What Can We Do About Fox?

I subscribe to a newsletter from Tom Nichols, a non-crazy conservative who writes for the Atlantic, among other outlets. Nichols recently addressed a problem that pretty much everyone who isn’t crazy recognizes: Fox “News.”

Nichols taught at the Naval War College for 25 years; he worked closely with many American military officers, and he has become increasingly worried about the danger of extremism in the ranks–a situation made worse, in his view, by the fact that Fox is the “default channel in so many military installations.

The overlap between Fox and even more-extreme outlets such as Newsmax and One America News Network, a slew of right-wing internet sites, and talk radio is part of a closed information ecosystem that affects the military no less than it does American society at large. Many years ago, I defended the emergence of Fox as an antidote to the politically homogeneous center-left tilt of the established American media. (Please spare me too much caviling here about media bias back in the Good Old Days; it was less of a menace than conservatives depicted it, but more of a reality than liberals were sometimes willing to admit.)

But things change: Fox is no longer an additional source of news and opinion. It is, instead, a steady stream of conspiracy theories and rage-bait, especially in prime time.

As Nichols explains, there is a significant and important difference between different views held by people who have reached opposing conclusions about various issues and people whose opinions aren’t derived from anything that might remotely be considered evidence or fact.

I am increasingly concerned, however, that what comes from Fox and similar outlets these days is not a “view” so much as an attack on reality itself. As Russian dissident Garry Kasparov has noted, modern propaganda isn’t designed “only to misinform or push an agenda”; it is meant to “exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth,” a good description of how Fox and similar outlets now present their programming… …To watch Fox for an extended amount of time is to go on an excursion into an alternate reality of paranoia and fury, to plunge into a hurricane of anger that shapes views by defying logic and evidence.

I agree. So–I repeat the question with which I’ve been approaching most of the issues of our day: what can/should we do?

Nichols’ response echoes generations of First Amendment case law: the answer to bad speech is more and better speech. More openness, not censorship. Nichols insists that the  answer to an authoritarian challenge cannot be more authoritarianism. (He also dismisses the predictable calls to bring back the Fairness Doctrine–calls from people who clearly don’t understand what that doctrine did and didn’t do. The Fairness Doctrine was a  1949 rule, finally discarded in 1987, that applied ONLY to broadcast channels owned by the government. Ownership allowed government to attach conditions to the lease of those airwaves–attempting to apply it to cable or other privately owned means of communication would violate the First Amendment.)

I used to share with students something I called my “refrigerator theory of Free Speech”–like the forgotten leftover in the back of your refrigerator now covered in green fuzz, suppressed ideas will eventually smell the place up. Put those same leftovers in bright sunlight, and their stench is baked out.  The marketplace of ideas can’t function properly unless there’s verbal sunlight, and freedom of speech requires that We the People participate in that marketplace and produce that sunlight–in this case, more and better speech.

As Nichols says,

No matter how much you don’t like it, you cannot ban, censor, or silence Fox. It’s that simple. You can choose not to watch it and encourage others to do likewise—which can have more impact than you might think. Another possibility is for businesses and institutions to choose neutral programming in common areas such as sports or weather, as military exchanges (stores for military personnel) did in 2019.

He is absolutely right–and that’s what’s so incredibly frustrating. Bottom line, rescuing our democracy necessarily depends upon the efforts of millions of reasonable Americans to combat the hatreds, fears and racial grievances that motivate the members of today’s GOP cult and provide the content of its propaganda arms.

Ultimately, America’s survival as a democratic republic will come down to whether good people–including genuine conservatives–outnumber, outvote and occasionally out-yell the White Nationalists, theocrats and other angry, frightened people who are the target audience of outlets like Fox “News.”

There’s no guarantee those good people will prevail…..and that’s what is so terrifying….


