As Fox News fends off challengers Newsmax and OANN in the battle to curry favor with Donald Trump and his supporters, many are wondering if the conservative US cable news network might evolve into a less obsequious media outlet once Trump is no longer in power. Fox’s coverage of the Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol building gave us a definitive answer to that question.
No, Fox isn’t changing. If anything, it could move even further into conspiracy-mongering in an attempt to reinvigorate the audience it lost over the last few months.
In the hours and days since the attempted insurrection, which some US national security experts labeled a “terrorist attack,” Fox’s anchors, contributors, and guests have spent much of their time on the air justifying the rioters’ violence and floating conspiracy theories without any evidence.
“Of the people who gathered yesterday, 99% of them were peaceful,” Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy said Jan. 7. Doocy later claimed the rioters were merely “frustrated,” as if being frustrated makes one want to lay siege to the US Capitol building. Five people have now died as a result of the riot, including a Capitol Police officer, who was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher, the New York Times reported. US federal investigators have opened a murder investigation into the officer’s death.
“They were there to support the president of the United States and defend our republic, and stand up and say, ‘I just want a fair shake,’” claimed Fox News contributor Pete Hegseth. “It manifested at the Capitol in a different way, but that doesn’t mean you have to condemn the entire thing.”
Later, Fox guest Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University professor, compared the insurrection to “an attack on the White House,” presumably referring to the June 1 incident in Lafayette Square, during which a group of entirely peaceful protesters were dispersed by law enforcement with tear gas, riot shields, and rubber bullets. The network also had on other guests on who lied unchecked about the 2020 election—even while the Capitol riot was still ongoing.
And then Fox began gave voice to discredited conspiracy theories, which had surfaced in far-right social media circles in the hours before. Hosts Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Lou Dobbs, and several guests referenced “reports” that Antifa—the term for an unorganized movement of antifascist political activists—had embedded covert agents to instigate the insurrection. In truth, many of the rioters were well-known white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and QAnon conspiracy theorists, who did not take steps to conceal their identities. There is no evidence the rioters were infiltrated or encouraged by anyone with other motives.
Immediately after the US presidential election in November, Trump tweeted his disapproval with Fox News for calling the state of Arizona for Joe Biden, and later acknowledging Joe Biden won the election. He suggested his supporters switch their allegiance to far-right networks like Newsmax and OANN, which at that point had not called Arizona or admitted Trump’s inevitable defeat. Fox News remains considerably more popular than either of the other networks, but the gap did close during portions of November and December.
Fox has since regained a dominant position in the conservative media bubble, in part by inching back toward coverage that likely pleased Trump: talking up the possibility that the election was unfair and voter fraud was possible. (There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could impact the result of the election.) The network’s coverage of the Jan. 6 insurrection was the coup de grace of its post-election crusade to rehabilitate its reputation among Trump acolytes.
The riot was an opportunity for Fox to take a more measured approach to the news, condemn the violence without equivocation or justification, squash ridiculous conspiracies, and perhaps try to open up its tent to a less Trumpian audience. But it categorically rejected that idea. If it wasn’t going to happen this week, then it’s not going to happen.