New York Times Writer Manjoo: Forget Facebook, Fight ‘Lies’ of 'Fox News Machine'

June 2nd, 2019 11:30 AM

Weighing in on the controversy over whether Facebook should have taken down a doctored video clip portraying Nancy Pelosi as a drunk, New York Times tech columnist Farhad Manjoo says we should instead fight the real enemy: “The Problem Is Fox News, Not Facebook.” The text box: “Misinformation online has nothing on Murdoch TV’s lies.”

...Whatever Facebook decides to do with this weird little video is a big meh, because if you were to rank the monsters of misinformation that American society now faces, amateurishly doctored viral videos would clock in as mere houseflies in our midst. Worry about them, sure, but not at the risk of overlooking a more clear and present danger, the million-pound, forked-tongue colossus that dominates our misinformation menagerie: Fox News and the far-flung, cross-platform lie machine that it commands.

And that’s exactly what happened last week. In going after Facebook, many observers forgot about Rupert Murdoch’s empire, whose Fox Business spinoff aired a similarly misleading Pelosi hit job on “Lou Dobbs Tonight.” This was upside down. While newfangled digital manipulations should raise some concern, they are still emerging, long-range threats, and social networks are at least experimenting with ways to mitigate their negative impact on society. But we don’t have much hope nor many good ideas for limiting the lies of old-media outlets like Fox News, which still commands the complete and slavish attention of tens of millions of Americans every night, polluting the public square with big and small lies that often ricochet across every platform, from cable to YouTube to Facebook to Google, drowning us all in a never-ending flood of fakery.

Manjoo dealt only glancingly with the other cable news networks.

Fox’s editing technique was not novel; this sort of montage is a common feature on Fox and much of cable news....

That certainly lets liberal cable channels CNN and MSNBC off the hook, though when it comes to “fake news” both have compiled an impressive record, as John Nolte emphasized in his list of “establishment media hoaxes,” including smears of Brett Kavanaugh and the Covington High School kids, as well as promoting the Russia “collusion” theory, discredited by the Mueller report. Not to mention wall-to-wall appearances of lawyer Michael Avenatti, the now indicted and disgraced lawyer who was promoted as a Trump foil in myriad hits on CNN and MSNBC during the Stormy Daniels and Brett Kavanaugh sagas.

But Manjoo kept pounding solely on Fox and its “lies.”

And Fox has apparently persuaded us all to live with its lying, too. Even though it was the Fox Business clip, not the amateur Facebook segment, that President Trump tweeted to his millions of followers, it was somehow Facebook, Twitter and the digital world that came in for the biggest scolding from press critics.


The disease is an entrenched, well-funded, decades-in-the-making, right-wing propaganda network, one that exists to turn faintly sourced rumors into full-blown, politically convenient narratives. The propaganda network’s tentacles now infiltrate every form of media -- magazines, books, talk radio, social networks -- but it still finds its most profitable and effective outlet in the Murdochs’ cable empire.

And it is devastatingly effective: Just about every political lie that has dominated American discourse in the past two decades -- the Swift Boaters and the birthers, death panels, the idea that undocumented immigrants pose an existential threat but climate change does not -- depended, for its mainstream dissemination, on the Fox News machine.

The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth effectively questioned John Kerry’s war record during the 2004 presidential campaign, while “death panels” was a useful encapsulation of the dangers of health care rationing under socialized medicine. They certainly weren’t “lies.” And the "birther" conspiracy was orginated by Hillary Clinton supporters during the 2008 Democratic primary.

Not that this is a comforting thought; in fact, it makes the whole problem a bit hopeless, because what are we going to do about Fox News? Aside from Elizabeth Warren -- who has a plan to limit the power of Fox, as she has a plan for everything (a caveat that is becoming a regular occurrence in my columns) -- few on the left bother anymore to even mention the scourge it poses, because it’s all so obvious: Fox is fake, water is wet.

It’s certainly not a "comforting thought" that a liberal Times columnist is so eager to “limit the power” of speech he doesn’t approve of, either on Fox News or Twitter (not even the president’s account is safe).