Is The Tide Turning?

I’ve just finished a really good book by Dan Pfeiffer, “Battling the Big Lie.” Pfeiffer handled communications in the Obama White House and is currently the host of the podcast “Pod Save America.”

One of the many, many important points he makes in that book is that Democrats have a “message over megaphone” problem–“Democrats spend 99 percent of their time worrying about what they should say, and only one percent figuring out how to get people to hear what they are saying.”

Pfeiffer spends a significant amount of time describing the outsized effect of the Right’s media ecosystem, including two chapters on Fox. I’ll undoubtedly have more to say about the book  (okay, I probably loved it so much because his analyses mostly mirror mine…), but today I want to focus on an article about Fox I came across just after finishing it.

The American Prospect’s Kuttner on Tap reports that Fox’s troubles didn’t end when it paid Dominion zillions of dollars for lying about that company.

Fox is both a network and the owner of 29 individual lucrative TV station franchises, including in 14 of the 15 largest markets. Their licenses require renewal by the FCC every eight years.

Fox’s license for its Philadelphia station is currently up for renewal, and several public-interest groups are opposing that renewal.

The FCC’s criteria for renewal include “character,” defined in great detail, a test that Fox flagrantly flunks, especially given its admissions in the Dominion case. On August 23, the Commission agreed to take public comment on this question.

Opponents of renewal include Jamie Kellner, the founding president of Fox News. Kellner’s  letter to the FCC included the following:

Unlike the news feeds provided today by Fox News Channel, our news feeds did not prominently feature advocates like Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell spouting nonsensical lies about a Presidential election … If the character requirement for broadcast licensees is to have any meaning, the FCC must designate the application for a hearing to evaluate the Murdochs’/Fox’s character qualifications…

Others who have filed objections include Alfred Sikes, a former Republican FCC chairman,  Ervin Duggan, a former Democratic FCC Commissioner, and ex–Fox News Channel commentator Bill Kristol.

In yet another filing, the Media and Democracy Project pointed out that:

FOX knew—from the Murdochs on down—that Fox News was reporting false and dangerous misinformation about the 2020 Presidential election, but FOX was more concerned about short-term ratings and market share than the long-term damage caused by its spreading disinformation.

FOX’s lies concerning the outcome of the 2020 election caused a great injury to the American people and the institutions of our democracy. FOX’s willingness to lie demonstrates a fatal character flaw.

It’s hard to see how Fox can get its license renewed if there is a hearing on the merits. There are just too many examples of Fox’s deliberate disinformation. Kuttner predicts that the Philadelphia challenge will be followed by 28 more, as Fox’s other licenses come up for rolling review.

If Fox does get its license, we might as well scrap the FCC as meaningless. As the Media and Democracy petition puts it:

This is not a First Amendment case. Rather the issue here concerns a corporation that, with the full knowledge and approval of its management, lied to millions of Americans. The question before the Commission is not whether FOX had a right to lie, rather it is about the consequences of those lies and the impact on FOX’s qualifications to remain an FCC licensee.

If a blogger or independent Internet source lies, the First Amendment protects them. The government has no legal recourse. But government has the right–and, I would insist, the duty–to ensure that those competing for use of one of the limited public airwaves adhere to certain standards as a condition of the award.

The Dominion lawsuit proved (as if we had any doubt) that Fox  lies to the American public with the full knowledge and approval of its management.

As Kuttner correctly notes, the question isn’t whether FOX had a right to lie. But I disagree with his assertion that the issue is the negative consequences of those lies. The issue I see  is the right of a corporation to use public airwaves to deliver deliberate disinformation in blatant violation of its license with the FCC.

Fox demonstrably violated numerous terms of that license, just as Trump knowingly violated numerous laws. If neither suffers the consequences that less powerful miscreants would suffer, that result would undermine the most basic tenet of the rule of law: that no one is above the law.

As the saying goes, every journey begins with a single step. Opposition to Fox’s Philadelphia renewal represents a welcome first step toward dismantling the Right’s megaphone. Bravo to the opposition!


  1. That is great news but I fear it may flame out. The super rich seem to have a way of staying in place. But it still is great news.

  2. Be careful what you wish for,MSDNC could go the way of the Dodo.

    The notion that the public does not hear/view the messaging of the party is moot. The actions/inaction the party are resonating amongst the public.

