The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Don’t buy into Trump’s disapproval of Fox News. The network is working hard on his election-denial fantasy.

President Trump greets Fox opinion host Sean Hannity, his loyal supporter, with open arms at a campaign rally in Missouri in November 2018. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

On his Fox News show Sunday, Chris Wallace repeatedly tried to get Alex Azar to acknowledge a basic truth: that President Trump had failed to win reelection.

When the health and human services secretary referred to Joe Biden as “Vice President Biden,” Wallace interrupted him: “He’s the president-elect, sir. He’s the president-elect. . . . First of all, it’s the President-elect Joe Biden. ”

But Azar didn’t acknowledge the correction and Wallace eventually moved on, continuing an interview that was largely about the pandemic and the distribution of vaccines.

It’s this kind of gesture — the mere pointing out of an irrefutable reality by some Fox staffers — that helps explain why Trump claims to be disenchanted with Fox these days.

“They forgot the Golden Goose,” the president charged in a mid-November tweetstorm about how the network has supposedly failed him. “The biggest difference between the 2016 Election, and 2020, was @FoxNews!”

As a deadly pandemic raged on, Trump stayed focused on Fox’s ratings, claiming they are declining because they haven’t supported him staunchly enough — he is the Golden Goose, after all.

Trump may or may not be sincere in his criticism of the network. You’d have to be in his head to know for sure, and, happily, that’s not in my tool kit. But what’s certain is that Fox helped Trump incalculably during the campaign — and that the network continues to do so now.

Trump is leaving press freedom in tatters. Biden can take these bold steps to repair the damage.

On Monday, for instance, news anchor Harris Faulkner let Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) rattle on about the supposedly stolen and fraud-filled election without anything close to a sufficient challenge. The facts? It was as if she’d never heard of them. An on-screen chyron did some of the pro-Trump work: “Rep Brooks: We Witnessed ‘Largest Election Theft.’ ”

And Faulkner did the rest with her placid acceptance, lack of pushback and finally her praise of Brooks’s point of view: “It is fascinating to hear this . . .”

For a further reality check, consider the remarkable numbers in a new Civiqs/Daily Kos poll: Among frequent viewers of Fox News, not even 1 in 5 say they accept that Biden won the presidential election, about which there is no legitimate question. Even fewer think the election was conducted fairly.

Make no mistake about the connection between Fox and election denialism. These hardcore viewers come to Fox for the unreality show, where Fox (or Fox Business) hosts like Sean Hannity, Maria Bartiromo and Lou Dobbs give Trump lies everything they’ve got.

In late November, for instance, even after Trump’s legal team dumped Sidney Powell, Hannity had her on his prime-time show to further promote her wacky notions. She’s most infamous for the one about Dominion Voting Systems coordinating with dead Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez to steal the election from Trump. And don’t forget Maria Bartiromo’s embarrassingly soft “exclusive” interview with Trump, allowing him to claim, without challenge, that the election was rigged and a fraud.

Fox likes to brag about the distinction between its opinion shows and its news coverage, and, in general, the news-side hosts do nod to the fact that Biden is the president-elect.

Despite that, there’s plenty of nonsense happening on the supposedly straight news shows, too. Daytime anchors, supposedly impartial and fact-based, far too often allow their guests to prattle on falsely about widespread election fraud as if it were a real thing, and fail to challenge Republican lawmakers who won’t publicly acknowledge reality.

When Trump produced a lie-filled Facebook video (“the most important speech I’ve ever made”) about voter fraud, even Fox’s vaunted straight-news guy Bret Baier used several misleading clips without an immediate fact check.

Fox News needs to reinvent itself for the post-Trump era. Here’s one radical idea.

But the network’s helpful spirit is apparently not nearly enough for the president. Trump, claiming disenchantment, has directed his base to Newsmax and One America News, where the delusion that widespread fraud stole the election is given even freer rein.

But it’s Fox — not these upstarts — that has the millions of regular viewers, the big-name stars, and, by far, the greatest influence on people’s opinions.

“For all the chatter about a schism between Trump and Fox, no one is working harder to help the president steal the election than his propagandists at that network,” Matthew Gertz of Media Matters for America, who has regularly documented the feedback loop between Fox and Trump, told me.

Trump won’t be successful in stealing the election outright. But it’s already obvious that he will succeed in undermining the legitimacy of the election and of the incoming administration. Thanks in large part to Fox News, there’s almost no chance of Americans coming together in a way that would benefit the country. Millions of them are thoroughly convinced that Biden will be an illegitimate president.

And no matter what Trump does next, whether he starts a media company, runs for president in 2024 or tries to defends himself in court, this fantasy serves his purposes — certainly not the nation’s — extremely well.

You would think he’d show a little gratitude.

Read More:

The disinformation system that Trump unleashed will outlast him. Here’s what reality-based journalists must do about it.

What Obama gets right — and very wrong — about the media

How to cover a coup — or whatever it is Trump is attempting

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