Once upon a time, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) defended birtherism on national television. Now she’s getting thrown out of the Republican Party for belatedly standing up to a birther.
Cheney is now being consumed by the very forces she enabled.
House Republicans have now removed her as conference chair via a voice vote. This is happening after she harshly criticized former President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election, which he continues to falsely claim was “stolen” -- lies which lead directly to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 by pro-Trump rioters seeking to overturn the election. Vox’s Andrew Prokop summarized the situation recently, saying Cheney’s repeated acknowledgements that Trump lost the election “have annoyed Republicans who think accurately describing Trump’s attempted election theft is unhelpful for the party’s message, given that most GOP voters incorrectly believe the election was stolen from Trump. As a result, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has said he is ‘fed up’ with Cheney, and is backing a bid from Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) to replace her.”
But as Republicans prepared to remove Cheney from leadership, Fox News played coy about the entire event, almost entirely refusing to say why she was under fire.
I’ve reviewed every mention of Cheney that I could find on original programming on Fox News and Fox Business on Tuesday, May 11, until her removal on May 12. Here is how Fox hosts and guests danced around the issue:
- In the 10 a.m. hour, Fox Business guest host Ashley Webster discussed Cheney's situation with Fox contributor and Wall Street Journal columnist Bill McGurn, who raised questions about the “wisdom of her picking fights with Donald Trump.” Nowhere in the segment did anyone mention Cheney’s specific criticism of Trump’s election lies.
- In the 1 p.m hour, Fox News contributor Joe Concha declared that media outlets were wrongly putting focus on Cheney to distract from the border. Nowhere in the segment did anyone mention Cheney’s specific criticism of Trump’s election lies.
- In the 2 p.m. hour, Fox “straight news” anchor John Roberts interviewed Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) and briefly talked about Cheney. Kennedy said that Cheney was not entitled to her own “agenda” when it comes to “defeating socialism.” Roberts shortly thereafter ended the interview. Nowhere in the segment did anyone mention Cheney’s specific criticism of Trump’s election lies.
- In the 3 p.m. hour, Fox “straight news” anchor Martha MacCallum asked Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) about Cheney. Graham characterized the argument as merely Cheney trying to purge Trump from the Republican Party, and MacCallum did not press the matter. Nowhere in the segment did anyone mention Cheney’s specific criticism of Trump’s election lies. (MacCallum had floated Cheney as a presidential candidate in 2009.)
- In the 6 p.m. hour, Fox Business host Elizabeth MacDonald spoke with Mark Meadows, former White House chief of staff under Trump. The two had a long discussion complaining about the voting rights bill S-1. They briefly discussed Cheney after running a very short clip of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) saying that Cheney was being fired by Republicans for speaking “truth to power.” MacDonald claimed that all the focus on Cheney was to get the “sweeping” voting protection bill through the Senate. Meadows agreed and went right back to railing on the bill. Nowhere in the segment did anyone mention Cheney’s specific criticism of Trump’s election lies.
- Later in the 6 p.m. hour, the “Power Panel” of Fox flagship show Special Report very briefly talked about Cheney at the end of the episode, with guests Jonathan Swan and Susan Page predicting Cheney’s ouster. Nowhere in the segment did anyone mention Cheney’s specific criticism of Trump’s election lies.
- In the 7 p.m. hour, Fox News Primetime host Brian Kilmeade ran a teaser with O.J. Simpson’s praise of Cheney, followed by a segment with former Trump adviser and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie attacking Cheney. The only time anyone in the segment came close to acknowledging the substance of Cheney’s criticisms was when Kilmeade ran a video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) saying Cheney spoke “truth about what happened on January 6.” Christie merely claimed that Cheney “doesn’t want to be in leadership anymore.” Nowhere in the segment did anyone mention Cheney’s specific criticism of Trump’s election lies.
- In the 9 p.m. hour, Fox host Sean Hannity briefly mentioned Cheney, sarcastically saying that she loves her “liberal media friends” who are giving her “15 minutes of sanctimonious worship” but will eventually go back to calling her and her father “murderers.” (In 2013, Hannity endorsed Cheney’s failed run for Senate.) Nowhere in the segment did anyone mention Cheney’s specific criticism of Trump’s election lies.
