Timeline: The decimation of Fox's “news side”
In March 2019, Fox News pitched major ad-buyers on the importance and credibility of its “news side” operations in an unprecedented meeting at its studios. Public outcry to Fox’s near-complete fusion with President Donald Trump’s administration and the bigoted commentary of its stars had the network reeling. So Fox’s brass touted their commitment to the network’s newscasts and showcased its top anchors. They tried to make the case that it was safe to buy spots on those programs because an ironclad wall separated them from the incendiary right-wing opinion hosts who garner the bulk of the ratings and headlines.
But as Fox executives prepare to present to ad buyers again later this month, it’s clearer than ever that their supposed dedication to journalism is meaningless spin. The network spent the last few years decimating its “news” side, elevating its “opinion” side, and tearing holes in the supposed barrier between the two -- and the deterioration is only accelerating.
Fox’s “news” division had long functioned as a cog in a right-wing misinformation machine. Anchors and correspondents echoed the talking points of the prime-time “opinion” hosts and focused reporting on their obsessions; even Fox’s most responsible “news”-side figures were valued by the network for burnishing its otherwise toxic brand with advertisers and the press. But the more journalistic presentation of their shows made that programming palatable to advertisers who abandoned Fox’s prime-time shows, recognizable to colleagues at other networks, and, perhaps, bearable to the “news” staffers who produced it.
That illusion of journalistic standards collapsed during Donald Trump’s presidency when Fox reinvented itself as a propaganda outlet. By the time of the 2019 presentation, Fox’s biggest stars had descended into the fever swamps and showed that Fox had no real rules limiting their pro-Trump advocacy; its “news” employees were giving anonymous, impotent statements to other outlets expressing their dismay or were leaving the company altogether; and the president and network were intertwined in a Fox-Trump feedback loop that was fueling federal policy.
The years that followed have been even worse. Fox’s “news side” endured waves of layoffs; high-profile resignations; the hiring of discredited right-wing hacks; the injection of “opinion” content into purportedly sacrosanct “news” hours; lineup shake-ups that replaced “news” hours with “opinion” shows; and obvious signals from the brass that they are not holding prominent “opinion”-side personalities to any coherent standards (don’t feel too bad for them -- the “news side” also promoted plenty of right-wing misinformation in its own right, even on stories its own correspondents had debunked).
What remains of the “news” division has spent Joe Biden’s presidency fixated on right-wing culture war bugaboos like trans athletes, the “canceling” of cultural artifacts like Dr. Seuss books and Mr. Potato Head, and “critical race theory.” At this point, the two figures who do the most to shape Fox’s “news” coverage are likely Tucker Carlson, the Fox “opinion” host recently provided unprecedented resources to pursue whatever stories he desires, and Porter Berry, the longtime producer for Fox host Sean Hannity who heads the network’s digital operation.
If one could ever fairly say that there was a real struggle between Fox’s “news” and “opinion” sides, that time has long passed, leaving the “opinion” side the unquestioned victor. Fox executives trying to argue otherwise to sell advertisements are simply not credible.
Advertisers shouldn’t be fooled -- if they buy ads on any Fox program, they are subsidizing the network’s right-wing propaganda.
Here’s a timeline of the ways Fox denigrated its “news” division -- and its “news” division’s worst right-wing propaganda during that period.
June: Fox sends Laura Ingraham -- not a news anchor -- to Europe to interview Trump. Under Trump, Fox prime-time hosts -- rather than “news”-side anchors -- regularly accompanied the president on his international trips. In this case, Ingraham hosted her show live from London and Normandy and scored a Trump interview. The week before, Ingraham announced that her podcast was sponsored by the Make America Great Committee, a joint fundraising effort by the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee to support his reelection, and defended a white supremacist who is obsessed with the “Jewish Question.”
July: “News”-side correspondent Griff Jenkins guest-hosts “opinion” show Fox & Friends. While the network purports to have a wall between its “news” and “opinion” sides, it regularly allows “news”-side correspondent Jenkins to guest-host Fox & Friends. During his turn in Steve Doocy’s seat over the July 4 weekend, he pushed White House talking points and cheered on pro-Trump propagandists.
