The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Republicans claim they are being silenced as they speak to millions of viewers

Republicans keep claiming on Fox News that conservative voices are being silenced, even as millions of people are watching them. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

Last week, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) issued a warning on the third-highest rated program on cable news.

“We have got to stand up and say ‘no’ to the mob,” Hawley told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Jan. 25. “Because if we don’t — if we don’t, then conservatives all across this country will be unable to speak, they’ll be unable to do business, they’ll be unable to be heard.”

Hawley’s warning came as he spoke to more than 3.1 million viewers. It was consistent with rhetoric that has been employed by some conservatives in the month since social media platforms removed former president Donald Trump.

Through the first five weeks of 2021, Fox News hosts and guests have frequently claimed that “conservative voices” are being “silenced” or “censored,” according to a Fix review of closed captioning records, even as millions of Americans continued to watch the network, albeit in smaller numbers. Many of these guests were Republican lawmakers, and you can watch examples of their comments in the video above.

In 2020, Fox hosts and guests used some combination of the words “silence,” “cancel” and “censor” more than 4,800 times. Through the first month of 2021, Fox hosts and guests have used those words more than 900 times on air, according to a Fix review, equal to nearly one-fifth of all references the previous year.

On Jan. 10, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) bemoaned the power of tech companies to “wipe you out” as he spoke to more than 1.9 million viewers.

On Jan. 11, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told Hannity that he was “concerned” about the First Amendment as he addressed more than 2.6 million viewers.

On Jan. 14, Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) told Hannity that he did not lose his legs serving in the Army so that companies could “silence whoever the hell you want” as he addressed nearly 3 million viewers.

And on Jan. 20, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) told Hannity that Democrats want to “cancel us from the public square altogether” as he addressed more than 3.1 million viewers.

Fox News hosts and guests have long conflated “cancel culture” and accountability, but the increased focus on “cancel culture” and the “silencing” of conservatives appears to be one of the foremost campaign tactics in a post-Trump political world.

Hawley, who appeared last month on the cover of the fourth-biggest U.S. newspaper by print circulation to claim he was being muzzled, just had his most successful fundraising month ever.

Other Republicans, like Gaetz, have repeatedly bemoaned “cancel culture” even while trying to remove a member of his own party from office.

“Tonight, the Republicans decided to keep Liz Cheney,” Gaetz told Hannity on Wednesday. “Tomorrow, the Democrats will boot Marjorie Taylor Greene from her committees. I think both decisions reinforce the power of Washington and it only encourages me to try to go out in America and get people focused on the changes we need to make in both parties so that the voters are respected.”

Millions were watching at the time.