The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Two Fox News pundits quit over concerns about ‘conspiracy-mongering’ Jan. 6 documentary

Conservative writers Jonah Goldberg and Stephen Hayes said ‘the voices of the responsible are being drowned out by the irresponsible’ at Fox

Jonah Goldberg in Washington in 2017. The conservative writer was one of two pundits who split with Fox News this week. (T.J. Kirkpatrick for The Washington Post)

Two longtime Fox News commentators, Jonah Goldberg and Stephen Hayes, have cut ties with the cable news giant over a recent documentary series that cast doubt about whether a violent insurrection really occurred on Jan 6.

The “Patriot Purge” series, which aired this month on the Fox Nation streaming service, featured several rioters who floated an unfounded conspiracy theory that the federal government facilitated the storming of the U.S. Capitol to entrap supporters of Donald Trump.

Fox’s decision to air the series drew bipartisan backlash — and it was the final straw for Goldberg and Hayes, they said.

The series “is a collection of incoherent conspiracy-mongering, riddled with factual inaccuracies, half-truths, deceptive imagery, and damning omissions,” Goldberg and Hayes wrote in a blog post on Sunday night, concluding that “the voices of the responsible are being drowned out by the irresponsible” at Fox News.

Goldberg and Hayes joined Fox in 2009 as paid contributors, appearing regularly to offer commentary and analysis, but their role in the broader media ecosystem — and their positioning on the network’s ideological spectrum — had changed in the intervening years.

After lengthy careers in conservative media — Goldberg spent 21 years at National Review, and Hayes served as the top editor at the Weekly Standard — they emerged as critics of Donald Trump and found themselves on a small island with other conservative dissenters during his administration. They joined forces in 2019 and started the Dispatch, a digital news and commentary site that approaches national politics from a center-right perspective.

But that willingness to criticize Trump put them at odds with Fox’s prime time stars, who remain largely supportive of the former president as he weighs a possible 2024 campaign. Their recent appearances were mostly limited to straight-news hours, including anchor Bret Baier’s 6 p.m. program.

“Over the past five years, some of Fox’s top opinion hosts amplified the false claims and bizarre narratives of Donald Trump or offered up their own in his service,” Goldberg and Hayes wrote, though they offered praise for the network’s news anchors and reporters — “the people who put the 'news’ in Fox News.” (New York Times media columnist Ben Smith first reported their departure.)

A Fox News executive said the network had not planned to re-sign Goldberg and Hayes when their contract expired next year.

While it is not uncommon for paid commentators to exit, often for new opportunities at rival television networks, it is extremely unusual for longtime pundits to burn down their former employer on the way out.

The only recent precedent at Fox News is Ralph Peters, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who called out the network in a scathing 2018 internal memo conveying to colleagues his reasons for not renewing his contract as a strategic analyst.

“In my view, Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration,” Peters wrote at the time.

On Monday, Peters told The Washington Post, “Emotionally, I’m bewildered that two people as well-informed, well-intentioned and thoughtful as Hayes and Goldberg could rationalize their complicity for so long.” Peters acknowledged that “the allure and rewards of performing on Fox can be immensely seductive.”

Their departure drew praise Sunday night from Weekly Standard founder Bill Kristol, a veteran of the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, who also left a role as a Fox News contributor in 2013, though he did not publicly criticize the network at the time.

“Kudos … for standing up to Fox, yelling Stop, at a time when few other conservatives are inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it,” Kristol wrote on Twitter.

In the summer of 2016, with Trump enmeshed as the Republican presidential nominee, Fox News political analyst Kirsten Powers left the network — with time still remaining on her contract — to join CNN as a contributor.

“I started to notice that the people who were being critical of Trump were starting to get downgraded and people who were his boosters started showing up in places where they didn’t used to be,” she told The Post.

On Monday, she expressed surprise that Goldberg and Hayes no longer fit into Fox’s programming. Referring to Hayes, she asked, “What does it say that this person who was on prime time all the time, who is an undeniably conservative person, doesn’t fit with your network? Who has changed? Steve’s the same person.”

In recent months, Goldberg had shown a willingness to call out Fox on social media, portending a future split. In January, he mocked Fox News host Jeanine Pirro’s on-air commentary and criticized the network’s “abjectly terrible decision” to part ways with political editor Chris Stirewalt, who played a role in the network’s Trump-enraging decision to call the state of Arizona for then-candidate Joe Biden. “If saying so is a problem with some folks, so be it,” Goldberg wrote. He also called out Carlson for never inviting him on his show.

Goldberg and Hayes’s exit also won praise on social media from the two Republican members of Congress who serve on the House committee investigating the insurrection. “Thank you @stephenfhayes and ⁦@JonahDispatch for standing up for truth and calling out dangerous lies,” wrote Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.). Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) called it “leading by example.”

But Peters said the departures were unlikely to make much of an impact at the network. “While Hayes and Goldberg arguably had been the most honest and eloquent contributors remaining at Fox, they will not be missed by the core Fox audience, nor will their departure trigger any soul-searching within the moral and ethical black hole of the Fox hierarchy,” he said.