  1. When I am assaulted by fox news on the tv in a business, I do NOT return to the business. My FORMER Heart doctor had a shared waiting room at the Heart Hospital on N Shadeland in Indianapolis. I had to listen to the crazy news for a long time. I mentioned it to the nurse who did not want to hear the message. Screw that. I dropped that doctor. I did the same with other places. The McDonalds in Sun Prairie WI had that filth blaring from multiple big screen tvs in the dining room. NEVER AGAIN. Burger Kind is 1/2 block away.
    My response is to vote with my feet. I still have hope the responsible corporations will STOP Funding the crazy.. They have the power to stop this — government does not.

  2. Has anybody ever been successful in getting their cable company to stop billing them for Fox News? I have never been happy about being forced to pay for it.

  3. The fact that Fox is the preferred network in military bases confuses me. The military reports to the Commander in Chief which means that the programming on Fox “News” is conflicted with their views of the military. The party of “law and order” to them must mean that as long as you’re on our side, we will defend you. Which means they are watching a network that is against everything they train for.

    I think it is legal brainwashing and an effort to bash the Commander in Chief who just so happens to be from the other side. How can this be an effective posture of the military? It’s no wonder we have so many military personnel with PTSD. It’s so confusing to me.

  4. In theory, we may be a democratic republic. In reality, we are an oligarchy.

    The right-wing oligarchs love Fox News and Rupert Murdoch. There is nothing you can do to censor Fox News.

    The same goes for establishment news owned and controlled by the oligarchy.

    Both of these forms of propaganda will continue in this country. The only thing the individual can do is not watch it. Don’t turn on your TV to inform yourself. Ignore it; walk away.

    Get a web browser like Duck Duck Go and do your research.

  5. The press, designed for freedom’s best defence,
    And learning, morals, wisdom to dispense,
    Perverted, poisoned, lost to honor’s rules,
    Is made the sport of knaves, to govern fools.

    ~ Philadelphia Public Ledger, 1839

    They knew back then the first Amendment was flawed……they just didn’t know how much.

  6. Fox News presents as a conundrum; the local Fox channel news compares with other local news channels in their presentations, possibly why it draws such a large audience. Maybe too many average American TV viewers cannot separate the two?

    The freedom of speech problem presented 24/7 by Fox News does have it’s “positive” side; we need to know what the enemy is thinking, saying and doing and it is the greatest source for that. The old adage, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” comes to mind. We would have little idea of what the other side is up to without Fox News prime time reports…and what they are NOT reporting. What other news channels are reporting live but Fox is ignoring are always major national and international issues they don’t want their viewers to be aware of. I occasionally switch over to see if or how Fox is covering major issues; during the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine I found an auto race and random Republican rerun issues discussed by their news staff.

    Reading AgingLGirl’s comments answered a question for me; I have wondered how and why former military have been active in Trump’s support, some were among those arrested for the January 6th insurrection. Who in the U.S. Military made the decision to maintain Fox News as their primary source of news to our troops?

    patmcc; someone at my IU Healthcare clinic must have complained because the Fox News channel finally disappeared from their waiting room at 9600 East Washington. Prior to that I would silently give thanks for my total deafness and not being inundated with their droning disinformation.

  7. “In theory, we may be a democratic republic. In reality, we are an oligarchy.” – Smekens

    In fact, the democratic republic illusion is now just another conspiracy theory used to cover for the oligarchy. Democracy is gone, but people have not admitted it to themselves yet.

    – 47 states are under one-party rule, like in Russia, China, and Hungary.
    – Congress has a 20% approval rating (worse than Trump and Biden)
    – 94% of Congressional candidates get reelected.
    – Public opinion has “near zero” influence on what legislation passes into law.

    Still, We the People can recover and restore democracy in these next two elections. Thin chance.

  8. Can we work on the advertisers? I suppose there’s an endless stream of companies who want to reach that audience, though.

  9. Mayor Pete has been going on Fox lately. He has successfully revealed to the unsuspecting audience the stupidity of the hosts. And Liz Cheney spoke truth to the insidious lies the network promotes. If more rational, intelligent leaders would work up the nerve to go on Fox with the intent to speak the truth and shatter the lies in the process, maybe the brainwashed Fox viewers could start to be deprogrammed.

