Fox News has 'challenged mainstream conservatism' with Bircher-like 'racism and 'conspiracism': historian
Countless journalists were preparing to spend weeks covering the trial for Dominion Voting Systems' $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News when, on Tuesday, April 18, they learned that there wouldn't be a trial. Dominion and Fox News had reached a settlement, and Fox agreed to pay Dominion a whopping $787.5 million.
That's a record amount for a defamation lawsuit. Yet some Fox News critics are disappointed by the settlement, as they hoped to see the right-wing cable news outlet dragged through the mud during a trial.
Indeed, Dominion's lawyers were going to court with a mountain of damning evidence showing that Fox News' hosts didn't believe the false conspiracy theory that Dominion's voting equipment was used to help President Joe Biden steal the 2020 election from former President Donald Trump — but promoted it anyway.
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There was a time when right-wing journalists took a firm stand against conspiracy theorists. The late National Review founder William F. Buckley was considered an arch-conservative back in the 1960s and 1970s, but he believed that the far-right John Birch Society was bad for the conservative movement and famously excluded Birchers from his publication.
Fox News, in contrast, has fully embraced conspiracy theorists — a subject that historian Matthew Dallek addresses in a biting op-ed/essay published by the New York Times on April 19. Dallek emphasizes that Fox News isn't promoting "mainstream conservatism," but rather, the type of far-right extremism the Birchers were known for.
"Fox has both promulgated and become subsumed by an alternative political tradition — perhaps most notoriously embodied by the John Birch Society in the 1960s — in which the far right, over decades, has challenged mainstream conservatism on core issues like isolationism, racism, the value of experts and expertise, violent rhetoric and conspiracism," Dallek argues. "The Republican Party and the American right’s ability to police extremists was never particularly robust, but whatever guardrails they provided have become diminished through the years. Fox helped break the American right."
Buckley died in 2008, but if he were still living, it would be fascinating to hear what he had to say about Trump's presidency, the January 6, 2021 insurrection, and Dominion's lawsuit against Fox News. Dallek doesn't talk about Buckley in his Times op-ed/essay, but he has a lot to say about the Birchers and how Birch-like Tucker Carlson and other conspiracy theorists at Fox News have been.
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"This strain of paranoia has deep roots on the American right," Dallek explains. "It was true of McCarthyism, which blamed State Department traitors for the 'loss of China' to communism. And it resonated with many members of the John Birch Society, a group that flourished in the 1960s, devoted to weeding out communism from American life. Birchers, too, championed ideas that today's Fox viewers find persuasive: The plot against America was orchestrated by liberals, State Department types, journalists and other elites out to destroy the country."
Dallek continues, "Another pattern that surfaced in the Fox revelations: Just as Mr. Carlson, (Laura) Ingraham and Sean Hannity dismissed the Big Lie in private while giving airtime to Mr. Trump's conspiracism in public, some Birchers questioned or played down the conspiracy theories of Robert Welch, a retired candy manufacturer and founder of the group, while remaining true to the Bircher mission and sticking by it. When news broke that Mr. Welch had accused President Dwight Eisenhower of being a communist agent, the Bircher rank-and-file rallied in loathing of their shared enemy — the American establishment."
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Read Matthew Dallek's full New York Times op-ed/essay at this link (subscription required).
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