In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, protests over police brutality against people of color have swept the nation. These protests have been rightly and inevitably accompanied by discussions of systemic racism experienced by communities of color throughout the United States.
Fox News’ coverage of the national protests has taken on a conspiratorial, propagandistic, and outright dishonest tone, ranging from an insistence that systemic racism isn’t real, to uncritical parroting of the Trump campaign’s attempt to induce panic over antifascist activists, to an embrace of Infowars’ conspiracy theories related to the death of George Floyd.
At best, Fox’s coverage of the protests is a stain on journalism and media; at worst, it’s helping endanger the lives of protesters.
Fox move: Claiming systemic racism doesn’t exist
While evidence shows Black and Hispanic people are more likely than white people to be stopped and threatened or subjected to physical force by police, Fox has repeatedly insisted that police brutality and systemic racism against communities of color are not real.
Guests including writer Heather MacDonald, The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro, Fox contributor Andy McCarthy, former Education Secretary Bill Bennett, the Hoover Institution’s Shelby Steele, pastor Darrell Scott, former New York Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik, and Georgia Republican congressional candidate Angela Stanton-King have appeared on Fox and argued that racial tensions and systemic racism in American society are not real or not significant enough to merit protest.
Fox’s own hosts have also doubled down on this narrative. The Five’s Jesse Watters claimed it was “jarring” to hear “the Black president talk about how racist the country is that elected him twice.” Tucker Carlson has repeatedly argued against acknowledging systemic racism, while at the same time demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of what the term actually means.
In a moment emblematic of the culture and attitude at Fox, The Five’s Greg Gutfeld shouted down co-host Juan Williams as he attempted to explain issues of systemic racism experienced by the Black community.
Fox move: Claiming armed black men and protesters are coming to your neighborhood so prepare for war
Fox News has also crossed over into the realm of pure fantasy, conjuring images of diabolical and violent young men, presumably men of color or members of the right’s boogeyman conception of antifascist groups.
Carlson and his guest, former CIA operations officer Bryan Dean Wright, agreed that the time for armed vigilante justice to fight an insurrection might be near. Carlson also stated that the protests were an “ancient battle” between “thugs” and “normal people.” Sean Hannity warned that Black Lives Matter would “patrol the streets with armed militias.”
Fox move: Ignoring white supremacist groups
Fox’s coverage of the protest often bleeds from the ignorant to the downright irresponsible. The network’s breathless conspiratorial fantasizing about antifascist terrorism is one such case. Despite multiple, extensive findings indicating that antifascists are not inciting coordinated destruction and violence at protests -- and mounting evidence that far-right and white nationalist groups like the accelerationist Boogaloo boys and Identity Evropa (also known as the American Identity Movement) are -- Fox is plowing ahead with claims of a grand antifa conspiracy to terrorize the country. When “straight news” anchor Martha McCallum directly questioned acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf about what specific groups besides antifa were inciting violence at protests, McCallum did not press Wolf on his vague answer blaming “anarchists” and “violent opportunists.”
Host Laura Ingraham has engaged in particularly histrionic coverage, claiming that former President Barack Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder’s activist group is helping fund antifa and that antifa is running a coordinated plot to overthrow the government. Fox anchor Bret Baier baselessly accused antifascists of stashing bricks and flammable materials around cities. On Tucker Carlson Tonight, Kerik accused New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio of being an antifa sympathizer. On The Five, Gutfeld raved about a coordinated antifa insurrection.
The network has also repeatedly aired unfounded claims -- founded in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories -- that philanthropist George Soros is funding antifa. Kerik floated the claim, and political analyst Gianno Caldwell suggested that Soros could face charges for funding a terrorist group. Congress for Racial Equality Chairman Niger Innis argued Soros “is the destruction to our civilization and a clear and present danger to our country.”
Fox move: Ignoring and excusing police brutality toward protesters
Fox has repeatedly made excuses for and even outright ignored documented instances of police brutality against peaceful protesters. The network’s reporting on the many well-documented instances of police using excessive and unprovoked force against protesters has been virtually nonexistent.
When an instance of police brutality aired live on its own channel -- the moment the Trump administration tear-gassed and brutalized peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square to make way for a presidential photo-op in Washington, D.C. -- Fox responded by glorifying and cheering on the president. While other networks responded with horror at the televised stunt, Fox downplayed it and attempted to blame the protesters for the undue violence used against them. Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen opined on-air that “if they were peaceful protesters, there would be no need to use tear gas. It means they resisted.”
Multiple guests and hosts, including Ingraham, went so far as to parrot the Trump campaign’s blatant lie that tear gas was not used to disperse the crowd, despite a plethora of evidence and firsthand testimonials that tear gas was deployed by law enforcement.
When Fox does choose to cover instances of police brutality, it can take on an apologetic, even exculpatory tone on behalf of law enforcement. On June 5, The Story with Martha MacCallum hosted Kerik, who defended the actions of Buffalo, New York, police who shoved a 75-year-old man to the ground and ignored him as he lay bleeding and unconscious.
Fox move: Bolstering conspiracy theories about the relationship between George Floyd and Derek Chauvin, the officer who killed him
Fox host Jesse Watters floated a conspiracy theory popularized by Infowars host Alex Jones that officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd because they were involved in an amorphous criminal enterprise.
Fox move: Calling to send in the troops
Fox has cheered the possibility of Trump invoking the Insurrection Act and deploying military force against American citizens. Host Sean Hannity called for the president to invoke the act and urged the use of “overwhelming nonlethal force” against protesters. On Fox News @ Night, Kerik suggested Trump send “an enormous amount of manpower” into American cities to put down protests.