July: Report finds Fox editors suspect the network’s Seth Rich source may have never existed. Fox “news”-side editors “came to have doubts” about whether the network’s sole source for its subsequently retracted bombshell report that murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich had delivered tens of thousands of DNC emails to WikiLeaks “actually existed,” Yahoo News reported. Fox had promoted Greg Wilson, who edited the original story, to managing editor of FoxNews.com the month following its publication.
August: Fox hires former Trump press secretary and notorious liar Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Fox hired Sanders, the daughter of longtime network commentator Mike Huckabee, following a White House tenure marked by her abject contempt for and lies to reporters and her termination of White House briefings in favor of Fox interviews. She was one of seven Trump administration employees to join the network or its parent company during his presidency; her principal deputy, Raj Shah, joined Fox Corporation as a senior vice president earlier in 2019. In 2021, Sanders left Fox to run for governor of Arkansas.
October: Shep Smith resigns following confrontation with Carlson. Smith, who had garnered mainstream credibility for his willingness to debunk Trump’s misinformation on Fox, shocked his “news side” colleagues when he abruptly announced his resignation at the end of his 3 p.m. show after more than two decades at the network. He left in the middle of his contract without another job lined up after Fox executives refused to support him during an on-air feud with prime-time star Tucker Carlson. Smith was replaced in the lineup by the far more pliant “news”-side veteran Bill Hemmer.
October: Another high-profile departure from embattled Fox “news side.” A few weeks after Smith’s resignation, CBS News announced that it had hired away Catherine Herridge, Fox’s chief intelligence correspondent who had spent more than two decades at the network.
October: Fox hires John Solomon, Giuliani collaborator on Ukraine plot. Solomon got a Fox contract after serving as the conduit for Rudy Giuliani’s scheme to use Ukraine disinformation to defend Trump for the help his campaign received from the Russian government and to damage Joe Biden’s presidential run. Solomon wrote 12 columns in The Hill about Ukraine, often relying on sources and claims fed to him by Giuliani, and made dozens of appearances on Fox, particularly on Sean Hannity’s program. Several witnesses testified that Solomon's reporting was inaccurate during Trump’s 2019 impeachment hearings. The Hill subsequently produced an extensive though incomplete review of Solomon’s work, rebutting many of his most incendiary claims and noting that he had failed to disclose that his personal lawyers, Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing, were involved in the stories.
November: Fox violates its edict not to name the Ukraine whistleblower. While Fox hosts and personalities were reportedly ordered by the network brass not to identify the whistleblower whose complaint was at the heart of the impeachment inquiry into Trump’s abuse of power, a conservative guest violated that edict on-air without pushback from the network’s anchor.
November: Fox hires discredited Benghazi fabulist Lara Logan. Logan, at the time a CBS News correspondent, based a 2013 60 Minutes report on the claims of a purported “eyewitness” to the Benghazi attacks. When it turned out that person had fabricated his story, CBS retracted the report and suspended Logan. Her career never recovered, and years later she tried to reboot it by blaming Media Matters for her failure and lashing out at the “mostly liberal” press. It worked -- after Hannity called for Fox to hire her, the network gave her a show on its streaming network, Fox Nation. At Fox, Logan garnered headlines for repeatedly falling for hoaxes about anti-fascist activists.
Yearlong: The Fox “news” side’s disastrous coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. Fox’s calamitous, deadly response to the pandemic was not limited to its “opinion”-side talkers. Fox “news”-side personalities pushed much of the same dangerous misinformation, promoted the same untested antimalarial drugs as COVID-19 miracle cures, similarly prioritized complaining about health measures over reporting on the death toll, and gave a platform to the same charlatans, like COVID crank Alex Berenson and Drs. Scott Atlas and Mehmet Oz (the latter even participated in a Fox “news”-side coronavirus town hall broadcast, using the opportunity to ask then-Vice President Mike Pence about hydroxychloroquine). Because Trump appreciated their Fox hits, Oz ended up briefly advising the administration on the virus, while Atlas became an official member of the White House coronavirus task force, with staggering consequences.
