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It took Fox News a day to figure out how to spin their anchors being exposed as frauds
But don't worry, they eventually came up with something.
Thanks for checking out this free edition of Public Notice. All three newsletters I’ve published this week are free. On Monday, I wrote about the coup PowerPoint presentation that was in Mark Meadows’s emails. On Tuesday, I wrote about texts he shared with the January 6 committee showing a variety of Trumpworld figures begging him to get Trump to do something about the attack on the Capitol as it was happening.
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It took Fox News almost a full day to come up with a way to spin revelations that prominent anchors texted Mark Meadows on January 6 and pleaded with him to persuade then-President Trump to do something about the attack on the Capitol — only to go on the air that day and try and shift blame to anyone but Trump. And when Fox finally did figure out talking points to explain that disconnect, they weren’t particularly persuasive.
Why should anyone care? Fox News spinning and making weak arguments in service of Trump isn’t really notable at this point, after all. But the January 6 double talk by Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham set the tone for the Republican Party’s line about January 6, and no doubt played a role in convincing many of its viewers that Trump’s coup attempt was actually no big deal.
As I detailed yesterday, texts released by the January 6 committee on Monday evening fully revealed the cynicism involved in Fox News’s effort over the past year to reframe a violent attack by Trump supporters to overturn the 2020 election results as the work of antifa or a trap set by FBI agents. Hannity, Ingraham, and Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade all tried to absolve Trump and his supporters of blame on the air, while privately making clear that they believed he was responsible and had the power to stop it.
“Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home,” Ingraham wrote to Meadows as the Capitol was being ransacked. “This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy.”
That message shows that Ingraham rightfully placed blame on Trump for inciting the violent unrest. But hours later, she went on TV and sang a very different tune, saying “there are some reports that antifa was sprinkled throughout the crowd.”
Hannity and Kilmeade behaved in a similarly dishonest manner. As we learned this week, they also sent texts to Meadows urging him to get Trump to do something, only to go on TV or radio in the hours that followed and make it sound as though someone other than Trump and his supporters were to blame. That effort to absolve Trump became the party line in the months that followed, with Ingraham characterizing police officers who were assaulted by Trump supporters as something akin to crisis actors and Tucker Carlson echoing elected Republicans by trying to recast the rioters as tourists. (Perhaps even worse, Carlson recently hosted a 3-part special floating the idea that January 6 was a false flag orchestrated by the FBI.)
This gaslighting is effective. Even I, who have been immersed in this stuff for years and consume it extremely critically, found it jarring to read the text messages sent to Meadows and recall how dark that day actually was as it played out.
Fox ignored the texts, then got busy trying to portray their anchors as heroes
The text revelations cut through the fog and illustrated how disingenuous Fox has been. So it’s not particularly surprising that as the Meadows messages were the biggest political story on Monday evening, Hannity and Ingraham totally ignored their own involvement. Then on Tuesday, as both the network and the names of anchors were trending on Twitter, Fox’s “straight news” programs mostly ignored the story altogether, and instead focused on absurdities. (A few seconds of coverage was devoted to Meadows’s texts, but it focused on Meadow’s texts with Donald Trump Jr. and ignored the ones from Ingraham, Hannity, and Kilmeade.)
Finally, a bit after 6 p.m., a segment on Bret Baier’s show acknowledged the texts to Meadows from Fox anchors. But Ingraham, Hannity, and Ingraham were portrayed laudably, with reporter Chad Pergram focusing on how the three denounced rioting in their messages to Meadows, ignoring how those statements contradicted their later excuse-making for Trump.
To be clear, had Ingraham, Hannity, and Kilmeade texted what they texted to Meadows and then went on the air and said, "Trump is responsible for the attack on the Capitol and it is wrong," they'd deserve credit. Instead they spent a year misleading people, then lied about it when they got caught.
Nobody thinks there’s anything wrong with the texts they sent Meadows — the scandal is the disconnect between their sincere thoughts and what they sold their viewers. Unsurprisingly, however, facts didn’t get in the way of Hannity blatantly lying to rewrite history during his show on Tuesday.
Ingraham, meanwhile, pretended that at some point she clarified on her show that antifa was not in fact responsible for the attack on the Capitol.
Though he isn’t personally involved in this scandal (for a change), Tucker Carlson defended his colleagues by suggesting their privacy was invaded when the January 6 committee released their texts to Meadows. But most reasonable people would agree that if you text the White House chief of staff during a coup attempt, you should expect that those messages may eventually come to light.
Ingraham, for her part, tried to have it both ways, bragging about how she spoke the unvarnished truth to Meadows about the attack on the Capitol, while in the next breath downplaying how bad it was.
This incoherency matters because it’s emblematic of much of the Republican Party’s messaging about January 6. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, for instance, said during a floor speech on January 13 that Trump “bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress.” (Recall also that McCarthy was lying on Ingraham’s show about how “President Trump won this election” as far back as November 5, 2020, so both of them bear some responsibility for encouraging the effort to overthrow the result.)
But by summertime, McCarthy had totally reversed course and was refusing to acknowledge Trump’s culpability.
McCarthy’s position represents where his party finds itself. Shortly after Ingraham went off the air on Tuesday, the House approved a criminal contempt resolution for Meadows, who, after turning over some text messages, is refusing to comply with the January 6 committee’s subpoena.
The vote succeeded, but only two Republicans voted in favor — Liz Cheney, who has taken a leading role in holding Trump and his enablers accountable for January 6, including reading the Fox anchors’ text messages during a hearing on Monday; and Adam Kinzinger, who’s serving his last term in Congress. Both are being purged from the Republican Party for wanting to hold the Trump administration accountable for its coup attempt.
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And how does the GOP get away with this turn toward authoritarianism? In large part due to the effectiveness of its propaganda infrastructure, most notably Fox News, which remains the most watched cable news network in the land.
Consider that if you watched Fox News during the day on Tuesday, you might not have even learned that network anchors were texting with the White House chief of staff during the attack on the Capitol. If you tuned in for primetime, you’d likely come away with the impression that Ingraham and Hannity boldly denounced the insurrection, perhaps forgetting (because why would they remind you?) that they spent the next year making excuses for it.
These influential personalities are trying to normalize a coup attempt based on lies about an election their guy lost legitimately. And they control a media echo chamber with a huge audience where reality is whatever they and their Republican collaborators want it to be on a given night, regardless of what they were texting to the White House chief of staff.