So it says a lot that Peters, whom I’ve known for years, has quit his gig as a paid commentator at Fox because he cannot stomach what the network has become. His problem, obviously, is not that Fox is too conservative. It’s that, as he wrote in a scorching letter of resignation leaked to BuzzFeed, “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 assures me that he wasn’t the source of the leak.)
Peters went on: “Four decades ago, I took an oath as a newly commissioned officer. I swore to ‘support and defend the Constitution,’ and that oath did not expire when I took off my uniform. Today, I feel that Fox News is assaulting our constitutional order and the rule of law, while fostering corrosive and unjustified paranoia among viewers. Over my decade with Fox, I long was proud of the association. Now I am ashamed.”
It’s not hard to see why Peters is ashamed. Fox has turned itself into the American version of RT, Vladimir Putin’s propaganda TV. Not only does Fox usually go to great lengths to avoid criticizing President Trump; it also regularly peddles insidious conspiracy theories on his behalf. To try to undermine the “incontrovertible” evidence that the Russians hacked into the Democratic National Committee, for example, Fox hosts pinned the blame on a DNC staffer named Seth Rich, even going so far as to claim that his murder — ascribed by District police to a botched robbery — was the work of the Democrats. Rich’s parents are now suing Fox for the “pain and anguish” inflicted on them. (Fox has retracted the story.)
The Seth Rich hoax is only the tip of the conspiratorial iceberg at Fox, which has also pushed claims that Obama wasn’t born in America, that Obamacare would create “death panels,” that Hillary Clinton sold America’s uranium to Russia and that a “deep state” is plotting against Trump. (Little wonder that, according to a new poll, 74 percent of Americans believe in the existence of a deep state — a concept Trump borrowed from Egypt and Turkey.)
Fox has taken the lead in smearing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, a war hero and prosecutor of unimpeachable integrity. The network has called for his investigation of Trump to be terminated. Fox host Jeanine Pirro has even suggested that the FBI and Justice Department should be “cleansed of individuals who should not just be fired but who need to be taken out in handcuffs.”
I got a small taste of Fox’s psychosis in July 2017 when I appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show. Carlson was spitting mad because the previous night Peters had accused him of sounding like “Charles Lindbergh in 1938” for advocating an alliance with Russia. Carlson had ostensibly invited me on to discuss Syria, but he spent most of the interview insulting me. He suggested that “nobody” takes me “seriously” (so why did he invite me on?) and that I should “choose another profession — selling insurance, house painting, something you’re good at.” As I later noted, this was emblematic of Carlson’s lowbrow shtick — “sarcasm, condescension, and mock-incredulous double-takes” — all in service of his Maximum Leader.
What makes Fox’s ravings so scary is that they are not just influencing the public — they are also influencing the president. Matthew Gertz of Media Matters for America found a feedback loop between Trump and the TV personalities he watches so faithfully. Many of the president’s deranged tweets — e.g., his claim that his “nuclear button” is “much bigger & more powerful” than Kim Jong Un’s or that Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin should be imprisoned — are lifted straight from Fox. On Monday, the First Fanboy was in ecstasy because his favorite evening host was on his favorite morning show. He tweeted: “.@seanhannity on @foxandfriends now! Great! 8:18 A.M.” Instead of watching Fox, Trump would be better advised to read his briefing papers — such as the one advising him not to congratulate Putin on his rigged election win.
Years ago, before the rise of Trump, I used to think that Fox performed a harmless service by publicizing conservative ideas. It has since become clear that its worldview has little to do with conservatism and everything to do with populism and white nationalism. Fox News’s creation in 1996 by Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes was one of the most damaging developments in modern American history. The wonder is that there aren’t more commentators like Peters with the integrity to resign in protest over Fox’s propaganda.