Why Fox News is tilting at windmills

Fox wind turbines don quixote

Citation Molly Butler / Media Matters

When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott went on Fox News on Tuesday night, his state was in crisis. A huge winter storm had knocked out electricity generation across the state, leaving more than 3 million of his constituents without power. The state’s electric grid operators were unable to say when power would be fully restored, leaving Texans huddled in their homes to suffer from freezing temperatures and unable to travel safely due to icy roads. 

But Abbott didn’t have to worry about fielding tough questions about whether his administration’s policies had fueled a disaster. He was talking to GOP propagandist Sean Hannity, whose network had spent the previous 36 hours lying to its audience in order to blame green energy for his state’s woes. And the Texas governor leaned into the network’s lie, using it to escape the possibility of accountability.

For Abbott -- and Fox -- the state’s rolling blackouts and suffering residents were actually a morality play about the dangers of liberal governance. “This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America,” he told Hannity. The problem, Abbott explained, was that the state’s “wind and our solar got shut down,” crippling its power supply and proving “that fossil fuel is necessary for the state of Texas as well as other states.” (Notably, that pat story in which renewables are solely responsible for the disaster is not what Abbott is telling local media or his Twitter followers.)

Fox spent the last four years as Donald Trump’s propaganda arm. But with Trump out of office and the network facing ratings trouble, Fox is falling into its familiar rhythm as the GOP’s lie factory. Abbott’s interview is a perfect encapsulation of how the network will operate while Trump is in the comparative wilderness, and the lie that green energy caused the Texas blackouts will enter the canon of brazen falsehoods repeated over and over on the network until its viewers can recite them from memory, like “death panels” and the Benghazi “stand down order” and the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

Of course, Texans aren’t suffering mass power outages due to an over-reliance on renewable energy. The short response to the latest Fox News lie is that it is shamelessly dishonest to claim that a state dominated for decades by Republicans and the oil and gas industry has an energy policy created by Green New Deal-obsessed leftists. The longer one is that Texas regulators do not require the state’s power plants to be made resilient against severe winter storms or compensate generators for maintenance, so when the storm hit, plants of all types -- not just wind turbines -- failed, with the lion’s share of the state’s energy generation knocked offline coming from thermal sources like coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy.

It is possible to have wind turbines -- and natural gas plants, and nuclear ones -- that can withstand the cold. But Texas officials decided that winterization wasn’t worth the extra cost. The central question here doesn’t necessarily have a partisan bent: How much risk should utilities tolerate, particularly as climate change makes extreme weather events more likely, and who should bear the brunt of the costs?

But Fox hosts are not interested in these sorts of normal policy questions. Instead, they want to defend loyal Republicans while owning the libs. Blaming clean energy meets both of those goals, so the network’s propagandists are aggressively deploying this attack.

The canard that failed wind turbines caused the power outages rattled around right-wing social media over the weekend, stoked by disinformation from a fossil fuel industry apparatchik, before the notoriously wrong economics pundit Stephen Moore introduced it to Fox’s audience Monday morning. But it took off that night after prime-time host Tucker Carlson, who has abject contempt for his audience and is the most shameless liar in U.S. media, devoted multiple segments of his show to the ludicrous notion that “a reckless reliance on windmills is the cause of this disaster” -- and that such travails would be coming soon to the viewer at home via the Green New Deal.

Carlson effectively functions as Fox’s assignment editor, and so his false angle was discussed on at least a dozen Fox News and Fox Business shows on Tuesday. Network “news” shows like America Reports and America’s Newsroom as well as all four evening “opinion” shows told the same story.

By the time Abbott went on Fox, the network had already laid the groundwork for him to avoid accountability. And it’s no coincidence that his interview came with Hannity, who has historically played the role of Fox’s one-man cleanup crew for Republicans facing crises. 

With Trump largely eschewing the spotlight, Fox is transitioning from a cult of personality to its old role as a GOP mouthpiece, peddling lies to its audience for the party’s benefit. And if that keeps its viewers out in the cold, so be it.