- In the 10 p.m. hour, Fox host Laura Ingraham complained about Cheney with guest Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). Ingraham ran a brief snippet of Cheney’s floor speech in which she said she could not ignore “the lie” and would not “lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president's crusade to undermine our democracy.” That vague statement, framed by Ingraham as Cheney attacking other Republicans, is as close as the segment got to mentioning Cheney’s specific criticism of Trump’s election lies. (At one point, Jordan condemned Cheney’s “Democrat talking points”; unmentioned was that during Trump’s presidency Cheney voted with Trump more than Jordan did.) Instead, the focus was on negative partisanship and praise Cheney is apparently getting on MSNBC; the segment even ended with Ingraham speculating that Cheney may go work for MSNBC or CNN. (Cheney was a Fox News contributor twice, and during that time Ingraham praised her.)
- After midnight, Fox correspondent Kevin Corke did mention Cheney’s remarks about Trump “misleading millions of Americans with claims that the 2020 election was rigged.” But immediately thereafter, Corke and “straight news” anchor Shannon Bream laughed about how soon Trump would respond. The entire segment lasted just 41 seconds.
- In the 6 a.m. hour on Wednesday, Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo spoke to The Federalist’s Christopher Bedford and pollster Lee Carter about Cheney. Bartiromo characterized Cheney’s disagreement with House Republicans as simply being about “current policy.” Bedford attacked Cheney for “taking the bait and … attacking the former president.” Nowhere in the segment did anyone mention Cheney’s specific criticism of Trump’s election lies. Bartiromo has been one of the leading figures on Fox who is lying about the election results.
- In the 7 a.m. hour, Fox & Friends reran Christie’s interview with Kilmeade from the night before and commented on it. Kilmeade, also hosting here, introduced the segment by saying that Cheney had been “very critical of President Trump’s term over the last four years, specifically January 6.” (Cheney actually voted with Trump almost all the time, and substantially more than Stefanik, her likely replacement.) Earhardt and Kilmeade agreed that it was not appropriate to criticize Trump given how much they dislike in Biden’s tenure thus far. Aside from the abrupt mention of January 6, nowhere in the segment did anyone mention Cheney’s specific criticism of Trump’s election lies.
- In the 8 a.m. hour, Bartiromo briefly mentioned Cheney in a discussion with Rep. Scott Perry (R-CA). Nowhere in the segment did anyone mention Cheney’s specific criticism of Trump’s election lies.
- After a day’s worth of beating around the bush, Lara Trump in the 8 a.m. hour on Fox & Friends said it plainly: Cheney must be removed because she doesn't represent “the views of most Republicans” who have “a lot of questions about this election” and “can't just let it go.” The new nepotistic hire throwing the old nepotistic hire under the bus is almost too on point.
Cheney’s fate had been sealed for a while, so I’m going to spare sympathy for people who actually need it.
But this episode does show (along with plenty of other evidence) that Fox News is happy to lead the authoritarian charge of the Republican Party and indeed, to dismantle what little American democracy we do have -- after all, now Fox knows that if it doesn’t, then Newsmax and OAN will.
And no one knows the power of this right-wing cinematic universe more than Liz Cheney.
Before the birther president came along and before her current stint in Congress, Cheney worked for Fox News; she even spent time guest-hosting Hannity. She’d used her platform to shill for torture and demand more commitment to the war in Afghanistan, lionize the Iraq War, and defend Halliburton.
She also accused then-President Barack Obama of intentionally destroying the economy, called for tax cuts for the wealthy, declared that climate science was “bogus,” attacked lawyers for Guantanamo Bay detainees as terrorist sympathizers, repeated debunked lies about Obama and the Muslim Brotherhood, said Obama doesn’t share American values, smeared current Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan as a radical for opposing the military’s “Dont’ Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, agreed that Obama was radicalizing schools, and likened him to Al Qaeda. At one point, Cheney accused Obama of abandoning a country that hadn’t existed for decades.
She called for Obama’s replacement in November 2010. A particular low point was Cheney creating a lie about Obama being too eager to go to Dover Air Force Base to be there when fallen soldiers returned to the country. Indeed, Cheney’s frequent TV appearances in the beginning of the Obama administration helped set the tone for GOP obstruction -- and everything that has happened since, broadly speaking. She certainly impressed Rush Limbaugh (at one point, Limbaugh said on air that he was talking with her).
During one of her times guest-hosting Hannity, Cheney made a point to promote the upstart campaign of Ron Johnson, who at the time was challenging Wisconsin senator and advocate for democracy Russ Feingold. Cut to years later, and Johnson is now Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and is one of the leading Republicans lying about the 2020 election, even brazenly lying about the attack on the Capitol building itself.