After Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss and conservative backlash to the network’s early call of his defeat in Arizona, Fox News was “bleeding eyeballs.” Desperate to end the ratings slump, Fox executives pivoted the network further right than ever before to join cable outlet One America News Network in the conspiracy theory fever swamps – fortifying a dangerous right-wing media propaganda feedback loop that is killing its own audience and threatening to end American democracy.
OAN is a janky imitation of Fox News – a maniacally pro-Trump cable outlet with nonexistent editorial standards and a thirst for violence. OAN's personalities have gained notoriety for getting kicked out of the White House Correspondents Association, calling for mass executions, working to overturn the 2020 election, and targeting teenage activists, elderly protesters, bereaved families, and supposed “transgender penguins” alike with wild smear campaigns and conspiracy theories.
Since decimating its news side, Fox has circulated many of the same fringe narratives as OAN. As Media Matters has documented, both Fox and OAN have pushed conspiracy theories that the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol was really a false flag operation to frame pro-Trump rioters. The two far-right cable channels have also pushed cherry-picked information, quack sources, and fringe conspiracy theories to undermine the coronavirus vaccines; promoted racist fabrications about the Waukesha, Wisconsin, parade tragedy; and hyped bogus election fraud conspiracy theories about the California recall. Most recently, Fox and OAN have had similar, alternate-reality reactions to the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine, showing that the rhetorical overlap between the two networks is still going strong.
OAN is on its deathbed – at least in its current form. The network is bleeding its on-air talent, and Direct TV recently ended its contract with OAN; come April, the network will disappear from 15 million American households’ cable packages. However, the same type of conspiratorial rhetoric will still be pushed on conservative cable audiences thanks to Fox News.
Fox News is undermining the COVID-19 vaccine with the same misinformation as OAN – down to platforming the same anti-vax guests
When it comes to discouraging vaccination, making outrageous comparisons between COVID-19 public health policies and atrocities like Japanese American internment camps or the Holocaust, and packaging absurd conspiracy theories as news, OAN and Fox are true innovators. The two networks have waged deadly campaigns against COVID-19 vaccinations, building a right-wing disinformation ecosystem to undermine safe, effective, and lifesaving vaccines in the midst of a deadly pandemic.
Much of the networks’ COVID-19 coverage is based on misinterpretations of cherry-picked data from unverified, not-peer-reviewed studies first shared by more fringe outlets. For instance, last fall, Fox News and OAN touted an unpublished Israeli study first circulated by fringe conspiracy theory website the Gateway Pundit, to claim that natural immunity was superior to vaccinations.
Fox and OAN have both relied on the same well-known cast of anti-vaccine misinformers for pandemic-related coverage, some of whom have also appeared on fringe far-right outlets like Infowars and Real America’s Voice. Some of the more notable guests include Berenson, disgraced doctor Peter McCullough, and former Trump adviser Scott Atlas. Last winter, anti-vaccine darlings Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Robert Malone made the jump from the online fringe to OAN and Tucker Carlson’s Fox Nation show.
Month after month, Fox and OAN viewers have heard the same so-called experts lie about mask mandates, spread falsehoods about vaccine efficacy and safety, downplay new variants, and twist statistics to claim the vaccine was “setting people up to be these kind of super spreaders.”
Now, as America approaches 1 million deaths from COVID-19, the conservative “news” channels have learned nothing. OAN is currently begging liberals to get vaccinated in the hopes that they drop dead, while Fox’s anti-vaccine messaging has grown louder and more extreme.
Fox News and OAN share an unhinged alternate reality of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Both Fox News and OAN have attempted to rewrite the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine into an ahistorical story about American strength under Trump and weakness under Biden. On OAN, one commentator crowed -- as Trump himself recently did -- that “it’s very telling that [Putin] waited an entire administration” to invade Ukraine, while on Fox’s Hannity, former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe praised Trump for providing “credible deterrence” to prevent the Russian attack.
This heroic fantasy ignores the obvious fact that Trump repeatedly demonized Ukraine with false allegations of trying to steal the 2016 election and he attempted to withhold congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine until its president provided incriminating information on Biden -- a hamfisted quid pro quo that resulted in Trump’s first impeachment.
While Russian oil and natural gas are certainly factors in the Western response to the invasion, Fox and OAN alike have also used the war as an excuse to attack “green energy” and promote fossil fuels. Fox News host Katie Pavlich complained that Europe and the United States “can’t get themselves off of Russian oil” because “we’re not going to drill here, but we’ll still get oil from somewhere else,” while an OAN guest blamed Germany for encouraging the Russian invasion by deciding to “destroy their own nuclear energy sector” and “go completely head-over-heels for green energy.”
Delving deeper into their demented alternate reality, Fox and OAN are united in agreement that Putin’s invasion was somehow emboldened by tolerance of transgender people. Fox’s Pete Hegseth opined that Putin “doesn’t believe that the West is a serious civilization – we’re running around talking about genders and reparations,” and “as a result, he thinks this is his moment to make an aggressive move.” Three days later, OAN’s Dan Ball similarly ranted against “the wokeness that has been infiltrating our military” in light of Putin’s invasion: “There’s bigger fish to fry in the pond. It’s called Putin. Xi Jinping. It’s not, ‘Are we being inclusive enough? Are we caring about everybody’s feelings enough? Are we talking about the 110 genders that don’t exist enough?’ Enough!”
