How Fox News personalities amplified divisions, disinformation around Jan. 6

Text messages sent to Mark Meadows on Jan. 6 came from some of President Trump’s closest allies, urgently requesting him to stop the siege on the Capitol. Some of those allies included key Fox News personalities, like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, who later that day suggested the crowd was not made up of Trump supporters. Judy Woodruff discusses with NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    During last night's hearing, committee Vice Chair Representative Liz Cheney read text messages sent to Mark Meadows on January 6 from some of President Trump's closest allies.

    The text messages showed concern and an urgent request to the president to stop the siege on the Capitol.

    Some of those allies included key FOX News personalities, like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, who, later that day, however, suggested the crowd was not made up of Trump supporters.

  • Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY):

    Quote: "Mark, the president needs to tell the people in the Capitol to go home. This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy," Laura Ingraham wrote.

  • Laura Ingraham, FOX News:

    Earlier today, the Capitol was under siege by people who can only be described as antithetical to the MAGA movement. Now, they were likely not all Trump supporters, and there are some reports that Antifa sympathizers may have been sprinkled throughout the crowd. We will have more on that later.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    To talk us through the role FOX News plays in all this, I'm joined by NPR's media correspondent, David Folkenflik.

    David, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    So, as you listen to and read about these text messages and then what these FOX News anchors said in the aftermath, what does it all add up to, in your mind?

  • David Folkenflik, National Public Radio:

    Well, it tells you the central role that FOX News played throughout the Trump presidency.

    It tells you, in a sense, that they don't see any distinction between advising the president, trying to champion his reputation, champion his standing, champion perhaps his aims and goals from their own supposedly journalistic endeavors.

    They may be opinion hosts, but, if you work for a news organization, you're supposed to acknowledge, even as opinion journalists, facts that go contrary to your rooting interests. They seem to have done that in what you have seen on, a brief clip of on the air, and in other clips throughout.

    And it also tells you that they know. They knew that this was a problem. They knew this was serious. They knew this represented a crisis, in a sense, a challenge, a violent challenge, to the peaceful transfer of power that was supposed to be ceremonially certified on that day from President Trump to his successor, then president-elect Joe Biden.

    And it tells you yet they nonetheless were willing to say something quite different to the millions of viewers who turn to them and rely on them on a daily basis. I think that tells you that they don't see their loyalty to the truth. They don't see their loyalty to their viewers' need to understand the facts as they are, but to perhaps serve their appetites and their political rooting.

    It's a very different journalistic mission than you and I embrace. I don't think it's, in fact, a journalistic mission at all.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And in terms of what we knew about — we have known in the past they have spoken favorably of a former President Trump for years.

    But does this take it to a different level, do you think?

  • David Folkenflik:

    I mean, it shows you how there's no wall, no membrane separating FOX News and its prime-time lineup and political opinion stars from President Trump's closest circle of advisers.

    Sean Hannity was an adviser from the outset of Trump candidacy into the White House, Laura Ingraham, for that matter, Tucker Carlson, who doesn't appear on this particular roster of text messages as sent to Mark Meadows.

    Nonetheless, I think what it does is sharpen the disconnect between what we know that FOX News stars know when they're purveying conspiracy theories, supporting the president's — former president's most outlandish claims, in effect, amplifying, projecting and embracing lies that are corrosive to Americans' understanding of their own civil society, that they know better, that they knew.

    The person they turned to was the chief of staff to President Trump, because he was the person best situated to try to defuse this incredibly tense and violent situation, even as, hours later, Laura Ingraham and others are on the air blaming Antifa, claiming somehow that there might be deep state plants of FBI informants, for which there's been no credible proof of in any meaningful way.

    And so I think that what you have here is a question of FOX News having that word news appended to its name, but not operating like a news operation. You're not seeing any authority being brought to bear? Yes, they are starting more than 24 hours after this was released by Liz Cheney on the committee to address this in their own coverage on the news side.

    And Sean Hannity talked a bit about it on his radio show today, but not in a way that keeps faith with the viewers and the listeners, their audiences and the public to say, the truth comes first, even when it cuts against what we want to have happen.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what do you think the consequences — why does it matter? I mean, as you said earlier, it's a different — it's certainly different from the kind of journalism we do at the "NewsHour," and many other — the other journalistic organizations we're familiar with.

    But why does it matter? I mean, we know we are in an era of opinion. There's a lot of opinion out there in news, news coverage and news reporting. What — I mean, what effect does something like this have, do you think?

  • David Folkenflik:

    Listen, FOX has always played an outsized role in Republican politics, increasing over the years ever since its founding in 1996, in the leadership under Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes.

    Right now, you have something like, what, three-fifths of registered Republicans or so claim that they believe that Joe Biden won the election fraudulently, which is not true, and disproven in countless ways, in courtrooms and political officials, both Democratic and Republican.

    And the reason they do that is because an echo chamber is provided by FOX News and sort of its lesser peers, and it gives amplification to and ballast to not only former President Trump, but those around him and those who seek to ride his coattails to power into office by having them say, well, this is a message that will work for us.

    And, therefore, we will lie about things, we will mislead the public, we will raise concerns, and we will, by the way, deny, deflect dismiss, or denounce claims of any involvement of people in the Trump's circle or people with loyalty to President Trump or just support for him with what happened on January 6, even at the same time as they claim that what happened January 6 isn't meaningful. They're claiming it was a terrible hoax perpetrated by people in the deep state or in Antifa.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David Folkenflik, who covers the media for NPR.

    David, thank you very much.

  • David Folkenflik:

    You bet.

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