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October 11, 2020

The unholy alliance

     Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth by Brian Stelter, Atria/One Signal Publishers, US $28.00,    Pp 280, August 2020, 978-1982142445

In 1996, Rupert Murdock hired Republican Roger Ailes to build a TV channel from scratch in the basement of the News Corp building in New York City. It was one of the most fateful decisions in modern American history. At the time, TV experts thought MSNBC, not Fox News, would be the most formidable challenger to CNN. ABC was also planning to launch a news channel too. Both NBC and ABC had established news divisions to draw from, while Fox hardly had any news infrastructure. But it was Fox which later emerged.

Roger Ailes and Trump ran in the same New York media circles for decades. Brian Stelter says that the two men had a lot in common – similar fears of crime, similar racist views about immigration, the same generational — Roger Ailes was just six years older than Trump. Both men were tail-chasers and wife-cheaters. Both had a taste for conspiracy theories. Both had paranoid streaks. And both ran their businesses as fiefdoms. Neither of them could differentiate between the press and PR. This unholy alliance has continued till today.

When President Trump won the presidential election in 2016, he needed vetted information and hard truths from people he respected. He needed to be held accountable. Brian Stelter says that Fox bosses and anchors instead fed his worst impulses and helped him deceive the people who voted for him. They encouraged him to perform like a cable news bomb-thrower — to pick fights instead of finding common ground. To govern for TV ratings instead of tangible results. To supply endless content for talk shows. They are still doing that in the run up to presidential elections in November 2020. They are stoking denialism about the pandemic — an important election issue.

Brian Stelter says that this is evident from that fact that Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the past tense. He told Sean Hannity that the virus was “fading away’ even as US cases are surging and the death toll climbing well above two hundred thousand. Trump resumed public events and refused to wear a mask in public in defiance of his own government’s recommendation. He contradicted what Fox was doing too. At Fox News HQ in late June, staffers who were not able to work from home were asked to don a mask of whenever they were in shared office spaces. The company’s plans for a fuller return to work were postponed again and again due to safety concerns. Fox’s anchors knew all of this but rarely challenged Trump’s irresponsible and ignorant conduct on the air. Brian Stelter argues that profits over principle is the priority of the Trump years.

The lying is limited to Covid 19 pandemic. It extends to social media smears about anti-racism protesters. Brian Stelter says that the Fox personalities both attacked the protesters and denied. White House officials also lied when they denied having used tear gas to clear a path through a non-threatening crowd in Lafayette Park for a presidential photo op. President Trump told public not to believe their own eyes and ears, and he thought he could get away with it because, on Fox, he always did. He wanted people to believe that truth-telling journalists are the enemies. Trump said, “What you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening,” He wanted people to trust in the Fox News President. Brian Stelter calls this the biggest hoax of all.

Hoax is a much-needed study of the unholy alliance between Fox News and unscrupulous politicians like Donald Trump. Brian Stelter shows how the interests of Fox News and big business converge. The result of this unholy alliance is the spread of lies by channels like Fox News. In this well-researched and -documented study, Stelter shows how Fox News has been telling lies on every major issue to serve its political allies. He persuasively argues that Fox News bosses and anchors have been downplaying the threat Covid 19 poses to our lives in spite of having full knowledge of the pandemic. Their goal is to serve the interests of President Trump. The truth about American media is chilling. It is a necessary book for students and experts of both journalism and politics.

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