“Is everyone okay?” someone asks. “What happened?” another person adds. “Did anyone see?”
Someone points out that there's no driver in the car.
“Somebody call the cops,” a man says. “We need to find that driver!” A woman adds, “They could have killed someone!”
The camera pivots to a man wearing a hot-dog costume.
“Yeah, come on!” he says. “Whoever did this, just confess! We promise we won't be mad!”
A frame from later in the segment, in which the hot-dog man conspiratorially leans over to declare that “we’re all trying to find the guy who did this” has become a popular meme over the past year. It’s a perfect encapsulation of so much of the current political and cultural moment, this ridiculous figure who did something reckless and dangerous and then tries to pretend there’s some question about their role in it. As you’ve read this paragraph, you’ve probably thought of an example or two.
In a segment on Fox News on Friday morning, one of the hosts of “Fox & Friends” told viewers that we're all trying to find the guy who did this.
Not in so many words, of course. Ainsley Earhardt, sitting on-set with her co-hosts, offered a short summary of the sense of unease and frustration among supporters of President Trump that helped propel the violence on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
“There are 75 million people that voted for President Trump,” she said. “And they are scared. They're worried about what the future of this country looks like. Many of them — ”
“They're confused!” co-host Steve Doocy interjected.
“They are,” Earhardt continued. “They're confused, they're heartbroken that their candidate didn't win and they don't want to be forgotten.”
Trump won a bit over 74 million votes, but that's not the point. The point is that a clown car drove into the Republican electorate and now a woman in a Fox News suit is offering her help figuring out where all this confusion and heartbreak came from.
It is not the case that Fox News bears sole responsibility for this disinformation that's poisoned the sense of reality of so many Trump supporters. But it's unquestionably the case that the network, shows like “Fox & Friends” and the prime time “opinion” lineup contributed to it.
Consider just the issue of Trump's long-standing allegations that the election would be riddled by fraud, a claim (and, previously, a prediction), for which there's no evidence and for which no substantive evidence was ever presented by the campaign in court. This was the core of the idea that the election was stolen from Trump, and that idea was the core motivation for the violent mob that put the entire Congress at risk.
On Nov. 3, the morning of the election, Trump called in to “Fox & Friends” to discuss the election. He used to do this every week before he ran for president, so this was just a chat between old friends. In addition to making a closing pitch to voters — often with the hosts' prompting — he suggested that there would be questionable activity in Pennsylvania due to the number of mail ballots.
“If you look at Philadelphia, the amount of horror that's gone on there during elections, Philadelphia has been a disaster as far as I'm concerned,” Trump said. “Not everybody will say it. They don't like saying it. Philadelphia will be a disaster.”
“Right,” Steve Doocy said, even though the president was not right.
This was just the last in a long series of interviews from Fox News personalities before the election in which Trump made allegations about the election and disparaged his opponent. Fox also published an opinion piece on the Fox News website a few days before the election making his case.
Over the course of the campaign, the network and its online arm were unquestionably sympathetic to the president's case as they had been since he took office. There's a reason that the most fervent base of support Trump enjoys is Republicans who watch Fox News. But it was after the election that the network contributed the most to the tension on display this week.
Repeatedly, Fox News hosts and programs elevated false claims about fraud in the election. When, for example, the Trump campaign alleged that a video from Georgia showed fraud, the video was covered credulously on numerous shows — even after it had been determined by the state not to reveal any suspect activity. Day after day, escalations of Trump's rhetoric and efforts to overturn the election result were treated as serious by a network invested in his narrative.
There were perhaps no more toxic moments than a Nov. 29 interview with Maria Bartiromo. She gave Trump more than half an hour to outline a litany of deranged and debunked claims about the election, never offering any pushback at all.
“There’s no way Joe Biden beat Barack Obama in the Black communities of various cities,” Trump said at one point, “and then he did very badly compared to Obama in other cities throughout the United States. There’s no way it happened. This election was a fraud. It was a rigged election.”
Instead of pushing back, Bartiromo agreed.
“This is disgusting,” she said. “And we cannot allow America’s election to be corrupted.”
In an interview with Brian Kilmeade in mid-December, Trump was again allowed to make baseless fraud claims.
“They cheated like nobody's cheated before,” he said. “And they got caught. So nobody can go in and say oh, congratulations on running a good race. They didn't run a good race. They cheated. They dropped hundreds of thousands of ballots.”
“Right,” Kilmeade replied.
“They did things that nobody's ever seen,” Trump added.
“True,” said Kilmeade, though it was not true at all.
Kilmeade is the third co-host of “Fox & Friends.”
Earhardt's lament about the confusion of her audience was an introduction to a segment from Tucker Carlson's program on Thursday night. It attracted some attention given that he — unusually for the network — laid some blame for the events at the Capitol at Trump's feet. (The guy in the hot-dog suit similarly accused others at the boutique of being the driver of the hot-dog car.)
The gist of Carlson's comments was, first, that his competitors in the media were overstating the extent of what happened on Wednesday. But the primary thrust was that no one in Washington would be concerned about the viewers after the transition in power.
“President Trump could be become immortal and win the next 40 presidential elections and his daughter the next 40 after that,” Carlson said, “but if America becomes a place where you have to violate your own conscience in order to hold a job, where you’re not allowed to protect your family from mob violence, where your children can’t afford to get married and raise your grandchildren because employers don’t like their skin color, then what’s the point of it?”
That was the end of the clip which Earhardt was introducing. Trump supporters are confused and scared for some reason, she said, and then ran tape where one of the network's most popular stars suggested that the future was one in which thought police determined employment, Whites were barred from work and mob violence carried the day.
Look, we’re all just trying to find the guys that did this.