  10. Alison is right. We can’t get the people to turn off FAUX News, so let’s develop a cadre of Petes to step up and volunteer to represent truth on those airwaves. At least the daytime viewers might get a bit of truth. If they only watch the non-news shows in the prime time lineup, we just have to assume they are too far gone to be redeemed.

  11. Next yime you are in an airport, check the channel on the TV in the concourse. 99% chance it will be CNN or MSNBC.

  12. How about beefing up PBS (and making it less “Lefty”) and having it the “official” TV on military bases?

  13. I would note several things related to the truisms that you are posing:

    1. Fox tacitly represents multiple interests – for example – the pressures on MSNBC and CNN are greatly lessened by – how extreme and inane it is – being “different” – meaning in a sense that they don’t need to “compete” – as they can (and do) tell us much that can be questioned, however being 30% right, compared to 1/1000th of 1% right isn’t much in the way of competition,

    2. We do face an oligarchy – as Todd speaks of – and when we remain largely – inactive, we tacitly support both the oligarchy and the extreme parts of both it and beyond it,

    3, Related to 2. above – we have clear opposing massive wealth – such as through: Bezos, Zuckerberg, the Walmartites – and their “seeming” counter-weights such as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates – counter the wealthy right perhaps 10% of the time – in part because the right represents interests shared by super-wealthy middle-of-the-roaders like the two of them,

    3. While the Democratic Party – leadership – including Congress – are necessary and important – they are: part of the oligarchy, often clueless about dealing with peoples’ fears (as the Republicans are excellent at focusing upon), as well as “corrupt” in having so many internal quid pro quos – where the ethanol interests, the auto interests, the insurance interests, the medical interests and many more – make consensus impossible without giving in on most major issues,

    4. We need mass movements which support each other – and what we often have is leadership by example from Black women – and white people – most notably men – not following the leadership and working strongly in support of them.

    5. When perhaps 10-15% of us – become Very Active – we May be able to help over time reach many more people – it is slow (though necessary).

    Personally – I’m trying in various ways. I co-founded: Men for Equity and Reproductive Justice (MERJ) – (www.EndThePatriarchy.org), Caring White Men Sharing Together (www.CaringWhiteMen.com), and am co-producing a 3 hour (4th hour optional q&a) workshop on August 14th – on organizing against racism for white people – with Dr Shelly Tochluk (www.shellytockluk.com) – RSVP/register at: bit.ly/CallingIn8-14.

    In West Lafayette (IN) where I grew up – there are several excellent groups dealing with multiple relevant issues. SURJ – ShowingUpForRacialJustice – (www.surj.org) has local chapters (for white people) – nationally including in Indianapolis – (see: https://surj.org/chapter/indianapolis-showing-up-for-racial-justice/)

    There is much that we can do as individuals – when we work with others – and support existing efforts as well as working with others to begin new efforts! It is challenging and necessary!

  14. George Marx – gonna pick on you this morning – nothing personal at all. I do wonder if the efforts you describe are not much more than “feel good” activities for those involved, one step above “virtue signaling” yard signs. It is elected officials who control things and changing them is the only thing that really counts. Cynical Tuesday for me…

  15. This ‘default’ setting to Fox is all too common. In some places, unions have been able to make changes to ESPN or weather or some other default setting.

  16. A few years back my wife’s pain management clinic moved from a downtown San Antonio office building to a new facility on the city’s far Northwest side. For the first time ever, they installed a 52″ TV in the waiting room. On our first visit I was stunned to see “RT” on the screen! Yep. THAT RT! I asked one of the assistants who chose that channel for the waiting room but she had no idea. It took two letters to the clinic management to get it changed. On our last visit they were displaying a local 24-hour news channel – not FOX, CNN or MSNBC, but a true local San Antonio channel, unaffiliated with any major network. Who knows how long patients were exposed to propaganda disguised as news by RT?

