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They Quit Because They Had Enough of What Fox News Has Become
Jonah Goldberg and Stephen Hayes did the right thing.
Two prominent Fox News contributors, who have offered intelligent, conservative but not mindlessly partisan commentary on the channel, have quit. They had enough of what Fox News has become, “the Trump administration in exile,” as Kevin Williamson put it in National Review.
Jonah Goldberg and Stephen Hayes – neither a fan of the former president – resigned and explained their reason in a message to their readers at the Dispatch, an online publication that they described as “a place that thoughtful readers can come for conservative, fact-based news and commentary.”
Here’s part of what they wrote: “As you may know, we’ve been Fox News contributors for a long time. For most of that time, we enjoyed ourselves and believed we were contributing to a good cause. Whether you call it liberal media bias or simply a form of groupthink around certain narratives, having a news network that brought different assumptions and asked different questions—while still providing real reporting and insightful conservative analysis and opinion—was good for the country and journalism.
“But over the past few years, that’s changed. And the tension has grown between what we are building at The Dispatch — a fact-driven, center-right media company — and what’s come to dominate the network, particularly in primetime.
“In late October, Tucker Carlson aired a promotion for a series he produced for Fox Nation, Fox’s subscription streaming service, called Patriot Purge. It’s a revisionist history of January 6, one in which those who participated in the rally and subsequent storming of the Capitol are victims. Among the main protagonists of the series are the organizer of the ‘Stop the Steal’ rallies and a racist fired from the Trump White House for his associations with white nationalists. The message of the series? The U.S. government is coming after patriots as part of a ‘War on Terror 2.0,’ using the same tools and tactics used to fight al-Qaeda.
“This isn’t true, and it’s dangerous to pretend it is. And for us, it was way too far. We resigned after watching the series in its entirety and asked Fox to release us from the rest of our contracts.”
This seems to be a good time to repeat what I’ve often said and written: Fox News – and the other cable news operations – are not so much in the news business as they are in the business business. Opinion hosts (and most paid contributors) are there to inflame the grievances and validate the biases of the audience. They’re supposed to feed viewers the kind of opinions that they want to hear. They are not expected to give “inconvenient” opinions that might offend the viewer or God forbid, make the viewer think. Make no mistake it’s not only Fox; it’s the same at all the cable channels. Tucker Carlson and Rachel Maddow are in the same line of work.
But in the case of Fox News, a sizeable portion of the audience wants to hear good news about Donald Trump (just as Maddow’s audience wants to hear bad news about him). Fox loyalists don’t want to hear that he egged on the mob that stormed the Capitol.
Tucker Carlson often appeals to the right-wing fringe. Who knows whether he believes what he says. What we know for certain is that it works. Carlson, more often than not, is the highest rated host on cable TV news.
Writing about the departure of Goldberg and Hayes, the New York Times said that, “The reality of Fox and similar institutions is that many of their leaders feel that the tight bond between Mr. Trump and their audiences or constituents leaves them little choice but to go along, whatever they believe. Fox employees often speak of this in terms of ‘respecting the audience.’ And in a polarized age, the greatest opportunities for ratings, money and attention, as politicians and media outlets left and right have demonstrated, are on the extreme edges of American politics.”
Liberal contributors have some leeway when it comes to criticizing Donald Trump. They’re tokens and are allowed contrary points of view – within reason. There are always three or four conservatives to spout the accepted party line – to make sure the audience knows what side Fox is on.
I heard from a wise conservative friend after Goldberg and Hayes quit. In an email he said: “What’s happened with FOX News makes me sick. Its coming into being was great for journalism and great for the country. And for a long time it remained so. And they still have some first-rate journalists. But they sold their souls to … Trump and they’re too damn stupid to realize the damage they’ve done to the conservative cause they claim to espouse.”
He’s right. And so are Jonah Goldberg and Stephen Hayes. They did the right thing. They didn't have to agree with everything they heard on Fox, but certain things they couldn't ignore. They no longer wanted to be part of an organization that not only tolerates, but encourages, Trump sycophancy. A tip of the hat to both of them.
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