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Molly Butler / Media Matters

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 two 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 two 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 over the past two years -- and its “news” division’s worst right-wing propaganda during that period. 

Key Events

Select a year

  • 2019

    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 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.

  • 2020

    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. 

  • 2021

    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.