  17. Rupert Murdoch was kicked out of Australia for producing demagogue television programming. So, naturally, the Republican Ronald Reagan embraced Murdoch (Or was told to.) and gave him early citizenship here. Murdoch has repeatedly said that the only thing he’s interested in is making money and having high ratings for his “productions”. Why else would he have hired Roger Ailes to make Fox News into the monster it is today. Fox News represents exactly the monstrosity that was Roger Ailes. Sadly, Roger Ailes was the student director of WOUB, the radio station at Ohio University while I attended the same school at the same time. If I’d have only known…

  18. “Get a web browser like Duck Duck Go and do your research.”

    Wow, how many times have I heard that out of the mouths of Qanon devotees?
    I tell my ultra-far right and conspiracy-possessed friends and family that if they want unprocessed, unfiltered “research,” to go to original sources. They don’t want to hear it. Neither does anyone looking to confirm their previously held beliefs.

  19. Deception;

    is the act of deliberately causing somebody to accept something as true that is not true. It is an action that hides the truth.

    Ohio defines deception as “knowingly deceiving another or causing another to be deceived by any false or misleading representation, by withholding information, by preventing another from acquiring information, or by any other conduct, act, or omission that creates, confirms, or perpetuates a false impression in another, including a false impression as to law, value, state of mind, or other objective or subjective fact” in Section 2913.01 of the criminal code.

    Some common uses of the term “deception” in a legal sense include:

    In the context of theft by deception, cases such as this one from District of Columbia, explain that the term deception includes “any act or communication made by the defendant which he knows to be untrue or false, including any misrepresentation as to the future, as well as the past or present.”
    In the context of statute prohibiting unfair and deceptive trade practices, cases such as this one from Florida, explain that “deception occurs if there is a representation, omission, or practice that is likely to mislead the consumer acting reasonably in the circumstances, to the consumer’s detriment!
    (Cornell University law)

    Anything that is consumed, either materially or digitally that causes the consumer of a subject to be misled. That’s against the law! So, why not Sue the living snot out of Fox News? Pack the courts with lawsuits. And, boycott all of their advertisers!

  20. I don’t argue with Trumpsters and their ilk anymore. I just tell them to turn off Fox News.
    They usually respond with “Turn off MSNBC” or CNN.
    Me, “Sorry, I don’t do cable,” which usually shuts them up.
    I can’t change their minds, so I have to settle for getting the last word.

  21. wallflower: I’ve had similar experiences; I don’t do cable either–so much junk, not worth the expense.

  22. The problem with the “protest culture” of the left is that they wait until the horse is out of the barn. Example: when Mitch successfully blocked Garland, Roe was already overturned. It was over, and anyone with any insight into how our government works knew it. Where were the people in the streets? He would not have survived the revolution that should have arisen. Now we are protesting SCOTUS when we should be looking for the next battle. Bottom line: as stupid as the right seems, they are proactive, and the left is reactive. Guess who has the advantage?

    Fox News is old news, old school, old strategy, watched by old people. It’s irrelevant now, part of the background noise, essentially a distraction for those who should be watching for the next move.

    This, by the way, is why the Civil War had to be fought, and it’s why we will have war again. Leftism’s fundamental passivity dooms it to eventual violent reaction.

  23. In the past 10 plus years as we traveled all over the country, from east to far west, every single hotel room had the TV set to Fox as the default, every. single. one. That can not be a coincidence. My guess is that there is some kind of incentive offered to the corporations who own the businesses, most likely money in some form or another.

    As for “virtues signaling”, it shows everyone who enters the neighborhood that there are people who welcome them. Why would demonstrating that welcome be offensive?

  24. Hi Sheila: Is there a reason my comment today was not posted or perhaps it was not received?
    I was echoing a previous commenter’s remarks about identifying the advertisers on Fox News.

