After a year that has seen Fox News battered by advertiser boycotts over the bigoted language common to its programming, the network's parent company held Thursday’s annual shareholder meetings embroiled in a new controversy over the regurgitation of vile anti-Semitic tropes on its airwaves.
If Fox had actual standards like a normal news outlet, it would already have announced a permanent ban on future appearances by Joe diGenova, a Republican lawyer and frequent guest on pro-Trump Fox programs, in light of his Wednesday night interview.
During an appearance on Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight alongside his wife and legal partner Victoria Toensing, diGenova downplayed impeachment inquiry testimony that day from State Department diplomat George Kent by arguing that Kent is a pawn of George Soros, a Jewish billionaire whose support of U.S. progressive causes and foreign anti-corruption, pro-democracy efforts has made him the frequent target of conspiracy theories steeped in anti-Semitic tropes.
According to diGenova’s bonkers, evidence-free theory, “Soros controls a very large part of the career foreign service of the United States State Department,” has “corrupted FBI officials,” and is seeking to “run Ukraine” using that influence over the U.S. government to benefit his business interests.
DiGenova’s comments, suggesting that the Jewish financier is a shadowy puppet master controlling vast swaths of the federal government for his own dark purposes, are “right out of the propaganda mills of Hungary’s Viktor Orban and other rightist anti-Semitic movements in Eastern Europe,” as Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall noted. Indeed, they are so reprehensible that Fox has previously ruled that such remarks earn a lifetime ban from the network’s platform.
When Judicial Watch research director Chris Farrell said the “Soros-occupied State Department” had funded caravans of Central American migrants during an October 2018 appearance on Dobbs’ program, the network condemned his “rhetoric” and said he would not be invited back. (Dobbs himself did not react to Farrell’s statement and in fact undermined the network’s response; he has his own record of anti-Semitic Soros smears.)
In the wake of diGenova’s comments, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt called on Fox to “hold the same standard” on diGenova as on Farrell.
But Fox has done no such thing. That may reflect how Fox punishments tend to be based on a sliding scale reflecting both the level of criticism the network is receiving and the relative importance of the perpetrator. And diGenova’s role as a key player in the Sean Hannity Extended Universe of pro-Trump conspiracy theorists grants him a great deal of protection.
Farrell’s comments caused a firestorm for Fox because they drew attention in the wake of a murderous rampage at a Pittsburgh synagogue by a white supremacist who was obsessed with the idea that Jews were behind the caravans.
Farrell’s relatively low status as a sometimes guest made the calculus easy for Fox: By cutting him loose, the network’s PR team could head off the subject and forestall niggling questions about the Soros conspiracy theory’s pervasiveness on its airwaves. Meanwhile, pro-Trump hosts like Dobbs and Hannity could simply slot in Farrell’s Judicial Watch boss, Fox regular Tom Fitton, for future segments.
By contrast, diGenova is essential to Fox’s conspiracy theory machine. He and Toensing were deeply enmeshed in Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s scheme to help Trump’s reelection by running a shadow foreign policy effort in Ukraine. They have employed or been employed by leading players in the plot to smear Joe Biden and undermine the intelligence community's findings that Russia interfered in our 2016 election, all while making dozens of appearances on Fox News and Fox Business to detail the ins and outs of the twisted narrative they helped assemble (diGenova alone has made at least 65 appearances this year, according to Media Matters research).
Indeed, the best argument that diGenova didn’t engage in anti-Jewish animus on Wednesday is that he was simply acting in the interests of his client Dmitry Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch with ties to Russian organized crime. Firtash, who retained diGenova and Toensing to prevent his extradition to the United States on bribery charges, has clashed with Ukrainian anti-corruption organizations supported by Soros.
Of course, that’s simply another reason Fox shouldn’t allow diGenova on its airwaves: He has an irreconcilable conflict of interest on the topics he discusses -- one that he hid from the network’s audience.
The network’s latest failure to take action hammers home the reality that there are no real rules at Fox.