selling lies as journalism. We know the 1/6 committee has revealed texts from Fox News hosts sent to members of the Trump administration as the riot unfolded. But now Fox is apparently so powerful that it now has a sitting senator backtracking, and apologizing for calling the Capitol a terrorist attack. Joining us now to discuss, the president of Media Matters, Angelo Carusone. Angelo, thank you so much for being with us. Listen, this is your bread and butter. This is what you do day in, day out. So when I saw this, I needed to know what you thought about why this unfolded the way it did, what it tells us about Fox News, and what it tells us about the state of the Republican Party.
ANGELO CARUSONE (PRESIDENT OF MEDIA MATTERS FOR AMERICA): Well, there's a lot there. And I would just say there's one thing that's really important here, it's that one of Ted Cruz's penances wasn't just that he had to backtrack. During that same segment, he also endorsed and started to carry water for Tucker Carlson and Fox News’ conspiracy theory that the attack on January 6 was actually a FBI-orchestrated false flag operation. That happened in that exact interview as well, and that was Ted Cruz's way of trying to demonstrate that – to get Tucker and the audience to believe them.
And the reason I start with that example is because it illustrates a few things: One, that it is really here that Fox is really at the nexus of power. Because they weren’t just able to get him to apologize and to backtrack, but actually to start carrying water for Fox News' narrative. And that's where the power really comes from. And if I would describe it, I would say it's unrivaled agenda-setting power at this point. And that was always their purpose. Remember, they were born – I think the way you described it at the beginning was spot-on. They’re not a news operation, they were born as a political operation. That was the entire theory behind Fox News. Sure, they make a bunch of money on the side, but that isn't the goal. The goal really is political power, and the Ted Cruz thing is just an example of it.
MENDEZ: The reason I was so struck by this, and you know, is we always come back to this question of who is a trusted messenger, who could actually be the person to say the election was fair and true and we have to believe this vote count and we have to move on, and what happened on January 6 was an attack on American democracy and here's the path forward. When you see someone who attempts to do that even for a fleeting second, then taken down so quickly, it diminishes hope that there is even a possibility that there can be that messenger. Because the other side is clearly so powerful.
CARUSONE: Yes, it does. It actually does diminish that hope, because we actually need Fox's – I mean, just imagine COVID and the way that the country responded to a public health crisis, not a political question, but a public health crisis, if Fox News didn't begin by calling COVID a hoax. Then promotes – for two months promoting a fantasy treatment of hydroxychloroquine, and then the remaining summer downplaying the threat of the virus, and then now, of course, their antagonism toward vaccinations. It would be a different response, right? I mean, and that just illustrates to your point how depressing it can be sometimes. And that doesn't mean we're stuck with it. I think part of it is, and I think broadly the media and the public has been slow to react, because, you know, we value free speech and they exploit that. They exploit one of the American values, is that we care about freedom of expression and free ideas. They exploit that, and that means they exploit that to get away with accountability. And so many have said, well, they get to have their opinions, they get to have their take, but what the result of that is, is that we ignore their destructive influence. And then as a result of that, then the accountability and consequences needed to diminish and dilute what that destructive potential really is. I mean, they have hosted people who don’t – members of Congress that don’t support Joe Biden as president more than 947 times. Ted Cruz is an anomaly on Fox News, not the norm, when it comes to who they host and who they promote. And if you think about that in the context of his political aspirations -- and he's not the only one, he can't run for president if Fox News ices him out. It's a dealbreaker, forget about it. There's no chance. And that then portends the future and it gets to, I think, an important part of this discussion, which is that we're going to have to recognize the threat and then start to take more serious concerted efforts to hold them accountable and force some change.
MENDEZ: Angelo, I only have about 30 seconds left, but I want to loop back to something you said in that first answer, which is that what struck you wasn't just the fact that Ted Cruz came on and apologized, but then he was forced to carry water for this conspiracy theory. What does it tell you that a year out, they are feeling the need to complicate and heighten the lies that they have already put out there?
CARUSONE: Yeah. This is exactly how they're going to retain their power. And it says a lot about what this means for the future. Because I said they were unrivaled. And the reason they are unrivaled is because Limbaugh is not around anymore and the rest of the right-wing media is really fragmented. The way that Fox has responded is by picking up crazy things from the fever swamps, things that wouldn't have made Fox News five years ago, and now they're actively now promoting them on the channel. The FBI false flag thing is one of these examples. And so what does that mean? More stuff coming from what otherwise would have been the fringes that never would have seen the light of day. And so the fact that they're going to turn people like Ted Cruz into validators and messengers for it is quite bad.