January: Fox’s Uranium One story collapses. U.S. attorney John Huber ended his two-year review of the U.S. government's decision not to block the sale of the company known as Uranium One without bringing charges. Huber’s investigation began after Fox programs on both the “news” and “opinion” sides obsessed over the sale as a scandal aimed at former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, garnering attention from Trump and his congressional allies.
February: Hannity gets a Super Bowl interview with Trump. When Fox’s turn in the Super Bowl rotation came up, the network could have used the traditional opportunity to interview the president beforehand to showcase its “news”-side talent on a massive stage. Instead, Fox sent Hannity, a Trump adviser and sycophant.
February: Fox document reveals network relied on sources its “Brain Room” believed were not credible. An internal document from Fox’s “Brain Room” research department obtained by The Daily Beast reveals that the network knew that Hannity, Giuliani, Toensing, diGenova, and Solomon were peddling “disinformation” about Ukraine but took no apparent action.
June: Fox does disgusting propaganda in support of Trump tear-gassing peaceful protesters. After federal law enforcement officials violently dispersed peaceful crowds protesting police brutality and racism outside the White House so that Trump could walk to a nearby church for a photo-op, Fox personalities -- from the “news” and “opinion” sides alike -- used a series of false, shifting defenses to furiously spin what happened in his favor. This incident came as Fox’s “news” side repeatedly pushed hoaxes and misinformation about the protests going on nationwide.
July: Fox “news” correspondent asks Biden whether he has been tested for “cognitive decline.” At a press conference, Fox News correspondent Douglas McKelway told Joe Biden that “some have speculated” he is experiencing “cognitive decline” and asked if the former vice president had been tested for it. That baseless allegation had been on constant refrain on Fox’s prime-time “opinion” show, and at least seven different Fox programs covered the “cognitive decline” exchange at the presser.
July: Fox insiders say Fox is pushing white supremacy and hurting Black Americans. The Daily Beast reported that Fox News insiders say the network has a culture of impunity for racist commentary from its biggest stars, citing conversations with more than a dozen staffers. Fox’s executives have “created a white supremacist cell inside the top cable network in America, the one that directly influences the president,” according to a network employee quoted in the piece.
September: Fox buries network’s confirmation of story damaging to Trump. After The Atlantic reported that Trump had denigrated U.S. service members who died in wars as “losers” and “suckers,” longtime Fox correspondent Jennifer Griffin confirmed that her own sources were backing up what she described as “key details.” But Fox’s “news side” subsequently downplayed her reporting, while its “opinion”-side hosts ignored her reporting and denounced The Atlantic’s story as a “hoax.”
September: Fox lays off “news”-side reporters as insiders call it a pro-Trump propaganda outlet. The Daily Beast reported that recent Fox layoffs were concentrated in the network’s “straight news” ranks, with its fact-checking and research division hit particularly hard. Fox staffers told the Beast that the cuts show the network operates “more like an extension of” the Trump’s administration than a typical news outlet and behaves “like state media.”
October: Fox pushes Hunter Biden smear even after its own reporters debunk it. Fox’s “news” side devoted more than 11 hours of coverage to Giuliani’s effort to use emails and text messages obtained from Hunter Biden’s laptop to derail Joe Biden’s presidential campaign in the nine days after the smear first broke -- even though the “news side” reportedly passed on the story when Guliani first brought it to them, and its reporters debunked aspects of the story afterward.
November: Fox “news side” aids Trump’s attempt to steal the election. In the nine days after Fox declared Joe Biden the president-elect and as Trump insisted the presidency had been stolen from him, the network cast doubt on or pushed conspiracy theories about the election results at least 574 times -- 208 times on Fox’s “straight news” shows and 366 times on its opinion shows.
