Study: Fox hosts turn crime into a political cudgel against Democrats
Roughly 11% of Fox prime-time segments have discussed violent crime in recent weeks
Fox News prime-time shows featured discussion of violent crime in more than 1 out of every 9 segments over the last few months, according to a Media Matters review. The network’s stars are telling their viewers that Democrats are to blame for rising crime as they seek to leverage the bogus narrative to help Republicans triumph in the midterm elections.
Fox star Tucker Carlson advised Republican politicians during an August 19 monologue to focus on “law and order” in order to create a “red wave” in the fall. He urged GOP candidates to run ads featuring viral footage of crimes and provided them with a political message: “Joe Biden's DOJ has done nothing to stop the crime wave and so it is accelerating everywhere.” The GOP’s candidates and admakers listened; within weeks, the party turned crime into “a central message” of its TV advertisements.
Carlson and his fellow Fox prime-time hosts, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, have supported the GOP’s advertising blitz by providing a constant stream of incendiary commentary on the issue: Tucker Carlson Tonight, Hannity, and The Ingraham Angle broadcast 97 segments that included significant discussions of violent crime between Carlson’s August 19 monologue and October 14. Carlson’s show accounted for 34 of the crime segments, Hannity’s for 38, and Ingraham’s for 25.
Seventy-three of those segments blamed Democratic, progressive, or liberal policies, candidates, organizations, or politicians, for a general increase in violent crime, or for a specific violent crime, or otherwise alleged they were “soft” on violent crime. Such segments accounted for roughly 8% of all prime-time segments during the period, creating a broader context for viewers when they see the GOP’s TV spots.
The hosts have also sought to wield their crime narrative against specific Democratic candidates. John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, has been the most frequent target of these attacks, with Fox prime-time shows running at least 11 segments going after him on the issue. Their programming aligns with the campaign message of Republican nominee Mehmet Oz, who has relentlessly misrepresented Fetterman’s record.
Fox’s prime-time treatment reflects the network’s general push to turn “America’s Crime Crisis” into a political weapon for the GOP. The coverage often features b-roll of viral crime videos, as Carlson suggested Republicans should include in their ads.
Fox’s partisan fearmongering is largely disconnected from the realities of American criminal justice policy.
The U.S. has seen a worrying uptick in crime in recent years, albeit one in which murders and other violent offenses have remained well below the level seen in the early 1990s. But property crime has declined, while violent crime increased across jurisdictions. “Murders rose roughly equally in cities run by Republicans and cities run by Democrats,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice, while “so-called ‘red’ states actually saw some of the highest murder rates of all.”
Democrats also have not “defunded the police” in any meaningful way. “Since 2019, most major cities and counties — particularly those run by Democrats — have significantly expanded their funding for police,” Popular Information’s Judd Legum noted. And following several years in which President Donald Trump submitted budgets that decreased spending for law enforcement, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan — opposed by every Republican in both houses of Congress — which included $10 billion for policing and public safety, and submitted a budget with a substantial boost to such funding.
Nor are all crimes equally important for Fox’s propagandists. The network’s right-wing personalities have frequently spoken out in defense of January 6 insurrectionists; decried the investigation into Trump’s handling of classified documents as a political witch hunt; denounced proposals by the Biden administration to crack down on tax evasion as purported efforts to weaponize government against average Americans; and stood by Herschel Walker, the Republican Senate nominee in Georgia whose ex-wife has said he once held a gun to her head and threatened to pull the trigger and who had a gun confiscated by law enforcement responding to a domestic disturbance at his house after he "talked about having a shoot-out with police.”
Media Matters searched our internal database of all original, weekday programming on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC (shows airing from 6 a.m. through midnight ET) for segments during Fox News’s prime-time lineup that analysts determined to be about violent crime from August 19, 2022, when Carlson called on Republicans to focus on violent crime for the midterms, through October 14, 2022.
We then reviewed each segment for whether any speaker blamed any Democratic politician, progressive organization, or any Democratic policy for violent crime.