How prepared are President Donald Trump’s adversaries to deal with the reality of a lavishly produced state media operation? This, the most-watched cable news network, functions in its fealty to Trump like a real-world Ministry of Truth from George Orwell’s 1984, where bureaucrats “rectify” the historical record to conform to Big Brother’s decrees.
I am referring, of course, to Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News. Having unsuccessfully tried to sell itself as “Fair and Balanced,” Fox News debuted a new brand in March 2018: “Real News. Real Honest Opinion.” Network executives apparently chose this slogan to differentiate themselves from “fake news” outlets — and, no doubt, to dog-whistle a pledge of allegiance to their commander-in-chief, who since being sworn into office has decried fake news in at least 630 tweets (as of Dec. 4, 2019).
Sean Hannity, the host of Fox’s weeknight flagship Hannity, regularly rails against the “media mob” and its “fake news,” terms he has used on more than 100 of his shows since Feb. 20, 2019. On Feb. 21, 2019, for example, he said, “The mainstream media, they devour, you know, any story that just fits their radical, extreme extension of the Democratic socialist party agenda. If it advances the narrative that Donald Trump is evil and his supporters are bad and America is scary and racist and sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, the media mob will shift into full gear without … any kind of investigation.”
It seems Hannity and Trump have studied the texts of the 20th century’s master of indoctrination, who wrote in his 1925 autobiographical manifesto, Mein Kampf, “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly — it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.”
Over and over, indeed. With its fantastical reporting on Ukraine, Fox News is doing just that. Evidence overwhelmingly indicates that Trump refused to release military aid to Ukraine unless President Volodymyr Zelensky publicly opened a corruption investigation into the Bidens and into allegations (for which there is no credible evidence) that Ukrainian actors interfered in the 2016 election to benefit Hillary Clinton.
In the topsy-turvy world of Fox News, this bribe attempt is “fake news” spread by the “media mob” — while the “real news,” Fox would have you believe, is the invented story of Ukrainian election interference.
At Fox, where Hannity et al. make a nightly ritual of burying the truth in “memory holes” and spinning a new version of reality, the spirit of 1984 is alive and well.
The ascendancy of this Trumpist propaganda mill, more blatant in its contempt for the truth than even the pro-war corporate press in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, should give progressives pause. For nearly a quarter of American adults, Fox News is the sole cable news source. It behooves us to soberly assess how our prospects for liberty, equality and solidarity are dependent on the existence of an independent, critical press.
Here at In These Times, we are excavating those “memory holes” — but we can only keep digging if we first fill the holes in our own budget. We must raise an additional $52,000 before Dec. 31, 2019 to keep from falling short.
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Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.