November: As Trump turns on network, Fox begins pumping “opinion side” content into “news” shows. After Trump attacked Fox after the election for being insufficiently supportive, some of its viewers defected for fringe-right competitors like Newsmax TV and One America News. In response, Fox tried to win those viewers back by heavily touting its right-wing stars during its “news” hours. Anchors built “news” segments around clips from prime-time monologues and asked guests to weigh in on the views of Carlson, Hannity, and Ingraham, while the network ran promos for their shows in heavy rotation.
November: Fox settles with Seth Rich’s family. Fox settled a lawsuit the Rich family filed in response to the network’s debunked reporting for a reported seven-figure sum. The settlement forestalled depositions with key Fox stars and executives, including Hannity and network President Jay Wallace, and prevented hundreds of internal Fox documents about the story from becoming public.
Yearlong: Fox’s anti-vaccine coverage is killing its viewers. In January, seeking to to stave off competition from Newsmax and OAN, Fox’s prime-time hosts began pandering to anti-vaxxers by sabotaging the campaign to vaccinate Americans against COVID-19. Over the course of the year, this skeptical take on life-saving drugs became an incessant drumbeat that echoed throughout the network’s coverage. Fox’s on-air talent portrayed the vaccines as ineffective and potentially deadly; efforts to encourage people to take them as totalitarian; and individuals who left their jobs in response to such mandates as heroic. Their campaign succeeded: Republicans are more likely to say they won’t get vaccinated, and vaccination rates are lower and pandemic death rates higher in parts of the country that voted for Donald Trump. Meanwhile, 90% of Fox employees were reportedly vaccinated as of September, when the network instituted a policy requiring daily testing for in-person workers who had not taken the vaccine. A Fox insider explained that month that the network’s hypocritical and deadly coverage was “great for ratings.”
January: Fox replaces 7 p.m. “news” hour with another right-wing commentary show. Suzanne Scott, Fox News’ CEO, announced in a statement that Fox News Primetime, a new program featuring a rotating cast of right-wing “opinion” hosts, was taking over the 7 p.m. ET slot previously held by The Story, a “news”-side program. That program’s anchor, Martha MacCallum, who has been heavily touted by the network as a credible news source but regularly parrots right-wing propaganda, moved to the 3 p.m. time slot once held by Shep Smith. Smith’s replacement, Bill Hemmer, returned to hosting Fox’s 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. hours alongside former George W. Bush press secretary Dana Perino.
January: Fox conducts “purge” of network’s “real journalists.” Fox laid off 16 digital editorial staffers including Chris Stirewalt, the longtime politics editor who had defended the network’s decision to call the election for Biden, in what Fox insiders called a “purge” of the network’s “real journalists.” It was a triumph of the network’s “opinion” side, reportedly masterminded by Berry, the Hannity crony who leads the network’s digital operation. The day before the layoffs, Fox senior vice president and D.C. managing editor Bill Sammon announced his retirement.
March: Trump press secretary Kayleigh McEnany becomes latest part of Fox’s Trump administration hiring binge. McEnany joined Fox as a contributor in early March and was announced as a co-host of the panel show Outnumbered before the end of the month. She was previously a fixture on the network as a Trump White House press secretary and former Trump 2020 senior adviser who “lies the way that most people breathe.” Fox and its parent company currently employ at least 10 former members of the Trump orbit. After Trump left office, the network hired his daughter-in-law Lara Trump, his former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and his former top economics adviser Larry Kudlow, among others.
March: Fox launches streaming show Tucker Carlson Today, makes host the face of the network. Carlson became ubiquitous on Fox following the election and his thrice-weekly streaming show, which launched March 29, made him the linchpin of its streaming platform, Fox Nation. The week the show premiered, Fox gave Carlson more than nine and a half hours of promotion on other network programs. During his tour of other Fox programs to flack for the new show, Carlson pushed the white supremacist “replacement theory,” leading the Anti-Defamation League to call for his firing and Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch to come to his defense.
April: Fox’s 11 p.m. hour shifts from “news” to a right-wing commentator’s “comedy” show. Fox replaced anchor Shannon Bream’s Fox News @ Night at 11 p.m. ET with a program starring right-wing commentator Greg Gutfeld, as Fox continued to “expand opinion programming on [its] schedule.” Gutfeld!, which debuted April 5, is allegedly a comedy hour intended to compete with the late-night shows, while Bream’s “straight news” show moved to midnight.