    I also provided a link to a website that claimed success against advertisers of Steve Bannon and Glen Beck. Admittedly, I did not read very much of what was said on that site. I’ll go back and read it carefully. Thanks,

    Bill Cross

  25. NoDak, seems has a major wide screen audiance for,its POX news. like mentioned here,the cafes and McDs etc,all cult the locals with the needless BS from murderdoch. but,maybe theres some civility,more or less because of ratings.i would guess.hes come down on trumps engineering,of failure to succeed in a coup. ill let ya figure in theory/theology what he said,and what he ment. of course it was in newspapers,not along side tucks and shamity. (laura better get back into the kitchen..)if the military has its cues,it will monitor its troops who pursue this mind altering hollowed out propaganda. the military in Germany doesnt allow rightwing propaganda,for a reason. though a few politicians elected by democratic laws,are watched and recorded. any public rightwing activity is recorded ,and investigated for the whos,and whoevers.

    the pope went on to appologise for the century of abuse to Native Canadians,and said it should have never happened…
    now we have a rightwing church here in America wanting that very control over American citizens(who dont court their ilk,or believe in a higher god)(million dollars of church money around hi$ neck,eh/)
    they dislike sharia law,, but its o.k. for a rightwing church to produce a bastardized own version of sharia,law..
    im sure Pox news supports this very system.

  26. JD:
    point made,ive got 43 years of drivin truck aroumd the U.S. i seldom turn the t,v, in motels,unless they have music channles,and i do ask..
    but i prefer to read the subjects i study and forego the commercial intrests were force fed just for paying for satalite t.v. scary to think most of the motels have staff that is usually minority and if their watching fox,then i would really worry..but,then again if its the contractor who holds the lease on said box,and installs such a trick, then maybe a full thrashing of that motels intent should be made public.

  27. “Fox News is old news, old school, old strategy, watched by old people. It’s irrelevant now, part of the background noise, essentially a distraction for those who should be watching for the next move.” HA HA – wanna bet what proportion of members of Turning Point USA watch Fox?

    “Virtue signaling” is not offensive, it just accomplishes nothing regarding the work we need to do to save our democracy.

  28. “…applied ONLY to broadcast channels owned by the government.” I did not know that, thanks.
    This is so pertinent to a situation of mine. A neighbor, and something of a friend, is a staunch Republican,
    and Fox watcher. We essentially agreed to keep politics aside in our relationship. However, last week
    I was a bad boy and, thinking that a little exposure to one of HCR’s postings about (“bad”) Biden’s
    accomplishments might open a window to reality for him, I sent it.
    He responded by telling me that it was “BS.” I expect, as has been suggested, that he never got past
    the first one, or two,sentences.
    I apologized for breaking our agreement, and did not press my case, supposing it to be useless to do so.

    The issue about many corporate TV’s being tuned to Fox could be about Fox’s marketing strategy, or their
    old one: Fox had a policy of providing TV’s for free, as in the case of an automobile dealership’s waiting room,
    in N.J, years ago. Fox provided the big screen TV, at some savings to the dealership, provided that the
    dealership played nothing but Fox!
    A bargain with the devil.
    The situation is frustrating, given that there is no appropriate, legal way to shut them up.
    Given my experience with this neighbor, I expect that the Fox viewing public sees Mayor Pete, and Liz,
    and simply decides that they are making up “fake news.”

  29. Fox “News” isn’t–it’s as simple as that. As proof that even starry-eyed disciples can’t dispute, I submit the following: Sean Hannity has actually appeared on stage at Trump rallies. Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former Fox “personality” got Don, Jr. to leave his wife and 5 kids for her, and also appears at Trump rallies, including Jan 6th. She made a comment along the lines of “protest by combat” at the Jan. 6th rally. When the insurrection was going down, Laura Ingraham, Brian Kilmeade and other Fox “personalities” were trying to contact Trump. They sent e-mails advising him that he was destroying his “legacy” by failing to stop the violence he started. On what planet can people like this claim to be “journalists”?

    Sheila claims that non-Trump media used to be biased left of center. I don’t really know; however, even if there was a left slant, there’s still no comparison to Fox. Did Walter Cronkite ever appear at JFK rallies, or did Brian Williams ever introduce Barak Obama or any other Democratic politician? There’s literally no reasonable comparison.

