(Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)

(Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Sen. Sullivan’s misguided defense of Fox News

Sullivan was certainly combative in the hearing. But don’t mistake that for courage or strength.

  • By Rich Moniak
  • Friday, February 24, 2023 6:01pm
  • Opinion

Two weeks ago, Sen. Dan Sullivan blasted Federal Communication Commission nominee Gigi Sohn for calling Fox News “the most negative impact on our democracy” and “state-sponsored propaganda.” But two developments since then go a long way to backing up Sohn’s complaints.

Once upon a time, Fox News filled a much-needed void in conservative journalism. Launched as “Fair and Balanced” television news alterative, the network’s viewership surpassed CNN within six years. They officially retired that motto after Donald Trump became president. But even before that, their unapologetic conservative bias had been in direct competition with the liberal bias of CNN, MSNBC and others.

Fox News has long enjoyed total dominance on the conservative side. However, in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, they began to lose that grip. So, they delivered their audiences a narrative that they didn’t believe themselves.

That’s according to evidence submitted by Dominion Voting Systems in its defamation lawsuit against Fox News. Their 192-page filing last week is filled admissions made under oath and incriminating internal text messages between Fox News executives, its program managers and talk show hosts.

For instance, Fox CEO Suzanne Scott stated she believed on Nov. 7, the day Fox News and every other network called the election for Joe Biden, that he had been legitimately elected President. She also had “a number of conversations with Sean [Hannity] where he wanted” President Trump “to accept the results.”

Dominion’s lawsuit mainly focuses on allegations that an algorithm in their equipment software flipped millions of votes from Trump to Biden. Sydney Powell, an attorney for Trump and the primary purveyor of that conspiracy theory, presented it on Fox News several shows. No one, except perhaps Lou Dobbs, believed it.

But when one of their news reporters fact checked Trump after he repeated Powell’s nonsense, Tucker Carlson sent Hannity a message. “Please get her fired” he wrote. “It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down.”

Carlson was upset because some previously faithful viewers had left the network for Newsmax, which was shamelessly promoting that conspiracy theory and other unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud. The network responded by casting doubt on the official election results.

The tragic irony is that Fox News built it’s empire by convincing conservatives that the liberal media couldn’t be trusted to deliver the truth. But on the biggest domestic scandal in half a century, they completely betrayed their journalistic ethics by placing profits over the truth.

Doing that ultimately contributed to the Jan. 6 insurrection. Which brings me to the second development.

Days after the Dominion filing, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-California, gave Carlson exclusive access to Capitol surveillance footage recorded on Jan. 6. Without recognizing any irony, he wrote in a fundraising pitch to Republicans donors that “a commitment to All of America requires transparency over partisan games.”

Anyone who thinks that a partisan hack like Carlson can be trusted to pursue the truth about Jan. 6 is a fool.

In November 2021, Carlson’s three-part series about that day led two highly respected conservative commentators—Jonah Goldberg and Stephen Hayes—to end their contract with Fox News. “It’s a perfect example of propaganda that weaves half-truths into a whole lie” Goldberg wrote. “It insinuates that the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol might have been a ‘false flag operation,’ orchestrated by the FBI or the Deep State.”

It’s also important to note that in another defamation case against Fox News, network lawyers successfully argued that viewers should watch Carlson’s show “with an appropriate amount of skepticism.” His “statements “cannot reasonably be interpreted as facts.”

Carlson is the most the popular cable news show host in America. He’s on the network Sullivan staunchly defended. Fox News noticed that. And as if their bias and his were irrelevant, they rewarded him with an impressive sounding headline—“Alaska GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan grills Biden FCC nominee Gigi Sohn over alleged bias.”

Sullivan was certainly combative in the hearing. But don’t mistake that for courage or strength. Like he’s done with everything else surrounding the 2020 presidential election, he’ll bury his head in the sand. And leave it there while Fox News keeps its audience in the dark and angry at everyone on the other side.

• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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