Spring: With help from the network’s “news side,” Fox starts obsessing over “critical race theory.” In March, Fox News began obsessively fixating on the purported infiltration of “critical race theory” in the U.S. military, corporations, universities, and particularly K-12 schools. Fox personalities referenced “critical race theory” at least 1,771 times on weekday programs over four months, demagoguing it as a ”racist theology” and “neo-Marxist religion” that threatened the destruction of civilization and the genocide of white Americans. The network’s “news side” programs accounted for at least 601 of those mentions. “News side” anchors repeatedly interviewed parents who opposed “critical race theory” without noting that those guests were also GOP activists, and created news hooks for the “opinion side” personalities to rant about. Fox’s coverage played into a broader right-wing strategy in which think tanks, advocacy groups, media outlets, and Republican politicians attacked “critical race theory” for political gain.
May: Fox’s purported ban on talent doing campaign events disintegrates. Fox News stated in 2018 that it “does not condone any talent participating in campaign events,” but the network had inconsistently enforced its purported policy over the years. Pompeo’s April hire appears to have effectively eliminated that rule, with the former Trump secretary of state spending his first month at Fox aggressively raising money for Republican candidates and organizations, even as he appeared on both the network’s “opinion” and “news”-side programming.
November: Fox edits article to remove criticism of white nationalist following far-right backlash. FoxNews.com stealthily edited an article to remove criticism of extreme-right figure Nick Fuentes, a Holocaust-denying white nationalist who attended the deadly 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The article’s initial headline accurately referred to Fuentes and his supporters as “white nationalists” and the piece included the Anti-Defamation League’s description of them as “a white supremacist group.” But following an uproar from Fuentes and other far-right figures, Fox quietly removed such descriptions, instead referring to his followers as “anti-vaccine protesters.” Fuentes subsequently thanked Fox for the changes.
November: Fox stands behind Carlson after obscene January 6 special triggers “news side” fallout. Patriot Purge, Carlson’s three-part series for Fox Nation, posits that the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol were righteous patriots, that violence during the riots was the result of a sinister “false flag” operation, and that the media and law enforcement are exploiting it to conduct a “purge aimed at legacy Americans.” The series, written by a director of white nationalist documentaries, was promoted on other Fox programs.
- Longtime Special Report contributors Jonah Goldberg and Stephen Hayes quit. Goldberg and Hayes, both conservative Trump critics and longtime Fox contributors who regularly appeared on Fox’s flagship “news side” program Special Report, quit in response to Carlson’s Patriot Purge conspiracy theories.
- Fox “news side” programs distance themselves from Carlson’s conspiracy theories. Shortly before the release of Patriot Purge, Special Report’s Bret Baier aired a segment on the insurrection which featured interviews dismissing “false flag” claims, while on Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace interviewed Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), a harsh Republican critic of Trump’s role in fomenting the violence.
- “News side” veterans privately warn Fox executives, to no avail. According to NPR’s David Folkenflik: “Veteran figures on Fox's news side, including political anchors Baier and Chris Wallace, shared their objections with Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott and its president of news, Jay Wallace. Those objections rose to Lachlan Murdoch, the chairman and CEO of the network's parent company, Fox Corp.”
December: Chris Wallace leaves Fox. Wallace left Fox when his contract ended in December after 18 years at the network, taking a job at CNN. Fox executives had routinely used Wallace’s tenure as anchor of Fox News Sunday to ward off criticism of the network as a propaganda channel.
December: Fox hosts’ January 6 texts reveal that while they publicly did damage control for Trump, they were privately begging for him to stop the insurrection. On December 13, Cheney revealed scores of January 6 text messages sent to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows urging him to get Trump to stop the violence at the Capitol – including frantic texts from Trump-supporting Fox hosts Hannity, Ingraham, and Brian Kilmeade. But on their radio and television shows during and after the attack, all three did damage control for Trump or even suggested that the violence had actually been caused by antifa agitators. Fox did not mention the texts until a brief reference 16 hours after the story broke, with Kilmeade, Hannity, and Ingraham all ignoring them on their shows.
