The Fox News Problem

Nick Shereikis
November 7, 2022

At 8 p.m. EST on any given night, over three million people are watching Fox News. In the first 20 months following the infamous 2012 Benghazi attacks, in which four Americans lost their lives overseas, the network used this platform to run almost 1,100 segments attacking Democratic leadership for its role in the catastrophe.

17 months after right-wing insurgents stormed the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, Fox News decided not to air live coverage of the House committee hearings investigating the riot.

Of course, this may not have surprised you. It didn’t surprise me. Fox News has a well-documented history of refusing to cover current events that could cast doubt on its own ideology. The network is an intensely conservative and one-sided cable news outlet responsible for facilitating and spreading misinformation among millions of viewers every single day. If that seems like a problem, it’s because it is – several peer-reviewed studies show that those who exclusively watch Fox News actually know less about current events than people who abstain from news television entirely, a phenomenon since dubbed the “Fox News Effect.”

In the early days of television, Americans could only choose between three major networks for their news media diet: ABC, CBS, and NBC. That lasted for almost 30 years – until suddenly, it didn’t. In 1994, newly founded, right-wing Fox forced its way to competitive prominence. And its influence has only grown since. Today, Fox News has been the number one cable news network for two full decades.

It goes almost without saying that partisan bias in our mainstream media is unconfined to any one particular political party. CNN, MSNBC, the Rachel Maddow Show – it’s not difficult to find media outlets covering current events with a decidedly liberal bias. But Fox News presents a much bigger problem for, and threat to, our national political culture than any other network. In other words: It isn't the partisan bias, per se, that's the problem with the network.

Fox News is the cornerstone of the modern, far-right conservative movement. Founded by longtime Republican political strategist Roger Ailes, the network consistently ranks as exceptionally untrustworthy in media bias charts, even below its own parallel web platform. It also shows considerably more bias than any of the left-leaning or liberal outlets often named to illustrate media malpractice across the aisle, suggesting it is much more dangerous to its audience than any of its competition.

Why is Fox News so often referred to as untrustworthy? Well, primarily because it rarely shares any real news. It’s no secret that the network regularly spreads misinformation, even about incredibly important public safety issues like the COVID-19 pandemic. Fox’s lawyers even, at one point, fought a lawsuit filed against host Tucker Carlson by claiming that his statements “cannot reasonably be interpreted as facts” – and the judge presiding over the case agreed.

And Carlson epitomizes Fox News’ willingness to platform pundits with wildly dangerous and unreasonable belief systems. Consider, for instance, the controversial personality's decision to endorse Russian President Vladimir Putin in his unprompted and unwarranted attack on Ukraine; a choice so evidently awful and tone-deaf that it immediately prompted bipartisan backlash. Carlson eventually walked his statement back, but he never apologized for making it in the first place, and subsequent studies show that the damage is probably already done.

It's time to take on the media juggernaut that is Fox News. It’s time to fight and push back against their stranglehold on our television news market, and to reclaim our national political culture. It will take a coordinated, whole-of-society effort – Americans calling their cable companies to complain, businesses pulling funding and sponsorship from the network, the creation of more organizations like Media Matters for America dedicated to combatting the spread of misinformation, possibly even federal regulation – but it can be done. It must be done.

Fox News is partisan, but the Fox News problem isn’t a partisan issue. When your audience is as large as Fox News’ is, you have an intense responsibility to your consumers to “do no harm,” lest you corrupt or damage their cognitive processes in some way. Fox is shirking that responsibility, actively and consciously. Fox News is clearly and measurably harming our national political culture through explicit journalistic malpractice, and it’s time for us to do something about it.

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