The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The untrackable horror of Fox Business and Fox News

The billionaire philanthropist has long been a point of conversation for Fox network hosts and guests alike. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

There was no hubbub after Lou Dobbs’s show on the Fox Business Network last Thursday night. The media world was riveted to the mail bombs sent by a then-unknown criminal who had it out for Democratic politicians and CNN. That drama had overtaken the migrant caravan proceeding northward toward the U.S. border with Mexico. On “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” however, the caravan merited a close look.

So host Dobbs chatted with Chris Farrell, director of research and investigation for conservative group Judicial Watch, about his firsthand observations on the story. Summing up the caravan, Farrell called it “overwhelmingly male”; he said there were “certainly criminal elements rolled into the caravan”; he called it a “sophisticated operation” and identified “criminal involvement on the part of these leftist groups”; and he said, “A lot of these folks also have affiliates or are getting money from the Soros-occupied State Department and that is a great, great concern. We need to start cutting money — start cutting money there.”

Life went on.

On Saturday evening, Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall caught a re-airing of the Dobbs-Farrell discussion and he tweeted:

The world had changed between the two airings. On Saturday morning, a gunman opened fire on a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 people. Robert Bowers, described by the New York Times as an “isolated, awkward man who lived alone and struggled with basic human interactions,” was accused of the killings. What had motivated the shooter? Also in the words of the Times: “Mr. Bowers frequently reposted anti-Semitic content that alleged Jews control the nation. On a doctored image of the Auschwitz concentration camp, the gate read: ‘Lies Make Money.’ Another post said: ‘Open you Eyes! It’s the filthy EVIL jews Bringing the Filthy EVIL Muslims into the Country!!’ ”

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In light of this atrocity, conspiracy theories about George Soros, the 88-year-old billionaire and philanthropist, attracted new attention. As noted by The Post’s Joel Achenbach, the idea that Soros was somehow funding the caravan stretches back to an separate migrant movement in March. Soros was the recipient of a mail bomb allegedly sent by Cesar Sayoc, the Trump supporter who was charged with also sending devices to a number of Democratic politicians and CNN.

After Marshall’s tweet touched off a social media furor, Fox News on Sunday came forth with action. “We condemn the rhetoric by the guest on Lou Dobbs Tonight,” said Gary Schreier, Fox Business Network’s senior vice president of programming in a statement. “This episode was a repeat which has now been pulled from all future airings.” Nor would Farrell be invited for further guest appearances on Fox Business Network or Fox News. Missing from the statement was any explanation of just what was worthy of the network’s condemnation. Had Schreier gone into such detail, he’d likely have to disqualify other pundits from returning to the network’s air.

The exile for Farrell echoes the treatment of a Fox Business guest who in May alleged on air that torture had “worked” on John McCain in Vietnam and was disqualified from future punditry on Fox.  In June, Fox News contributor David Bossie was suspended for telling a black Democratic strategist, “You’re out of your cotton-picking mind.” Fox News condemned the remarks, and Bossie apologized. And in September, Fox News fired contributor Kevin Johnson after he used Twitter to call Brett M. Kavanaugh’s sexual assault accusers “lying skanks.”

What those examples have in common is outrage immediately after the remarks. In that respect, they differ from the incident with Farrell, who made little or no waves with his “Soros-occupied State Department” remark when it aired last Thursday night. “Honestly, this rhetoric was pretty normal for Fox’s coverage of George Soros. It is the type of thing they’ve been doing and saying for years,” says Matthew Gertz, senior fellow at Media Matters for America, a group that tracks Fox News material. (Gertz is married to a writer in The Post’s Opinions section). “The difference, I think … is the timing — the fact that they got caught with this rhetoric coming in the wake of an anti-Semitic massacre.”

Folks at Media Matters know the ins and outs of Fox News and Soros. In 2010, Soros gave the outfit $1 million. At the time, Soros spoke of his hopes that the donation would “more widely publicize the challenge Fox News poses to civil and informed discourse in our democracy.” Prescient. Though Soros hasn’t donated to Media Matters since then, Fox News still commonly refers to Media Matters in the same breath as Soros.

As for the Dobbs-Farrell episode, it raises an unanswerable but nonetheless pressing question: How much similarly offensive stuff does Fox News/Fox Business spew into the homes of its viewers, with little or no pushback from anyone? How many more calamities do we need to appreciate the horror of this network?

Deputy editorial page editor Ruth Marcus reflects on what the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue means for her family, for Jews and for Americans. (Video: Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

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