A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Fox News did not bother to air Monday night’s meeting of the House committee investigating the 1/6 attack. Neither did Newsmax or One America News. So right-wing TV audiences did not hear when Rep. Liz Cheney revealed that some of Fox’s biggest stars pressed Mark Meadows for help during the siege of the Capitol.
“Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home,” Laura Ingraham texted Meadows. “This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy.”
She knew. They all knew. They all knew the truth right away. But by the night of 1/6, Ingraham was spouting conspiracy theories about “ANTIFA” and excusing the peaceful “patriots” who, let’s be clear, paraded into DC based on a lie she pushed over and over again. Fox’s pro-Trump programming was partly to blame for the Big Lie, so when that lie led to violence, of course some of the hosts panicked and tried to put out the fire.
On Monday, Cheney read two other texts from Fox stars to Meadows from 1/6. One was from Brian Kilmeade: “Please, get him on TV. Destroying everything you have accomplished.” The other was from Sean Hannity: “Can he make a statement, ask people to leave the Capitol?” Cheney didn’t specify what time those texts were sent. But I was struck by Hannity’s casual tone about the unfolding terror. At least Kilmeade said “please, get him on TV.”
The 1/6 committee has thousands of other texts and emails. Cheney shared just a tiny sampling on Monday. But the tiny sampling is deeply embarrassing for Fox and the Murdochs. As Maggie Haberman said, this “undercuts efforts by everyone whose name she read who might say Jan. 6 wasn’t that bad.” It “wasn’t that bad” has been one of Fox’s dominant themes this year. This banner on “Don Lemon Tonight” captured it perfectly: “Fox hosts and Donald Trump Jr. knew exactly what was happening and now they pretend it didn’t happen.”
“These texts prove something essential”
“These texts prove something essential,” Amanda Carpenter wrote for The Bulwark. “No matter what they say now, Trump’s loyalists knew at the time that what was happening at the Capitol was not a peaceful protest. They knew that it was a dangerous attack on American democracy. And they knew that Trump was responsible for it. That’s why they sent the texts pleading with him, through his staff, to make it stop.”
Or as SE Cupp put it on CNN just now, “Fox News viewers, you have been had.”
Yes — but here’s what the Fox hosts will likely say if they’re ever challenged about this. They’ll say they condemned the riot at the time. And they all did, if only briefly. But Hannity and Ingraham also continued to lie about the election and strongly suggest that leftists were to blame for the Capitol chaos. And many Fox hosts have bashed other media outlets for continuing to report on the prosecutions and the probes — in other words, for continuing to care about the terror. The memory-holing effort has been so extensive precisely because figures like Ingraham knew how bad it was. When she wrote “this is hurting all of us,” I’m certain she wasn’t thinking about America or the rule of law. She was thinking about “us” in the Trump-controlled Republican party. But she was right: This is hurting all of us.
Total silence from Fox
It’s crucial to note that Fox didn’t air the 7pm ET hearing live or address the revelations about the texts later in the day. “Fox viewers are being shielded from the Fox hosts’ urgent texts to Meadows,” MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell commented.
Hannity actually gabbed with Meadows during the 9pm hour but “did not mention the texts at all,” as The Daily Beast’s Justin Baragona noted here. (Hannity hit back at Cheney, however, by saying “I love how Liz is now partnered with the people that called her father a war criminal, a murderer, and a crook. Pretty amazing!”)
During the chat, Meadows acknowledged that he is about to be held in criminal contempt. But here’s how Hannity opened the hour: “The hyperpartisan predetermined-outcome anti-Trump January 6 committee just voted 9 to 0 to hold Mark Meadows in contempt for refusing to comply with their orders.” With that framing, why would any Fox viewer take any committee action seriously? Further, Hannity focused on Capitol security failures; blamed Democrats for those failures; and brought up the rioting in the wake of George Floyd’s death. This is Fox’s tried-and-true approach whenever faced with the awfulness of 1/6: Dodge or distort or deflect.
A Fox spokesperson did not respond to my request for comment about the texts on Monday night.
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