In 2015, Fox News' three primetime hosts engaged in a smear campaign against the Black Lives Matter movement, fearmongering about the alleged threat they pose to law and order and hyping racist canards aimed at discrediting the movement's calls for justice.
The Black Lives Matter movement -- which emerged after the 2013 shooting death of black teenager Trayvon Martin -- became a regular news fixture in 2015 following the high-profile deaths of several unarmed black civilians at the hands of police officers. The movement brought national attention to the issues of police brutality and racial disparities in criminal justice. One group associated with the movement introduced a set of concrete policy solutions, and the movement as a whole became a politically relevant force amid the 2016 presidential race.
In response, Fox's primetime lineup -- Bill O'Reilly, Megyn Kelly, and Sean Hannity -- spent the year disparaging the movement, caricaturing Black Lives Matter as extreme and dangerous while downplaying the problem of police brutality.
Accusing Black Lives Matter Of Extremism
At the forefront of Fox's primetime coverage of Black Lives Matter has been an effort to cast the movement as a radical, militant group that poses a threat to law and order.
The network has primarily sought to disparage the Black Lives Matter movement by likening them to marginalized hate groups by and large rejected from mainstream society. In October, Sean Hannity decried the Democratic National Committee's decision to approve a presidential town hall hosted by groups associated with Black Lives Matter, asking “why don't you let the [Ku Klux] Klan host a party?” Bill O'Reilly bemoaned that “the rise of fascism on American college campuses” has been “no doubt encouraged by groups like Black Lives Matter and other radical concerns,” and once equated the Black Lives Matter movement to the Nazi Party, reasoning that they are both “extreme group[s].”
Bill O'Reilly has also outright labeled Black Lives Matter a “hate group,” claiming they “want [police officers] dead” :
BILL O'REILLY: I think they're a hate group, they hate police officers ... they hate them, they want them dead.
They're a hate group and I'm going to tell you right now I'm going to put them out of business. And any media person who supports them, I'm going to put them on this program and put their picture right up on the air.
Fox's top hosts have also suggested that Black Lives Matter protesters and demonstrations endanger social cohesion and nationwide safety. After a video went viral in June showing a white McKinney, Texas police officer manhandling a black teenage girl, pinning her to the ground and drawing his gun on other black teens, Bill O'Reilly opened his June 9 show with a segment titled “The War On Cops.” In the segment, which included b-roll of Black Lives Matter protesters interspersed with footage of riots, O'Reilly stoked fears about the possibility of a “war between the police and minorities in America,” charging that “anti-police zealots are given wide latitude to spew their hatred and irresponsible ravings.” O'Reilly gave the police in the video a pass, instead noting that “there is a growing disrespect for police officers in some American neighborhoods” and arguing that “that attitude is going to lead to violence.”
Fox's primetime line-up also baselessly connected the Black Lives Matter movement to the September death of a Fox Lake, Illinois police officer. Megyn Kelly labeled the death a “murder,” noting that “it comes just days after” a Texas sheriff claimed the death of a deputy was inspired by Black Lives Matter. Bill O'Reilly asked whether “the Black Lives Matter crew and other radicals are igniting violence against cops.” The officer's death was later ruled a suicide.
Fox's primetime hosts have also fixated on extreme comments of random protesters to discredit the Black Lives Matter movement as violent extremists. On August 29, a small group of protesters at the Minnesota State Fair protesting police brutality chanted “pigs in a blanket, fry 'em like bacon.” Black Lives Matter organizers distanced themselves from the controversial chant, but in the following months, O'Reilly, Kelly, and Hannity repeatedly invoked the chant to decry the Black Lives Matter movement as a whole. Fox's Juan Williams called out the ploy on Hannity:
SEAN HANNITY: Your Democratic Party is going to allow the “pigs in a blanket, fry them like bacon” group to host a Democratic forum? What's wrong with your party? ... Talk about killing cops? Fry them like bacon?
JUAN WILLIAMS: I don't think that they were serious by the way. You guys make this into, like that was the anthem of all Black Lives Matter. This was a group making some offhand remarks.
HANNITY: Oh no? That was the Black Lives Matter movement.
WILLIAMS: You tried to connect it to the death in Houston. It had nothing to do with it.
HANNITY: Right, the “pigs in the blanket, fry them like bacon” group.
WILLIAMS: I don't think that's fair.
HANNITY: Larry, is that fair? That's their group. That's their chant. They did it.
In response to the chant, Megyn Kelly remarked, “You're supposed to put on somebody from the Black Lives Matter movement to represent their side of the story,” but asked “why should we be listening to someone who speaks like that?”
Inviting Extreme Guests To Attack Black Lives Matter
When they're not demonizing Black Lives Matter themselves, Fox's primetime hosts invite extreme right-wing commentators to do the job for them.
Megyn Kelly hosted notorious right-wing race-baiters Ron Hosko and Mark Fuhrman to discuss Black Lives Matter, crime, and policing over a dozen times in 2015, and in doing so mainstreamed and legitimized some of the most racist impulses of the right-wing.
Ron Hosko is the president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, a conservative nonprofit that “prop[s] up right-wing organizations to which they have ties.” Hosko has made inflammatory remarks in the past about policing, once calling former Attorney General Eric Holder “chief among the antagonists” of unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. Hosko also suggested that Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown, had been symbolically lynched, claiming that Eric Holder wanted cops to “watch” the lynching and that Holder should “cut Darren Wilson down from that tree.”
