Fox News programming went virtually silent on the racist conspiracy theory that reportedly inspired a mass shooting over the weekend, largely refusing to mention the so-called “great replacement” theory by name in its coverage of the massacre. Fox’s decision to avoid the topic stood in stark contrast to its cable news competitors, which discussed the shooter’s racist motivations at considerable length. It also represented an about-face for Fox, which has previously been more than happy to spread racist “replacement” paranoia.
On Saturday afternoon, an 18-year-old man entered a supermarket in a majority-Black neighborhood of Buffalo, New York, and shot 13 people, killing 10. The alleged shooter broadcast his attack on the livestreaming service Twitch and published a 180-page manifesto detailing his beliefs and motivations, including the racist “great replacement” conspiracy theory.
The conspiracy theory, originally popularized in right-wing online communities before joining the conservative mainstream, claims that a cabal of liberals and Jews are trying to “replace” white Americans in the population and remove them from positions of power. The theory has been routinely promoted by Fox News personalities, including prime-time stars Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham.
On Fox, coverage in the immediate aftermath of attack took on a stalled quality, while other cable news networks dedicated wall-to-wall coverage to the act of terrorism. Between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., the most watched “news” network in the country aired reruns and pretaped programming, limiting coverage of the shooting to a handful of short news bulletins. When live coverage resumed at 10 p.m., it was clear that Fox’s on-air talent had received their marching orders that the network’s coverage would do its best to omit references to the conspiracy theory.
We already know the role white supremacy played in motivating the mass shooters who attacked a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, another synagogue in Poway, California, a shopping center in El Paso, Texas, and a school in Washington, D.C. But at Fox News, the latest instance of white supremacist violcence was the fault of something else; an undisclosed mental health issue, violent video games, bad parenting, or even liberal prosecutors.
Here are examples of Fox News’ attempt to shift discussions of the Buffalo shooting away from white supremacy and the “great replacement” theory:
- On the May 14 edition of Lawrence Jones Cross Country, former Detroit Police Chief James Craig absurdly blamed “woke” prosecutors and judges who “execute bail reform incorrectly,” while connecting the targeted mass shooting of Black people to the supposed “crime” of protesters outside the homes of Supreme Court justices.
- On May 14, Fox News anchor Jon Scott questioned whether the shooter had “some past connection with the city of Buffalo” because otherwise the “motivation” for “somebody so young to come from so far away to do this kind of damage” was unclear.
- During the May 15 episode of Fox & Friends Weekend, guest co-host Carley Shimkus sidestepped the racist motivations of the shooter, instead blaming Twitch, “a social media platform for gamers with the guns,” and faulting parents for not knowing this was going to happen.
- On the May 16 edition of America’s Newsroom, Fox News contributor Leo Terrell shifted focus to suggest that the shooter’s family members were in “denial” over his “mental health issues” and saying, “I find it impossible for his immediate family, friends not to know what was going on in this man’s life day to day. I find that impossible.”
- Later, on the The Faulkner Focus, Fox host Will Cain criticized Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s (D-MA) statement connecting the alleged shooter and white supremacy, claiming that she was trying to “make this about something bigger” and that Democrats are taking the shooting as an “excellent opportunity to advance [their] agenda.
- On the May 16 edition of America Reports, anchor John Roberts compared the shooter to other mass murderers who “fell through the cracks,” mentioning a past headlines highlighting predictive violence committed by mass shooters” but focusing the segment instead on “liberal prosecutors who are downgrading gun crimes” and failing to control “people who are mentally unstable.”
Media Matters reviewed recordings and transcripts of all original programming on Fox News Channel, CNN, and MSNBC from 2 p.m. May 14, 2022, through noon May 16, 2022. We included all segments mentioning the phrases “white replacement,” “replacement theory,” “white replacement theory,” “Great replacement,” “Great replacement theory,” or “White genocide.”