Editor’s Note: Jen Psaki, a CNN political commentator, was the White House communications director and State Department spokeswoman during the Obama administration. She is vice president of communications and strategy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Follow her at @jrpsaki. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. Read more opinion articles at CNN.
The peddling of dangerous conspiracy theories is not just a Chris Farrell or a Lou Dobbs problem. This is a Fox in the age of President Donald Trump problem. It is a partnership, long in the making, between a serial liar now occupying the oval office and a major news network that has evolved from the voice of the conservative movement to a forum for racist and divisive conspiracy rants.
And it is one that could not only do lasting damage to the legitimacy of media in the US, but could also spur more anger, division and even violence in the short term.
Fox News and Fox Business have long been the peddlers of conspiracy theories, often for the purpose of damaging the reputations of members of the Democratic party. It was not that long ago that Fox gave oxygen to the bizarre rumor that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and was, therefore, an illegitimate President, a theory also driven at the time by none other than Donald Trump.
It was Fox News that recently pushed the line of analysis that the mail bombs sent last week were most likely a “false flag” to frame Republicans and help Democrats in the midterm elections. This notion was echoed by Donald Trump when he used “Bomb” in quotation marks in his tweet on Friday lamenting the focus of news coverage away from politics and toward the pipe bombs sent to his critics.
Then, on Saturday, a gunman opened fire at a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11. Just hours later, while the country processed this tragedy, Fox re-aired a segment of Lou Dobbs’ show, in which Chris Farrell, an official from conservative group Judicial Watch, claimed that the caravan reportedly moving from Honduras through Mexico was funded by the “Soros occupied State Department.”
Unsurprisingly, Dobbs and his show on Fox Business came under fire.
In response, a spokesperson for Fox Business issued a statement condemning Farrell’s remarks and announcing that the episode had been pulled.
But there is still a problem. Fox has shown that it is in the business of pushing conspiracy theories if they will do damage to members of the Democratic party or critics of the President.
Lou Dobbs has been pushing conspiracy theories himself. Earlier in the week, in a tweet, which has now been deleted, he personally claimed that the bomb threats against critics of Trump and CNN were fake.
And Lou Dobbs isn’t even the worst offender. Fox is the home of Laura Ingraham who has promoted the theory that the Clintons were involved in murdering several people. Then there is Sean Hannity who has given voice to theories as nutty as Russia being framed for cyber attacks on the US and as cruel as falsely blaming the death of Seth Rich, a young DNC staffer, on unproven theories that he leaked DNC emails. (While Fox eventually retracted the story, they still stood by Hannity.)
The pushing of right-wing conspiracy theories is their bread and butter. It is seemingly what drives their coverage. It is the click bait of television news and it is working.
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So let’s stop giving credit for doing the bare minimum. Fox doesn’t care if Chris Farrell is a guest or not. They have plenty of other looney tune conspiracy theorists to book in his place.
Their ratings are high. They have the eyes and ears of the President of the United States who is their best echo chamber – and a growing following of viewers who believe that all of the media personalities there are in fact reporting the news.
This is not a case of both sides need to calm the rhetoric. It is one side – the side of the White House and a news network. Let’s not stop at getting Lou Dobbs pulled from the air. Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham should be next. A voice of conservative thought should be welcomed. But a voice of dangerous and damaging conspiracy theories should not.