    One other large point: does ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, CNN, PBS or other non-Trump media tell viewers NOT to watch Fox, OAN, NewsMax, InfoWars or Breitbart, accuse them of lying or spreading propaganda? They do not, but Fox routinely criticizes non-Trump media, claiming that they lie, that people who watch these outlets are “sheep” that believe Democratic and “deep state” propaganda, that they downplay “real” scandals (like the “Hunter Biden Scandal”), and they even promote cutesy slogans like “Trump Derangement Syndrome” for people who criticize Trump. Because, after all, you would have to be deranged not to perceive the magnificent glory of Trump–right? Every time a story emerges about Trump’s connections with Putin and/or Russia, they close their ears and shout “Russia, Russia, Russia”, because they not only don’t believe the Mueller Report, they don’t believe Dan Coats or the results of a Republican Senate Committee that investigated Russia’s involvement in Trump’s cheating in 2016. They have told their audience NOT to watch the J 6 committee hearings, and call Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger “RINOS”–“Republicans in name only”, because, according to their propaganda, being a REAL Republican requires supporting Trump, covering up his crimes and attacking anyone who testifies against him.

    People who watch Fox are not looking for news: they’re looking for daily affirmation. They are literally immune to actual facts and the truth. THAT is truly dangerous.

  30. “In theory, we may be a democratic republic. In reality, we are an oligarchy.” Quite true. Whenever I have encountered Faux Noise in a waiting room I have informed the receptionist I am offended by said channel and effectively demand that it be changed. So far so good.

  31. Sad truth to state – I don’t have the answer.
    Neither does Nichols.

    Philosophically, emotionally, etc. I agree that good speech should be used against bad — but
    “A Lie Can Travel Halfway Around the World While the Truth Is Putting On Its Shoes” is not just a quote misattributed to Twain. It has a basis in scientific fact. It is easier to plant a false idea than to undo it. Much easier.

    So we are still discussing Marquis of Queensbury rules at a gun fight.
    Alison may have a point about Pete appearing on Fox News, but does he have any effect on those who aren’t already “Pete fans”? I don’t know the answer to that either.
    Peggy’s suggestion to train a cadre of Pete’s is a good one — if (1) he really is effective and (2) it is teachable to a large enough number.

    I won’t pretend to have answers when I don’t, but I will also not refrain from pointing out the flaws in answers from Tom Nichols or others.

  32. I want to respond (a little late) to the words above of Lester Levine which were: “George Marx – gonna pick on you this morning – nothing personal at all. I do wonder if the efforts you describe are not much more than “feel good” activities for those involved, one step above “virtue signaling” yard signs. It is elected officials who control things and changing them is the only thing that really counts. Cynical Tuesday for me…”
    There is much truth to what you say! At the same time, we have to start somewhere. I’m old enough to remember both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. While both of them harmed seriously a lot of people (particularly BIPOC), they were “minor” compared to the current dangers of the right. The parallels with the rise of Hitler – though not “perfect” are frightening. Pretending or believing that we can and will “take them on in the streets” – with “people power” or assault rifles and similar is naive and ridiculous! Saying: “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie” is simplistic and not helpful (by itself) – while Sanders has some good points. Saying that CLASS is “the issue” – while having some truth – is a dead end, by itself. Trying, somewhat naively, to build – coalitions and to confront the system on various levels is really the only basic option that we have – beyond kvetching and doing virtually nothing or nothing. Certainly elections – 2022 – particularly now are very, very important! At the same time, we need to do much, much more – than simply “get out the vote” and try to minimize the corruption of denying the vote to many. I’m trying and many other people are trying! Where we are failing miserably, is in getting a critical mass – of upper-middle class – white people, particularly men – to get off their rear ends – and work on multiple levels to confront the system! George Floyd’s death – riled a lot of people, but we are stepping back – away from activism in reaction to it. Women led pressures are not exploding over the inane – (but totally logical) – restrictions on legalized abortion. Men need to step up here!!! We all need to step up related to climate change! The odds may be small – that will succeed! I certainly don’t expect a lot in my lifetime (I’m 71). Being cynical – and standing back and criticizing – by itself – ensures that things will continue to get a lot worse! Trying – however we can – to move beyond writing here – and doing things locally and nationally is the only way I can see us having any serious chance at all! Thanks!

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