One of the biggest threats to the 2020 presidential election is disinformation. Not only have social media sites been on defense for allowing “fake news” to proliferate (see Joe Biden “fall asleep” during an interview here), but Fox News, America’s most-watched primetime network, has also received an onslaught of criticism by many who argue the network is detached from reality.
Fox News’ opinion anchors, including Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Jeanine Pirro are staunch Trump supporters both on and off the air, even speaking at Trump rallies. Beyond that, they have pushed unproven cures for COVID-19, accused Barack Obama of crimes, and promoted conspiracy theories like the “Deep State.” Much of their air time is dedicated to applauding Trump—and denouncing his opponents—via unsubstantiated claims.
Both Hannity and Carlson have defended their clear lack of impartiality by explaining that they are “not journalists,” but rather analysts who give their opinions. This month, a Manhattan judge dismissed a defamation lawsuit against Carlson, arguing that any reasonable viewer “arrive[s] with an appropriate amount of skepticism” when watching his show. In other words, no reasonable viewer would assume that Carlson is being completely honest.
It is clear that Fox News’ opinion hosts do not act as—nor do they claim to be—credible journalists. But, is the general public able to make such a distinction? That fact is not clear. A recent study finds that viewers of Sean Hannity, who initially dismissed the virus as the “flu,” had a higher early-on COVID-19 death rate than viewers of Tucker Carlson, who took the virus seriously (at least in the very beginning). Furthermore, within hours of Fox News hosts calling to end the COVID-19 lockdowns, President Trump tweeted his support for lifting them as well. Protests to “open up” followed shortly after.
It is evident that the views of Fox News’ opinion hosts have a direct impact on not only what the President thinks, but what many of Fox News viewers believe as well. The line between opinion, disinformation, and journalism is blurred, and the 2020 presidential election will certainly be made more complex because of it.