(CNN Business)A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
“Make no mistake,” President Biden said Tuesday, “bullies and merchants of fear, peddlers of lies, are threatening the very foundation of our country.”
Biden’s dire warning — part of his address about an ongoing assault on voting rights across the country — aired live on CNN, MSNBC, and across the web. But Fox News didn’t carry the speech live. Neither did Newsmax. Nor did One America News.
Arguably the faction that needed to hear it the most, the Donald-Trump-won crowd, didn’t hear it at all.
CNN’s Alisyn Camerota, a former Fox anchor, commented after the address that “a large chunk of the country will not hear President Biden’s message that democracy is basically, in some states, being threatened or stolen before our very eyes.”
“It was the most forcefully Biden has inveighed against Trump since taking office,” CNN’s team noted. “At one point, accusing Republicans of shirking truth and responsibility for upholding the Constitution, he bellowed: ‘Have you no shame?'”
The same question could be asked to the anchors and producers who went out of their way to ignore Biden as he delivered one of the most important speeches of his presidency thus far. Every network and news outlet was well aware it was happening. And Fox was in what it considers “news,” not talk, programming at the time.
>> Oliver Darcy writes: “So what prevented Fox from covering the pivotal speech? Nothing that was pressing. While Biden spoke, Fox hosted a discussion on Bill Gates’ divorce, previewed a Fox Nation show, and talked about the ‘woke’ military. It’s hard to see how any news exec would view those topics as carrying more importance than Biden’s speech on voting rights. But Suzanne Scott and Jay Wallace did…”
Wednesday morning’s lead
For a gut check about the significance of the moment, here’s the lead story in Wednesday’s Washington Post:
“President Biden on Tuesday delivered his most forceful condemnation yet of the wave of voting restrictions proposed in Republican-led states nationwide — efforts the president argued are the biggest threat to American democracy since the Civil War. Biden’s speech was an attempt to inject new life into flagging efforts to pass federal legislation addressing the issue. But while he intensified his explanation of the stakes, his speech did not include a call for the Senate to change the filibuster, which is seen by advocates as the best, and perhaps only, way to usher in the kinds of changes Biden is seeking.”
Now back to Oliver…
Fox’s behavior is not ‘news network’ behavior
Oliver Darcy writes: “As I said, no news executive could actually believe that previewing a Fox Nation infotainment show holds more editorial weight than carrying a major presidential speech. That leads to the natural Q that has been debated for years: Is Fox a news network? I’d argue it is primarily not. Fox’s decisions only make sense when it’s viewed as a right-wing talk channel, not a news outlet. It’s truly just talk radio on TV: Constant right-wing commentary with an occasional dry reading of the headlines from a conservative POV. Yet too many media reporters still lump Fox in with major news brands. Why is that?”
Fox defaults to mockery
Mockery is really a default setting for Fox’s drama-star personalities. “It was a happy day in America, a beautiful July day, and then this afternoon something grave happened. Joe Biden made a very disturbing announcement,” Tucker Carlson inveighed. “This country faces a crisis more dangerous than anything since the American Civil War, Biden said.”
Carlson acted very, very upset about the Civil War reference. “Even allowing for the dementia,” Carlson continued, slipping in a conspiracy theory about the president, “it was a stunningly irresponsible thing for an American leader to say out loud — dangerous even.”
Hegseth won’t answer: “Did Donald Trump lose the election?”
Instead of the Biden address, far-right TV focused on the Texas Democrats who flew out of the state to slow down a Republican bill to tighten the state’s already-stringent voting rules. Fox’s 7pm host this week, Pete Hegseth, booked one of those Dems, James Talarico, for an interview/fight, and as soon as Talarico mentioned Trump’s “Big Lie,” Hegseth interrupted.
As the segment went on, Talarico heightened the stakes this way: “You have made a lot of money personally and you’ve enriched a lot of corporations with advertising by getting on here and spewing lies and conspiracy theories to folks who trust you. So what I’m asking you to do is to tell your voters right now that Donald Trump lost the election in 2020.”
Hegseth totally lost control of the conversation. He tried to say “it’s not your show, sir,” but Talarico kept going: “Did Donald Trump lose the election in 2020? Can you answer the question? Did Donald Trump lose the election in 2020?” He added: “Is this an uncomfortable question for you?”
Clearly it was. Hegseth stumbled and then deflected: “Why are you in DC and not in Texas?” I just kept thinking, why is Hegseth unable to admit Trump lost? Again: This is not the behavior of a “news network.” And yet Fox constantly gets “news network” treatment and deference…
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