President Trump’s supporters were storming the US Capitol and Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum could hardly contain her shock. “I’m stunned by the images that we are seeing right now,” she said on the network’s air.
It was a jarring scene. But no one should have been terribly surprised — particularly not anyone working at Fox.
The disturbing scenes that played out on national television Wednesday were a natural consequence of the lies and conspiracy theories about the presidential election that have for weeks now been fed to Trump’s supporters.
Experts had warned that disinformation about the election results could lead to real-world violence — but many in right-wing media did not heed those warnings.
And Fox News, MacCallum’s employer, was chief among them.
Since the November election, Fox News hosts — many of whom use their platforms to work as propagandists for Trump — have promoted disinformation about the election results and helped spread conspiracy theories aimed at casting doubt on Joe Biden’s victory.
These Fox News hosts, along with a cohort of propagandists on smaller right-wing cable networks, talk-radio, and online platforms have shamelessly lied to their supporters and undermined the American electoral system.
Which is to say that while Trump may have been the one who lit the match under what happened on Wednesday, dishonest media personalities allied with the President had been laying down gasoline-soaked wood for the bonfire for weeks beforehand.
Indeed, the pro-Trump media may have played the most significant role of anyone in setting the stage for Wednesday’s coup attempt at the US Capitol.
Unlike Republican lawmakers who have egged on Trump’s nonsensical claims, figures such as Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh have audiences of millions who tune into their programs religiously and hang on every word they say.
Those large audiences give the heavyweights in right-wing media enormous power over the Republican Party and the direction in which it is heading.
But instead of wielding such enormous power responsibly and telling their audiences the truth about what happened on Election Day, they’ve done the very opposite and provoked anger by promoting the notion that the vote had been rigged and the presidency stolen. Then, to compound what they had done, they lied more and acted as if a free and fair election could be overturned and Trump inaugurated again, giving those audiences who depend on them false hope.
Those lies and conspiracy theories have real-world effect, as demonstrated Wednesday by the throngs of Trump’s supporters who genuinely believed the election was corrupt and that they were acting patriotically by fighting on the President’s behalf.
Not only have right-wing media personalities discouraged Trump’s critics inside the Republican Party from speaking out and telling the truth about the election, but they have also incentivized Republican lawmakers to go along with the President’s insanity.
While the Republican lawmakers who have spread conspiracy theories about the election undoubtedly deserve blame for Wednesday’s events, it’s hard to imagine they would have had the motive to do so without a powerful media machine that rewarded them for their actions.
Yes, what played out on Wednesday was unquestionably incited by Trump. But his propagandists in right-wing media fostered the environment that allowed it to happen.