Conspiracy theories about the Waukesha tragedy traveled from the online fringe to OAN before settling on Fox
After the November 21 tragedy in Waukesha, Wisconsin, in which six people were killed and dozens injured by a man who drove an SUV into a Christmas parade, racist conspiracy theories from far-right Telegram channels, online forums, and Twitter commentators made their way from those fever swamps to cable news via OAN and Fox.
OAN’s initial rhetoric around the story was indistinguishable from that of white nationalists and online conspiracy theorists, offering bad-faith speculation about the supposed “Black nationalist attack” and the driver’s anti-white motives. Contradicting investigators, commentators and hosts dubbed the incident “a domestic terror attack" by “a BLM radical” targeting “those with less melanin.”
Meanwhile, Fox was busy platforming the same fringe sources and twisting the same conspiracy theories as OAN. Prime-time host Tucker Carlson said that a “BLM supporter and a Black nationalist” attacked Waukesha’s Christmas parade in retaliation for Kyle Rittenhouse's acquittal. OAN and Fox also pushed antisemitic conspiracy theories from the far-right fever swamps blaming Jewish billionaire George Soros for the incident.
A dominant narrative soon emerged from Fox and OAN: Mainstream media, Democrats, and other left-wing figures had deliberately “memory-holed” or ignored the Waukesha tragedy because “the wrong person was the killer and the wrong people were killed” and the story didn’t fit the left’s “meta-story” of white supremacist violence.
On OAN, right-wing commentators on November 29 accused the FBI, media, and other left-wing figures of fostering the supposed terrorist attack with racially divisive language. The racially divisive rhetoric in question included coverage of the Black Lives Matter protests, the deadly 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the January 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection. By spreading “propaganda” about white nationalism, they said, “these communists, these globalists” were “distracting us” while they got away with a real conspiracy — “intentionally destroying this nation” and bringing down the power of “the white population.”
That night on Fox’s The Ingraham Angle, guests Victor Davis Hanson and Dinesh D’Souza would do the same. After Hanson declared that Black Lives Matter was responsible for the tragedy in Waukesha and decried the media for downplaying “Black-on-white” violence, D’Souza chided leftist media for ignoring an “attack” that killed more people “than Charlottesville” and “January 6 combined.”
Fox News and OAN sought to undermine the California recall by preemptively and baselessly alleging fraud
In last year’s California gubernatorial recall, OAN and Fox both sought to undermine a Democratic victory by preemptively crying fraud, attacking mail-in voting, and demanding that outside observers monitor the election.
Both networks slapped their favorite election conspiracy theories from 2020 onto coverage of the Golden State’s recall, with OAN getting a head start in June. The push reached feverish heights on August 23, after police in Torrance, California, found 300 stolen, unopened mail-in ballots along with “thousands of pieces of mail, multiple California drivers licenses and credit cards in other people’s names” as part of an apparent mail theft and bank fraud scheme. OAN and FOX latched onto the story as evidence of widespread, nefarious election fraud, though investigators ultimately found no evidence that the ballots had been targeted intentionally.
That same month, GOP officials and then-candidate Larry Elder assured OAN viewers they had a “battery of lawyers watching all of this” and ready to pounce on the first sign of fraud. Then, on August 25, Fox’s Tucker Carlson called for “outside observers” in California “to make sure this election isn't stolen.” The next night, the founder of a fringe voting organization connected to 2020’s fake slate of pro-Trump electors warned OAN viewers they were “not seeing Republican poll workers being hired.” (It was a lie.)
By September, both networks were pushing debunked conspiracy theories portraying California’s accessible ballots and vote-by-mail system, Newsom’s pandemic emergency powers, and even voting machines as methods democrats would use to rig the recall. On September 7, OAN’s Dan Ball declared that California had the "worst election system in the country,” and the far-right network’s solution was removing Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and restricting voter access.
By the time Gov. Newsom won, right wing media had made it obvious the outcome had always mattered less than the incessant lies. OAN’s election conspiracist Christina Bobb had already written off the result as “illegal and rigged" a week before California had even sent out ballots. In the immediate lead-up to the recall, Fox did the same; opinion-side host Tomi Lahren declared, “The only thing that will save Gavin Newsom is voter fraud,” while news anchor Martha MacCallum preemptively speculated about a “potential fraudulent outcome.”
As OAN falls apart, Fox will continue to push the lies and conspiracy theories that reflect the worst of the far-right fever swamps
At their core, Fox and OAN are the same: platforms for deadly pandemic disinformation, racist conspiracy theories, and debunked election lies ripped from the worst corners of the far-right fever swamps. They are right-wing propaganda outlets that profit by duping Americans into surrendering hard-earned social, political, and economic progress in exchange for division, disease, and death.
While OAN is being cut off from a large number of its viewers, Fox News is delivering the same lies and conspiracies to its massive audience -- exploiting the facade of its “straight news” division to provide its right-wing propaganda with “a thin veneer of respectability.” That unparalleled power to not only legitimize but aggressively amplify right-wing propaganda is what differentiates Fox from its dying progeny, OAN.