    Everyone is well aware their city or town could be the next East Palestine. Everyone paying attention is also aware that the only lives that matter to this administration are within the border of Ukraine. Cost of living? Inflation? Disaster relief? Crickets.

    Democrats stopped being cognizant of the world around them in 2016. Moreover, Democrats have become irrelevant since 2020.

    Here’s a catchphrase for the DNC; Always Looking At The Rearview Mirror!

  3. We all know, including Biden, that our government is now an entity in which we, the people, own, at best, half. The other half is owned by oligarchs, both business executives and the now the privately super wealthy as well. Voters vs Davos. Maybe half and half is ignorantly optimistic.

    On the short term we have to work with the influence that we have left. On the mid term, we can use things like voting for a stronger Executive, including regulating agencies like the FCC, to increase our stake. in other words, don’t vote Republican. On the longer term our voting must be both effective and rapid enough. That’s a huge challenge though.

  4. Over the past decade or so it did seem that the left didn’t know how to get its message out. However, IMO, way too much of the left was deliberately drowned out by the lies of FOX, lies that came fast and furiously 24/7. It was bad enough to have to see what was happening to the government, but what this has done to so many of our fellow citizens is criminal. They became blind to the truth, radicalized against their own Constitution, and numb to any compassion towards those who were different. And as the polls show, they remain deaf to reason.
    From the TV series Chernobyl, “If you hear enough lies, you no longer can recognize the truth”.

  5. Yes, the tide is turning. It began to turn prior to the 2020 election. It continues to move in that direction. But it takes both considerable time and a large force to overcome inertia and change course.
    I’m confident that, since 2020, Trump has lost far more supporters than he has gained. Should Democrats be complacent? Of course not, but they should go forward with confidence that they can win if they correct past mistakes and apply themselves diligently to the task.
    The wrong wing will fight desperately, but they have already lost their momentum and their infighting will only hasten their defeat.
    The rantings of Ian and his fellow trolls display the weakness of their arguments.

  6. It is very heartening to see such a diverse number of people from different political persuasions objecting to this license renewal in Philadelphia. It shouts credibility in their opposition to such renewal. Telling lies that destroy the fabric of our nation must have consequences!

  7. If a quick look is correct, the FCC is currently split between the two parties and, no doubt, the GOP senate is withholding the tie breaker…so….nada is likely to get done.

  8. If Democratic Party apparatchiks consider the mention of inflation,cost of living ascending rapidly and the denial of disaster relief to Hawaii because of Senate Democrats as trolling…You folks have become the New Leisure Class.

    I have a feeling many here will be uncontrollably sobbing summarily after the election.

    Ignore the needs of those working for a living at your peril.

  9. It may sound ideal, but if the FCC were to start screening media outlets for truth, only a few would remain. Both MSNBC and CNN would disappear.

    This is a country where powerful people pay huge sums of money to get what they want from the government. The only outlet that truly sought the truth was Wikileaks, led by Julian Assange. Unfortunately, our government has silenced him and criminalized whistleblowing, equating it with acts of treason and espionage.

    Fox News panders to the gullible, and those people will either find other sources or stop seeking altogether. Those who seek the truth will always pursue it, as it is not in the government’s best interest to share it. The government, just like Fox News (for the red pill folks), peddles propaganda.

  10. I had always thought that garbage spewing firehose of misinformation that was FOX, was the result of the fact that 24/7 FOX News was strictly a cable channel and because it didn’t use broadcast airwaves, it didn’t get the same scrutiny as it’s broadcast affiliates. BUT, I don’t watch any Fox news, be it on the 24/7 cable channel, or the local broadcast affiliate, so I don’t know how much of the toxic garbage leaked into the local broadcast. I always assumed that the local stations knew enough to value their license and were at smart enough to to not rebroadcast the toxic stuff from the cable based mothership.

    On another positive side note, Comcast is currently in negotiations with several major media companies for cable content. Some of the comments from industry insiders suggests that cable TV model is broke. The costs are too high, the delivered product is too expensive, and there are soon to be huge changes. If I were to guess, the cable companies are still going to provide Internet connectivity, but the content they offer will shrink to nothing as more people choose drop the content offered by the cable company and pivot to various streaming services. I can only hope that somebody, like the local cable company will still offer a “local channel streaming bundle” to get the local broadcast TV. But the significant change I hope to see is if you want the “Rightwing Propaganda Bundle”, you have to pay for it, or choose NOT to pay for it and the cable revenue stream dies for those guys.