January: More texts reveal Hannity’s role as a Trump political operative. The House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection released more text messages Hannity sent to members of the Trump administration around the time of the attack, again highlighting the Fox host’s role as effectively a member of the Trump White House. In the days leading up to January 6, Hannity repeatedly warned Meadows about the rally planned that day for Trump’s supporters, even as he gushed about it on Fox. Following the insurrection, he coached then-White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany about how to talk to Trump, calling for an end to “stolen election talk,” and brainstormed with Meadows and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) about how to get Trump through the end of his term.
January: Fox gives Jesse Watters the 7 p.m. time slot. Fox announced on January 10 that it had picked Watters as the permanent host of its 7 p.m. hour. Watters got his start at Fox stalking and harassing the subjects of his ambush interviews for The O'Reilly Factor, but moved through the network ranks to become a co-host of The Five and host of the Saturday night program Watters’ World. He is best known for his racist commentary; he was widely condemned for a 2016 segment in which he asked bystanders in New York City’s Chinatown questions such as, “Am I supposed to bow to say hello?" “Tell me what’s not made in China?” and “Do you know karate?” The trajectory of this hour – from longtime anchor Shep Smith, to Greta Van Susteren, to Martha MacCallum, to rotating right-wing hosts, to Watters – is just devastating for the “news side.”
February: Fox has rebuilt its digital division with GOP operatives and Trump veterans. Fox went on a hiring spree after its January 2021 “purge” of its digital operation. Under Berry’s leadership, as those purported “real journalists” were booted, the site hired numerous editors who had previously worked for the Trump administration, Republican campaign offices, or Republican members of Congress, according to a Media Matters review.
February: Fox goes all-in for anti-vaccine mandate Canadian trucker protests. Fox devoted 27 hours and 27 minutes of coverage to the so-called “Freedom Convoy” of Canadian truckers and their supporters, which opposed vaccine mandates and other pandemic measures. The protests effectively shut down downtown Ottawa for weeks and snarled international supply chains, while Fox hosts cheered them on and encouraged similar actions in the U.S. Fox’s propagandists described Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a tyrant and an authoritarian after he invoked emergency powers to disrupt the protests in mid-February – but the network completely ignored Trudeau’s revocation of those powers nine days later after the Canadian government quashed the blockades.
February: Baier keynotes event for GOP-aligned organization. Baier, the anchor of Fox’s flagship “news side” program, delivered the keynote speech at a high-priced retreat for The Leadership Program of the Rockies, an organization that has described itself as training “leaders to push forward the conservative agenda” and whose graduates include numerous Republican officials. Other speakers at the event included Fox “opinion side” personalities Rachel Campos-Duffy, Sean Duffy, Lawrence Jones, and Lisa Kennedy Montgomery.
March: Kremlin orders Russian state TV to promote Carlson’s commentary on Ukraine invasion. Carlson had a long history of parroting pro-Kremlin, anti-Ukraine propaganda, and as Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, he repeatedly suggested that there was no reason for the United States to involve itself in any way. Carlson’s commentary was so beneficial to Russia’s interests that a March 3 memo produced by a Russian government agency and distributed by the Kremlin to Russian media outlets instructed broadcasters to use as many clips of Carlson as possible.
March: Carlson goes after Fox’s national security correspondent over his pro-Kremlin guest. In a February 27 Fox appearance, network national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin criticized the “distortions” and “appeasement talk” aired earlier in the same program by retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor, who had argued the United States should allow Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin to annex as much of Ukraine as he wishes. Macgregor is a conspiracy theorist frequently hosted by Carlson, and when he returned to Carlson’s show on March 1, the host praised him as “honest” while railing against “so-called reporters you see on television” who are “acting secretly as a flack for Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon.” The following week, Carlson offered more barely veiled digs at Griffin’s reporting after she shot down his biolabs conspiracy theory on another program.