In keeping with his record of disparaging comments, Hosko frequently attacked the Black Lives Matter movement on Kelly's show. On the September 1 edition of The Kelly File, after the Fox Lake police officer was found dead and Fox News rushed to associate the death with Black Lives Matter, Megyn Kelly asked Hosko about President Obama's response to instances of police brutality. Hosko quickly pivoted towards attacking Black Lives Matter:
MEGYN KELLY: [President Obama] always gives a shout out to the cops when he comments on this matter. But the critics have said, Ron, whenever he compliments the cops or, you know, pays tribute to the hard work they do, there is always a but. You know, but, we have seen this epidemic. But, you know, young black men have good reason to fear. But we have this problem that the cops are responsible for, and so on.
RON HOSKO: We have. And too often it does seem like it is superficial, like it's something he has to say, not something he feels strongly about or truly believes in. Here we have a movement with hundreds of people standing behind a Black Lives Matter banner discrediting themselves. They have done it before. When is it time for senior administration officials to discredit them, as well? These are people who are tugging as hard as they can and tearing at the fabric of trust between our community and law enforcement. It is time to push them to the margins.
Mark Fuhrman, a Fox contributor and former detective for the Los Angeles Police Department, is a regular on both The Kelly File and Hannity. Fuhrman has a record of racist comments that he has made publicly and privately, including using the word n***** more than 40 times over a 10 year period. Yet despite Fuhrman's problematic past statements regarding race and policing, he regularly appears on Fox during primetime to disparage the Black Lives Matter movement. On the one-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, Fuhrman derided peaceful demonstrations in Ferguson as “gang members and street drug dealers ... just hanging out” and “taking advantage of a hesitant police department,” lamenting that the protesters always “just take more and more.”
Sean Hannity frequently hosts Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke to discuss crime and policing. Clarke, himself an African-American, has called Black Lives Matter “an ideology of victimhood with a list of grievances that do not exist” while appearing on Hannity, and said that the endorsement of Black Lives Matter by Democratic politicians is “plantation politics.”
O'Reilly often invites former Fox host Glenn Beck onto The O'Reilly Factor. Beck has equated politicians speaking to Black Lives Matter supporters to “choosing death.” Fox commentator Bernie Goldberg once lamented to O'Reilly that networks “were all showing [Black Lives Matter protesters'] good racial manners” instead of their “bad racial manners” due to “white liberal guilt because of slavery.”
Linking Black Lives Matter To Criminality
Fox News' primetime hosts have also been quick to caricature Black Lives Matter protesters as criminals, implying that if black people didn't rob, join gangs, use drugs -- so the story goes -- they wouldn't be subjected to such heavy policing. The hosts have repeatedly seized on events that have inspired Black Lives Matter protests, deriding victims of police brutality and black communities broadly in an attempt to discredit the Black Lives Matter movement.
In May, after Black Lives Matter protesters took to the streets in Baltimore to protest the death of Freddie Gray, Sean Hannity blamed the community reaction on a “tragic wave of violent crime” in American cities “with no end in sight.” Hannity then attempted to lecture black activists about crime in the black community, mocking the idea that racism could be a root cause of violence in Baltimore.
Megyn Kelly is notorious in her own right for shaming and blaming black victims of police brutality. Kelly suggested that Sandra Bland's death could be due in part to her failure to obey the police officer, arguing that her death could have been averted if she had just “compl[ied] and complain[ed] later.” Kelly also interjected that the black teenage girl manhandled by a McKinney police officer “was no saint either,” after bemoaning that people had “made this into a race thing.”
Characterizing Black Lives Matter protesters or black victims of police brutality as criminals occurs within a broader context of Fox News implying that there is something inherently criminal within black communities. After a nine-year-old boy was killed by gun violence in Chicago, Bill O'Reilly argued that the people perpetrating violence in Chicago have “no conscience at all ... and do what they want” and claimed that violence in Chicago comes from a “culture that is sociopathic.” He also suggested that Chicago's high incidence of violence “never improves” “because these deaths are in the black precincts” and “in the white precincts ... this would never happen.” Megyn Kelly once bemoaned the “anti-cop ... thug mentality” she sees in “black communities.” And throughout 2015, Sean Hannity has aired several segments linking black-on-black crime to the “problems” in black communities.
Fox's obsession with black criminality highlights how the network dissuades largely-white audiences from believing that police brutality is indicative of systemic racism, working to mainstream the notion that injustices in the black community are deserved. As media outlets disproportionately misrepresent black people as criminals, Fox's primetime hosts help to "[reinforce] a culture in which the benefit of the doubt is not distributed evenly" and “inaccurate and harmful stereotypes” of black criminality are pervasive. The network's portrayal of black communities as “out of control and replete with danger” consequently “reduces [white people's] empathy and heightens animosity,” all to distract from or even excuse police brutality.
The reality is that black people still face incredibly disproportionate rates of police brutality, unarmed killings, and incarceration. Black people are more than twice as likely than white people to be murdered by police. In 2015 alone, nearly 70 unarmed black people have been killed by law enforcement.
And yet, instead of embracing these facts, Fox News has impugned Black Lives Matter, fearmongering about the movement's potential and blaming them for the very injustices that befall the black community.