  11. You can bet the MAGA, coordinated, funded plan has a neat person to fill the deciding FCC role when they take over…the end of news.

  12. I wish that I could get cable or a streaming service with a lot of the networks I want without having to pay for Faux News as well.

  13. Verizon sends me short comedy bits by a variety of comedians. This morning, they sent a Jordan Klepper piece. It’s one he did when the January 6th Committee was doing televised hearings. He was at a Trump rally. It’s heartbreaking to watch people searching for ways to counter information that didn’t align with their beliefs. The cult is alive and well.

  14. As the Dominion discovery for trial (which didn’t happen with the settlement) conclusively shows that Fox knowingly and from the top down lied about Dominion’s role in the Big Lie for short term profit, Fox knowingly breached the terms of its licensure and has done great damage to our democratic institutions, damage that may be lasting and with currently unknown result. I think their licensing should be revoked since authorizing a continuing breach of their licensing agreement is hardly in the public interest.

    Rupert Goebbels, that apostle of propaganda for profit, should not be rewarded with a licensed renewal of his propaganda without limitation under the guise of “free speech.” This greedy American transplant should instead be sent back to Canberra to practice his money first whatever the result philosophy in the land of the kangaroo – and see how that works out.

  15. Gerald, if the country can revoke his broadcast license, why can’t they revoke his citizenship?

  16. In looking at Fox, News Max, OAN and Breitbart, I can’t help but think about how these purveyors of lies have stolen the credibility of legacy media built by respectable and honorable journalists like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkhite. These professional liars (they aren’t even pundits, because pundits make clear they are commenting politically) sit behind “news” desks, they wear professional attire, and their media name usually includes the word “news”. Ocasionally, they throw an actual “news” story, like the Maui wildfire, into the mix of unabashed and relentless attacks on Joe Biden, Democrats, progressives, the “libs” and the “Left”. If at all possible, they try to find some way to turn the facts of a genuine news story into some attack on “the Left” or Democrats or some conspiracy involving the “progessives”. One such conspiracy theory is that developers set the Maui wildfires to force homeowners to relinquish their propery to give way to big hotels.

    They make up lies and don’t even try to couch the lies they tell with words like “allegedly”, or”according to sources”, etc.. They have cutesy catch phrases they repeat over and over, like the “Biden Crime Family” and “Russia Russia Russia”, even though there’s no actual evidence so far that even Hunter Biden committed any crime, much less Joe Biden. They ignore the fact that a Republican-controlled Senate Committee investigated the 2016 election and found that Russia DID help Trump to cheat. They ignore the fact that Hunter Biden has a substance abuse problem–the result of being in the car with his mother and siblings when it got broadsided by a truck, killing his mother and sister outright and seriously injuring Hunter and Beau. Hunter went through a divorce, too. He’s had a rough time, but has brought his substance problem under control–something that’s not easy to do–and something he deserves to be praised for. Instead, since Joe Biden is so successful, Republicans have to do something, anything, to push back, so Marjorie Taylor-Greene displayed a nude photo of Hunter on the floor of the House–the disciples (as I like to call them) cheer her on. They call Hunter all kinds of bad names, because they don’t understand that a substance abuse problem is NOT a moral failing, but a mental health issue. But at the end of the day, all that was on his laptop that they say proves influence peddling may just have been puffery. So far, there’s no solid proof to the contrary.

    They don’t stop there–another of their major themes is to attack legacy media–they tell the gullible dupes who tune in for daily affirmation that legacy media haven’t published things they like harp on like “the Hunter Biden Scandal” or the “Russia Hoax” because legacy media are really the ones indoctrinating Americans–the reason is, they say, because legacy media is just an arm of “the left”, paid for by George Soros.

