AYMAN MOHYELDIN (HOST): [Sean] Hannity's lawyer Jay Sekulow said that testifying would raise serious constitutional issues concerning freedom of the press. Funny enough, back in 2016, Hannity declared on his own Twitter account, I'm not a journalist, Jack. In reference to Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, I'm a talk show host.
ANGELO CARUSONE (PRESIDENT, MEDIA MATTERS FOR AMERICA): Yeah, I mean that argument here and some of the revelations totally obliterate that. Because in one of the pieces of information that was released, Hannity had an enormous scoop, which was information about a supposed exodus in the White House press council's office if Trump had continued to move down a specific path. That is explosive news, especially at that time. And instead of reporting it or sharing it internally at the network, he actually did what a political operative would do and engaged in crisis management. So, I mean, I think even the little bit that's been revealed so far just totally obliterates any of those concerns, as well as a pretty long track record of [Hannity] functioning more like an operative. I mean, he wrote a campaign ad for the campaign in the summer of 2020. So I just don't think that argument has any validity here.
MOHYELDIN: Angelo, there is a stark difference here between what these hosts are saying on air and what they're saying in these text messages. And it's a point that Mehdi Hasan and I were just talking about at the top of the hour, about how much disdain and contempt they have for their viewers. Why are they lying to their viewers? Why are they saying one thing behind closed doors in private to officials, whether it is about January the 6, whether it is about vaccines and COVID and then what they're saying on the air to their viewers?
CARUSONE: That is, of all of this — and I don't use the word lightly, but — it is a stunning level of deception even for Fox News. This little bit of texts come out — we've known that they've had political bias, that they were working with Trump — but I think what this little piece that we've already seen shows something, and Ben was getting to that before, which is that they know better. I mean, this shows very clearly and concretely that he knew better. And that's the part that I find so disturbing about the whole thing. They clearly have contempt for their audience. 774 instances of them undermining the election in the first two weeks after it was called for Biden. They built the scaffolding for the attack while simultaneously, once it became clear that the scaffolding they built were going to be operationalized for something, were behind the scenes trying to dial it back.
But that day, that night, that he was sending those text messages he was promoting the rally, he had Peter Navarro on his radio show who was telling people it was like when Washington was crossing the Delaware, which was a sneak attack during the Revolutionary War. So I mean, he did know better but yet continued to push his audience down a path that he knew had some pretty high risk to it.
MOHYELDIN: Ben, I am curious to get your thoughts. Because you track so much information and disinformation out there. Could this disconnect between public and private within Fox just be a result of Fox's attempt to try to edge out new competition like Newsmax and OAN, which are even further to the right and then if you throw in websites and online news sites that are even more to the right of those news channels — is this Fox just simply making a business decision for viewers and ratings that, “Hey if we don't turn this way, if we don't offer viewers this more extreme perspective, we're going to lose our base to these more extreme outlets?”
BEN COLLINS (SENIOR REPORTER, NBC NEWS) Yeah, I think the numbers tell the whole story. I think they made an attempt to distance themselves from Donald Trump in the weeks after the insurrection and it just didn't work. People fled to Newsmax; people fled to OAN. They, you know — the people who watch OAN specifically, those are people who don't want reality. They just want things that confirm what they already believe entirely. I don't know if you've spent ten minutes watching that network but it is like a pathway to a different reality entirely.
And that's what happened in the months afterwards. They thought, like “Hey, maybe we can move forward with a different messenger but largely the same themes as Donald Trump was pushing, just minus all this coup stuff.” And they realized it wasn't working. They were just going to keep hemorrhaging all these viewers to people on Newsmax. They were finding Newsmax on their dialer, or OAN. So I think it is absolutely a calculated choice, because, you know, the horse left the barn a long time ago with this stuff. Or the inmates run the asylum. I don't know which expression you want to use here but, frankly, they can't rein this in now. It's too — Trumpism has engulfed the party. It's engulfed right wing media. And they can't rein it in. It's too late.
CARUSONE: The question you asked is really important because it doesn't just look back, it actually tells us where they are going. And where they're going is they're going to be plucking more and more things from the fever swamps and mainstreaming them. So that conspiracy theory about the VAERS database for example was percolating for months online before Tucker Carlson did a really big segment about it, or even the FBI was involved in the false flag attack on January 6. You know, Tucker Carlson made that a thing, and then just a couple days ago he made Ted Cruz during his apology start to validate and reinforce that very conspiracy theory. So I think it means that they're going to get even crazier, not just where they've been.