The Trump-Fox feedback loop is powering an assault on democracy

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Citation Molly Butler / Media Matters | Photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons

President Donald Trump spent the weekend tweeting clips and quotes from Fox programs that were laced with misinformation and conspiracy theories about the election he lost to President-elect Joe Biden as part of his effort to delegitimize the results.

Biden won the election by a convincing electoral vote margin and enjoys a large and growing popular vote lead. Trump’s campaign is now trying to win in the courts what they lost at the ballot box by alleging widespread voter fraud, fueled by the same viral misinformation circulating on social media platforms. Their legal case is comically weak, has virtually no chance of reversing the election even if it succeeds, and appears to be in no small part an attempt to soothe the president's bruised ego -- but could nonetheless do real damage to the American public’s faith in elections. And the upper echelons of the Republican Party and the right-wing propaganda apparatus are continuing to support him as he takes a hammer to the U.S. democratic system.

The Trump-Fox feedback loop is empowering the president’s loyal supporters at the network as they use their programs to cast doubt on the election results. Their credulous coverage of his legal effort is hardening Trump’s intransigence, making him less likely to acknowledge defeat and allow his administration to begin the transition process. And he is amplifying their lies to his social media followers, helping to prevent his supporters from accepting his defeat as legitimate.

Trump has sent at least 16 tweets since Friday night highlighting Fox coverage that undermined the results of the election. The quotes and clips he amplified promoted a slew of false and misleading claims about the vote, resulting in 10 of those tweets being flagged in some way by the social media company. 

Notably, on Sunday morning, the day after media outlets called the election for Biden, Trump live-tweeted Fox contributor Newt Gingrich’s Fox & Friends claim that “this was a stolen election.” Twitter subsequently appended a warning to those tweets which stated, “This claim about election fraud is disputed.”

On Sunday afternoon, Trump urged his followers to watch Fox host Mark Levin’s show that night for information about the “Mail-In Ballot Hoax!” He later tweeted a clip from the show in which Trumpist lawyer Ken Starr claimed that “to count every vote may be a crime,” while Levin floated the possibility of the Republican-dominated Pennsylvania legislature bypassing the state’s popular vote and trying to award the state’s electoral votes to Trump (state Republican leaders have consistently said they will not do this). 

In another clip the president shared, from Fox’s Sunday Morning Futures, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, claimed that “this is a contested election” and urged the president not to concede, citing in part a false claim about Michigan’s election software. “So, to my Republican colleagues out there, we have to fight back, or we will accept our fate,” he said.

Graham’s colleagues are “fighting back,” and they’re doing it on Fox. Trump also tweeted supportive clips of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) casting doubt on the election during appearances on the network.

This is horrifying, but not surprising. The president had frequently used the network’s coverage to cast doubt on the election in the months leading up to Election Day, and he did something similar following the 2018 midterm elections.

Whatever effort Fox founder Rupert Murdoch may be exerting to try to bring Trump closer to reality in the wake of his defeat appears to be insufficient. Murdoch’s employees are still actively trying to tear down the democratic system. And the Trump-Fox feedback loop is helping them do it.