Monday, March 23, 2020


After allowing on-air personalities to mislead viewers for weeks about the dangers of covid-19, top executives at Fox News are now focusing their attention on throwing one another under the bus, as we learn from Ben Smith at The New York Times.
The chief executive of Fox News, Suzanne Scott, reacted swiftly to the threat of the coronavirus in late February: She ordered the bright, open new offices disinfected, installed hand sanitizer stations around the office and boldly canceled the company’s major ad sales event.

But her influence doesn’t extend to the most important part of Fox News: its programming in prime time.

There, for two crucial weeks in late February and early March, powerful Fox hosts talked about the “real” story of the coronavirus: It was a Democratic- and media-led plot against President Donald J. Trump. Hosts and guests, speaking to Fox’s predominately elderly audience, repeatedly played down the threat of what would soon become a deadly pandemic.

The person who could have stopped the flow of misinformation was Ms. Scott’s boss, Lachlan Murdoch, the chief executive of the Fox Corporation. But he wasn’t paying much attention. The 48-year-old heir to his family’s media fortune was focused instead on buying a streaming company called Tubi for $440 million, a person who has spoken to him said. The acquisition would drive “long-term growth,” he proudly announced in a news release on March 17.
Do we believe this version of events? It seems clear to me that there isn't just one person who could have altered the tone of the programming. Lachlan Murdoch is the corporate CEO -- yes, he could have done it. But Scott is the CEO of Fox News -- why isn't she also to blame?

Or this woman?
Network executives are blaming Mr. Trump, their own powerful hosts or Meade Cooper, the executive vice president who theoretically runs prime time programming, people familiar with their conversations said.
Or Rupert Murdoch, who could have weighed in and would have been taken seriously within the company? We're told he did weigh in, though it's not clear whether that's an ass-covering lie:
A person who spoke to Rupert Murdoch says that the 89-year-old chairman reached out to Mr. Hannity to tell him to take the virus “seriously.” But other executives said they had no knowledge of the call, and Mr. Hannity said in a statement that “this is absolutely false and never happened.”
Suzanne Scott doesn't get the blame because, apparently, her job responsibilities, at least as they relate to prime-time programming, are actually handled by the president of the United States, according to Smith.
She was the first woman to run the company.... And she was a safe insider whom the Murdochs liked, even if she lacked a powerful profile inside and outside Fox.

The job, at that point, didn’t matter all that much. Mr. Trump had given the network’s prime-time hosts, Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and others, unusual access and political relevance — not to mention huge ratings. The hosts, in turn, were far more responsive to him than to their nominal bosses, providing a platform for the president and his supporters to air their grievances about the rest of the media.

Ms. Scott, in turn, could focus on cleaning up a toxic workplace, managing the less-watched daytime programming and taking credit for the ratings.
I don't dispute the assertion that Lachlan Murdoch should have intervened.
People close to Lachlan Murdoch describe him as a laid-back executive who doesn’t spend his days watching Fox and is sometimes surprised to learn of a controversy it has generated....

By January, Lachlan Murdoch knew the virus was coming. He’d been getting regular updates from the family’s political allies and journalists in his father’s native Australia, an Australian News Corporation staff member told me. The Fox host he’s closest to, Mr. Carlson, had been a rare voice on the network urging Mr. Trump to act more urgently. Even Mr. Hannity had hosted Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, early on his show and warned of the risks....

When Lachlan Murdoch started to hear complaints about the coronavirus coverage on Fox, a person who has spoken to him said, he mistook it for the usual partisan noise.

“Everyone saw it as part of the normal rough and tumble for all things Trump — everyone but Fox goes after him, Fox defends him,” this person said.
I blame all of them. In a better moral universe, they'd all resign in disgrace. (In a better moral universe, Fox News wouldn't exist, of course.)

This should be a national scandal: Fox may be the most influential news outlet in America, and it spread disinformation that will lead to a higher covid-19 death toll overall.

Smith understands this -- he quotes Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Public Health Institute, who says that, yes, people will die because of the way Fox initially reported this.

Nevertheless, the story comes off as corporate gossip.

And it won't matter: Fox's ratings were high when it was selling denialism and I'm sure they're still high now that Fox has switched over to "The virus can kill you but Trump will save you."

I don't care which suit did what as Fox spewed this nonsense. Everyone who had the opportunity to intercede and failed to do so -- or refused to do so -- is to blame.

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