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Is Fox News Finally Past The Point Of No Return?

An "ashamed" Fox News analyst quits, calling the network a "propaganda machine." Has Fox finally become too extreme even for staunch conservatives?
 In this screen grab, Ralph Peters appears on Fox News in Dec. 2017. (Youtube/Fox News)MoreCloseclosemore
An "ashamed" Fox News analyst quits, calling the network a "propaganda machine." Has Fox finally become too extreme even for staunch conservatives? In this screen grab, Ralph Peters appears on Fox News in Dec. 2017. (Youtube/Fox News)

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On Tuesday, a retired Army colonel quit his gig as a paid mouthpiece for Fox News by biting the hand that fed him — hard.

In a memo to colleagues, Ralph Peters wrote the following:

Four decades ago, I took an oath as a newly commissioned officer. I swore to "support and defend the Constitution," and that oath did not expire when I took off my uniform. Today, I feel that Fox News is assaulting our constitutional order and the rule of law, while fostering corrosive and unjustified paranoia among viewers. Over my decade with Fox, I long was proud of the association. Now I am ashamed.

In my view, Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration. When prime-time hosts—who have never served our country in any capacity--dismiss facts and empirical reality to launch profoundly dishonest assaults on the FBI, the Justice Department, the courts, the intelligence community (in which I served) and, not least, a model public servant and genuine war hero such as Robert Mueller—all the while scaremongering with lurid warnings of "deep-state" machinations—I cannot be part of the same organization, even at a remove. To me, Fox News is now wittingly harming our system of government for profit.

It’s probably useful know that Peters was suspended by Fox, back in 2015, for calling President Obama the same expletive that our president bragged about grabbing.

He was also fond of blithely making absurdly paranoid statements such as: “Lincoln freed the slaves, Obama freed the terrorists.”

So Peters’ repudiation isn’t exactly a profile in courage. He’s been a company man for years, which, at Fox, means stoking fear and loathing for cash considerations.

This, in fact, is what makes his statement so striking. The guy hasn’t just been drinking the Kool-Aid Fox News dispenses around the clock. He’s been serving it himself.

The fact that he now recognizes that Kool-Aid for what it is — poisonous propaganda — tells you how unhinged Fox has become.

To be clear, Fox has never been a news organization. It is a network that produces political entertainment, mostly in the form of programming that appeals to what the historian Richard Hofstadter called, back in 1964, the paranoid style.

The fact that [Peters] now recognizes that Kool-Aid for what it is -- poisonous propaganda -- tells you how unhinged Fox has become.

Nearly every segment that Fox has ever run offers the same lesson: Someone is out to get you, aging white person! The government or the climate scientists or the Muslims or the immigrants or the feminists or the thugs (read: people of color) or the Godless abortionists or the IRS or Killary. They’re coming for your God, for your guns, for your way of life.

Actual journalism, in seeking to document the complex realities of life in the 21st century, tends to complicate moral action.

Fox deals in propaganda, stories that are intended to simplify moral action by flattening the world into an utterly predictable binary.

Conservatives = good.

Liberals = bad.

Whites = victims.

People of color = perpetrators.

The wealthy = job creators.

The poor = moochers.

Our president retains an approval rating of 40 percent — despite his blatant incompetence and corruption — because of this Fox News firewall. The network has become his personal Pravda.

But it would be more accurate to say that Fox — along with the for-profit demagogues who dominate the AM dial — laid the entire foundation for Trump’s ascent.

Trump’s entire shtick ... is straight out of the Fox playbook. He didn’t create a movement. He simply inherited an audience.

For two decades, these outlets have been indoctrinating aging whites in a manner that would be the envy of a totalitarian regime.

Viewers have been trained to reject facts that rank as too disturbing (climate change, income inequality, systemic racism) and instead to embrace phony scandals (death panels, Benghazi, sharia law, etc.) in which they are forever cast as heroic victims of imagined enemies.

Trump’s entire shtick — run as populist, rule as a plutocrat — is straight out of the Fox playbook. He didn’t create a movement. He simply inherited an audience.

It’s no wonder, then, that we have a president whose views are not just informed, but actually formed, by "Fox & Friends."

Most Americans have long since tired of Trump’s masculine insecurity, his pathetic politics of division and despair. But so long as Fox News is around, the rise of another cruel bully is all but inevitable.

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Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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