    It would truly be laughable if it weren’t effective. There are still a large number of Americans who believe Trump’s lies–the main one being that he was cheated out of a “landslide victory”–despite the fact that every single poll predicted he would lose, he set a record for low approval ratings, the country was in shambles, with our public health, economy and international relations shredded by Trump. He had the benefit of dozens of recounts and more than 60 lawsuits failed for lack of evidence. Yet, he keeps lying and they keep believing. Just Friday, one of the insurrectionists shouted, as he was being led away to serve a lengthy prison term “Trump Won”. The faithful go around wearing hats that say this, too. They believe that he was right to try to take what he believed to be his–the US presidency, and that the insurrection was brought about by Democrats, with the FBI embedded into the crowd of “peaceful protesters”, stirring them up to invade the Capitol. They ignore the fact that the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers and 3 Percenters planned the invasion in advance, and even did reconnaissance to figure out the most-vulnerable points of entry into the Capitol They believe that Nancy Pelosi told the DC National Guard to “stand down” (even though she didn’t and didn’t have this authority), so that the violence would be severe. They also believe that all of the indictments are politically-motivated and that Democrats are just trying to bring down Trump because he’s so powerful. Many of them actually believe that America is worse off now than when Trump was in office when schools, businesses, restaurants and stores were closed, there were new daily records for COVID deaths and infections, unemployment was 10%, Trump’s tax cuts resulted in a historic national debt, and due to Trump’s tariffs, there were shortages of consumer goods and computer chips. He alienated our NATO and EU allies, too, because of his arrogance. Joe Biden fixed all of these problems, and has brought inflation, COVID and unemployment under control. They refuse to believe these facts.

    It truly makes me sad to live in a country where so many people are so gullible and so willing to believe lies. I honestly whether any amount of publicity about Joe Biden’s successes would penetrate because pro-Trump media would just paint it as lies.

  17. Let’s clarify. Fox News Network doesn’t require an FCC license to operate. You’re talking about local stations Fox also owns. There is no claim that, I’m aware of, that these Fox local news stations have done the same sorts of things that the Fox News network did. We have a local Fox station in Indianapolis. I don’t think anyone thinks they are anything but straight shooters when it comes to presenting the news, no different from the other three or four local stations.

    Is it really fair to the men and women working at these local Fox affiliates, that you’re punishing them when they’ve done nothing wrong? This is like having a parent commit a crime and then punishing the child as a way of getting back at the parent. Doesn’t seem fair. Let’s not forget that there are real people, with real families they support who work at this station and who will lose their jobs if the license gets denied.

    And I hate to say it, but Todd actually has a point about the slippery slope. I watch MSNBC a lot because they have some really good hosts and guests who present issues fairly. But MSNBC also has hosts that are every bit as biased and as partisan as the Fox News primetime hosts. They don’t even attempt a balanced presentation of the issues. While they don’t out and out lie like someone like Tucker Carlson did, they purposefully slant information and leave out information that doesn’t fit their narrative. Lying by omission is still lying.

  18. Paul;
    The Fox News Network owns the stations. They are not independent entities. The Fox News Network has violated the terms under which they were granted the station licenses, and should therefore suffer the consequences of that violation; i.e. denial of their license renewal.

    Don’t lose a lot of sleep for the local employees because the license denial will not result in the station going off the air. It will just result in the sale of the station to another broadcast entity. Happens all the time. There are plenty of companies just waiting for the opportunity to move up to a larger market and they will all be bidding to take over.

    Actions must have consequences. In physics the is stated in the third law of Newtonian motion as “every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” In life it is “do the crime, do the time.” (And I sincerely hope TFG gets the latter law applied to himself!!)

    My lady and I were discussing the difference in “character” demonstrated by TFG and some of his predecessors like Truman and Eisenhower who always made it clear that they were the responsible parties when their administrations got caught in the crossfire of politics, as opposed to TFG who always assigns the blame to someone else. TFG is always the loser when the subject of character comes up because he has none.

  19. A couple of observations, without really knowing where they lead, if anywhere.

    1. Based on my limited knowledge of Fox News, it seems that the local broadcast stations (I.e., the FCC licensees) are not as bad about right-wing propaganda as the cable network. That’s based mostly on what I see on their websites. I could be wrong.

    2. Fox News owns only a few broadcast stations directly. Most Fox News affiliates are owned by franchisees. (Fox 59 in Indy is owned by Nexstar Media, one of the largest holding companies of broadcast TV stations, maybe the largest.) I don’t know if that strategy will work as well against the franchisee stations, especially if my first observation is accurate.

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