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Dominion lawsuit makes clear exactly how the Fox News feedback loop works

February was Black History Month. And according to the pattern of their coverage for the month, as documented by watchdog group Media Matters, instead of respecting the contributions of Black Americans to the U.S. and the world, Fox News chose to spend nearly every day of Black History Month engaging in acts of anti-black racism and white supremacy.

On the first day of the month, for instance, top-rated host Tucker Carlson told his audience that competing networks that offered Black History Month coverage were “openly advocating” for the genocide of white people. A week later, Media Matters noted, “During ‘The Five,’ co-host Jesse Watters suggested that the people ‘who financed’ and ‘designed’ it deserve credit for American infrastructure built by slaves. Watters also joked that he should receive reparations for being ‘1% Black.'”

Repeatedly, Fox News hosts blamed President Joe Biden’s administration for fostering a so-called anti-white society:

February 5

On his show Life, Liberty & Levin, Mark Levin accused “the establishment” of “anti-white racism.”

February 6

Carlson claimed that the Biden administration is “punishing” and “discriminating against certain classes of people” — specifically white men — by appointing Black women as federal judges. Minutes later, Tucker’s guest and Manhattan Institute fellow Christopher Rufo criticized a Florida State University scholarship for nonwhite students while an on-screen chyron read “FSU scholarship: Whites need not apply.”

[…]

February 20

Gutfeld used his show’s opening monologue to accuse Biden of fanning the flames of racial division with “gasoline and a blow torch” by talking about lynching while hosting a screening of a film about the 1955 lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till. Guest Drew Pinsky suggested Biden was “putting a flame under” racial hate and urged schools to teach about Reconstruction, which he called “the real violence that led to this moment.”

February 23

Carlson accused Biden of using equity practices to enact a mandatory “new Jim Crow” that targets white people. Carlson equated the Biden administration’s initiatives to promote diversity to “open racial discrimination, mandatory at all levels of the federal government.”

Fox News is the propaganda arm of the Republican Party. Today’s Republican Party is a white identity and white supremacist organization. As seen through the leaders and their behavior, policies, and overall ideology a hostility towards Black and brown people – including outright racism and white supremacy – is now central to what it means to be a “conservative” and “Republican” in the Age of Trump. In its assigned role, Fox News disseminates, amplifies, reinforces, and normalizes those beliefs and values.

As shown by the private emails, text messages, and other documents that have been revealed through the Dominion Voting Systems $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit, Fox News executives and leading personalities like chairman Rupert Murdoch, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and others have no respect for the network’s audience.

For example, as seen with newly-released documents from the Dominion case, despite Fox News’ coverage of Donald Trump’s claims that the 2020 Election was “stolen” by Biden and the Democrats, the network’s leadership knew that such claims were not valid. Instead, they chose to present those lies as facts out of fear that Fox News’ audience would abandon the network.

In a series of posts on Twitter, Matthew Sheffield, a former right-wing media consultant and Salon staffer, was even more direct:

The Dominion documents have revealed that Fox views its audience as uninformed simpletons who are so wrapped up in their own hatred of fellow Americans that they cannot bear to hear about inconvenient facts.

Dominion’s defamation case against Fox News is so strong that leading constitutional law scholar Laurence Tribe told Salon that “[This] case is the strongest defamation case that I can remember seeing in really the 50 years that I’ve studied this area of law,” Tribe said. “It’s quite remarkable that the evidence is all there and that it easily meets the appropriately difficult standard that New York Times versus Sullivan established in 1964.”

For its part, Fox News maintains that Dominion’s lawsuit is an attack on the First Amendment’s protections for a free press. 

Hate is profitable and central to the Fox News business model.

In reality, Fox News is not in the news business. It is a right-wing “content” propaganda business where their modus operandi is not to inform and educate their audience but instead to give the fan base what they want – which in this case is racism and white supremacy and other anti-Black and anti-brown sentiment.

As a business model that approach makes sense, however unethical and immoral it may be. The Fox News audience is older, less educated, and disproportionately white. Research has repeatedly shown that cohort is much more likely than (white) Democrats or liberals to be racist and hold other types of animosity towards Black and brown people. This includes hostility toward teaching Black History in the country’s schools.

Social scientists and other experts have also shown that Fox News contributes to anti-Black bias and racism through its coverage that disproportionately links Black people to crime, violence, poverty and other negative stereotypes.

In essence, white racist viewers are attracted to Fox News and Fox News in turn amplifies their racist attitudes and beliefs.

A 2015 study by the media watchdog group FAIR explained the feedback loop in this way:

Do media and racial polarization reinforce each other? Is there a connection between news media viewing habits and attitudes about racial equality? Based on an analysis of the American National Election Studies 2012 dataset, we find that white respondents who regularly watch Fox News are more likely to express attitudes of symbolic racism and racial resentment. This is especially true of those Fox News viewers who live in the South.

One common expression of racial resentment is the stereotype that black people have disproportionate influence over the levers of power. Though people of color are far more likely to live under an unrepresentative city council and have far less influence over policy, many racist whites wrongly think that government disproportionately benefits non-whites through social programs.

Our analysis suggests that regular Fox News viewers are more likely to hold such opinions, even after controlling for other factors such as individual race, age, income, education, partisanship, ideology, religiosity and geography.

Research by political scientists Thomas Gift, Andrew M. Bell and Julie M. Norman goes even farther in demonstrating how Fox News activates racist and other anti-black attitudes among white viewers:

Results showed that respondents were significantly more inclined to convict the accused and to find his actions less justified if and only if two conditions were true: The alleged criminal was presented as Black, and the story was reported by Fox News. In other words, just seeing a Fox News logo — keeping all other details the same — was enough to make White Americans think Black Americans were more likely to be guilty of a crime….

One plausible explanation is what social scientists call “priming” — a stimulus that prompts a person to think or behave in a particular pattern. Research has already found that looking at an image of a Confederate flag can make Americans less likely to vote for a Black candidate. Another study has discovered that exposing respondents to an American flag can make citizens more likely to vote Republican.

Similarly, simply spotting the Fox News masthead may be enough to prompt some Whites to expect that Blacks are guilty. Other research finds that Fox News has regularly blamed Black people for rioting and that Fox News’s website is more likely to show Black people in stories about crime. That in turn suggests that Fox News might reinforce racial stereotypes. Other scholars have found that different racial groups tend to be associated with distinct stereotypes — for example, Middle Eastern populations are associated with terrorism, Latinos with illegal immigration and, relevant to our study, Blacks with violence and criminality.

The findings suggest a plausible hypothesis. Perhaps the media brand of Fox News has become such a potent symbol in American politics that, all by itself, it can activate racialized attitudes. When Americans enter partisan “echo chambers,” they don’t just watch or read different news — they enter a hyper-ideological, value-laden environment that alters how they digest and interpret even the same facts.

The white supremacist terrorist who killed 10 Black people while they shopped at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York last May cited the “great replacement” conspiracy theory – that white people are being “replaced” in America and other “white” countries by Black and brown people – as one of the motivations for his crimes. Public opinion polls show that more than 50 percent of Republicans believe in the “great replacement theory.” It is no coincidence that Fox “News” hosts and guests, most notably Tucker Carlson, have repeatedly endorsed that white supremacist conspiracy theory and others.

In the end, hate is profitable and central to the Fox News business model.

But that hatred is also a very lethal business. The Dominion defamation lawsuit will hopefully inspire other parties who have suffered because of Fox News and its intentionally malign actions to seek and receive justice.

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