NBC host Chuck Todd said Sunday that Fox News is responsible for the dramatic decline in public trust in journalists over the past two decades. He’s absolutely right, and that network’s corrosive influence on the public debate is endangering our democracy.
Over the past few decades, public confidence in the press has declined steadily, with Republicans driving the stomach-turning plummet:
On Meet the Press, CBN News’ David Brody argued that President Donald Trump benefits from the low marks the mainstream media receive from the public, highlighting a recent survey that found 62 percent of Americans think the news is biased. Todd responded by putting the blame squarely on Fox.
“The conservative echo chamber created that environment,” Todd said. “It has been a tactic and a tool of the Roger Ailes-created echo chamber. So let’s not pretend it’s not anything other than that.” He later added that the conservative critique of a biased media “was a campaign tactic,” not an argument “based in much fact.”
Todd is exactly right. As The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple notes, Fox built the largest following in cable news by turning the purported bias of other media outlets into a central plank of the network’s platform, labeling itself “Fair and Balanced” in contrast to the rest of the press. Ailes, a former advisor to three Republican presidents, sought to build power for his party by denouncing his competitors and convincing conservatives not to trust them. He succeeded -- so well that even some at Fox itself are unnerved.
Fox’s propagandists constantly tell their audience that other outlets are irretrievably liberal and, in recent days, vehemently opposed to Trump, seizing on their errors as evidence of conspiracies and on their failures as evidence of bad faith. Fox and Trump use the same methods to the same ends, undermining the press to condition their supporters not to trust anyone else.
Today’s edition of Fox & Friends, the network’s propagandistic morning show, is a case in point: On stories big and small, the hosts provided an undercurrent of contempt for their colleagues at other outlets. The program’s take on the president’s former lawyer accusing Trump of conspiring in crimes was that the president is “under attack” from the media, running over the caption “The President Vs. The Press.” A segment on Trump’s polling numbers featured a jab about former President Barack Obama having received “a lot of hype, … a lot of support from the media.” “Reporter fails at getting [golfer Tiger] Woods to bash Trump” was a real chyron that aired on national television.
Hour after hour, day in and day out, a right-wing cable news channel bathes its audience members in conservative messages and warns them that anything less is liberal claptrap. The result is an alternative reality for Fox viewers, into which critical facts cannot penetrate. It’s a good sign that Todd is pointing out that dynamic -- there’s no way to end Fox’s hold without admitting that it exists.