I do not blame every low-level worker at every evil organization for the sins of their employer. Most people just need jobs. People need to pay the rent. Still—even if the standard is very low—there has to be a standard.
One of the cruelties of capitalism is that those who suffer at the bottom are also the ones who must ultimately do the work of imposing morality on what is an amoral sort of system. The people at the top don’t tend to fix things. They are the beneficiaries of the way things are. The bank tellers didn’t cause the financial crisis, and the infantry privates didn’t start the wars, but all the shit comes down on them anyhow, and they have to either suffer or make things right. Add it to the list of things about capitalism that are unfair.
The journalism industry is not some glorious, righteous arena of gods. Almost all of us in it work for companies that, to greater or lesser degrees, would do any damn thing they could think of to make a dollar. Media companies branch out into conferences and branded travel and wine clubs and apparel and debase themselves before advertisers on an ongoing basis because they know that the media is ultimately fueled by the fickle and ever-changing desires of corporate advertisers who want to sell useless crap to suckers (you). The entire rarefied journalism world exists only as a tenuously useful offshoot of advertising. We like to feel good about our social value, but our economic value is contingent on frenzied mass commerce.
That said: journalism is a good thing. Democracy doesn’t work right without it. And most news outlets in America—though they may sometimes fuck up, get lazy, sensationalize, pander, or run awful op-ed columnists—do journalism. Over long periods of time, they add to public knowledge. Their work, broadly speaking, is useful in that sense.
This basic redeeming quality is true of most media outlets. But it is not true of Fox News. Fox News is qualitatively different from every other major media outlet in America in that it does not seek, even imperfectly, to do journalism as its primary undertaking. It instead produces propaganda. This, of course, was the founding rationale of Fox News. It is not new. It is not a fact that would be disputed by knowledgeable people on any part of the political spectrum who were caught speaking honestly. Even so, the rest of the mainstream journalism world tends to tolerate Fox with eyerolls and gritted teeth, pointing to their occasional bouts of actual newsgathering to justify their existence, or writing off their faults as mere differing political viewpoints.
That has got to stop. It’s not tolerable any more. It’s not okay.
On Friday, I went to 83rd street in Manhattan to watch a crowd of 50 or so antifa types protest an appearance by neo-fascist Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes at the Metropolitan Republican Club. Afterwards, there were two separate incidents of a large group of Proud Boys attacking and beating much smaller groups of protesters. The attacks were documented on video, along with the slurs that were shouted as they pummeled their victims. There is no disputing any of this. It happened.
Fox News, predictably, focused its initial coverage on the Republican Club being vandalized by protesters the night before the event. But after the event went down—after the speech, and the protests, and the sign-waving, and the beatings in the street—Fox News did yet another story with the description, “Antifa attacks again — swords and vandalism at New York GOP office.” And who was the man in their video clip, popping out of a car and waving a sword in the middle of the street? It was Gavin McInnes himself. The Proud Boys guy. The exact opposite of antifa. This fact was pointed out to Fox News one million times on Twitter and elsewhere in the hours that followed. And how did they respond to this clear, high profile error?
By putting the same, wrong story at the very top of their news app a full day later. This is not some “straw that broke the camel’s back” thing. This is just a good example of the standard operating procedure of Fox News.
If you in any way consider yourself to be a producer of news, you cannot work for this company. You are in the propaganda business. It is not ethical. It is actively harming America. Scholars will be unpacking the true cost of Fox News to our country’s crumbling social fabric for many years to come. In large parts of America, Fox News is the only widely viewed media outlet, and it is warping our nation’s politics in terrifying ways that people who live in more varied media markets may not even realize.
If you work for Fox News: quit. Quit now. I know it is not easy to just quit your job. It can be financially painful and it can throw a career path into question. But there is no real choice, if you consider yourself someone who cares at all about the idea that journalism should in some rough way produce truth rather than lies. Fox News is a peddler of lies for nefarious political purposes. I do not expect Sean Hannity or Tucker Carlson or Steve Doocy to quit Fox News. They know what the deal is. They are filling their assigned roles and being richly rewarded for it. I am speaking to the hundreds and hundreds of relatively normal media-type people working in mundane jobs—writing up stories for the website, field producing, on-air reporting about normal beats. Quit. Leave the company. Do not associate yourself with it. You are being tainted even if you believe that your own personal work is not as bad as other things that Fox News produces. The entire enterprise is poison. Contributing to its success in any way is contributing to the undermining of public belief in the very existence of mutually agreed upon truth. We are all going to be paying the price for what Fox News is doing for a very long time. Stop helping.
Do it publicly. Say it out loud. This industry will support you. Your fellow journalists will support you. Media unions will support you. We will write you recommendations and try to help you find a new job. We will acknowledge that you have done the right thing in the face of career peril. We know that, as at all media companies, the vast majority of people at Fox News are not scheming propagandists with hidden agendas. They are normal people who have jobs. They are people who want to work in journalism, just like the rest of us. And they ended up at Fox News because that is where they got a job. That’s the reality of life. But sometimes you draw the short straw. Sometimes you are called upon to do something hard for the sake of doing something right. That is where you find yourself if you are a normal person working at Fox News today. You have to do the right thing. You have to draw a line. History is full of regular people who continued working for institutions as they grew worse and worse and eventually turned monstrous. They were not the ones who decided to create the monstrosity, but they were the ones who enabled it to exist. History does not judge those people kindly. Don’t let yourself end up as one of them.
It’s not too late. Get out.