On Thursday, Fox News host Neil Cavuto went on an explosive rant against President Donald Trump, reminding him that the network is not his private propaganda channel.
“To fact check him is to be all but dead to him,” Cavuto said. Even more disturbingly, he pointed out that many Trump supporters had contacted him to tell him that “I am either with him totally, or I am a Never Trumper fully.”
Given that Trump supporters have targeted the president's perceived enemies in the past--whether immigrants at the border, the Obamas or media networks like CNN--that response could be seen as intimidating.
Writing in the Washington Post, columnist Greg Sargent explains how the feud between Fox News and the president exposes Trump's most insidious form of corruption.
He starts by pointing to the many problems at Fox. "My purpose here is not to defend Fox. Yes, its news anchors sometimes do cover the administration aggressively, but the news coverage also has a heavy pro-Trump tilt, and its opinion hosts regularly traffic in outright pro-Trump agitprop and white nationalist conspiracy theories," Sargent notes.
Nevertheless, it's disturbing for the president to attack them.
"Rather, what’s interesting here is Cavuto’s declaration that many Trump supporters have come to expect and demand from Fox absolute fealty to their leader."
Sargent praises Cavuto for standing up to Trump on this issue.
"Cavuto deserves some credit. In his rebuke, he exposed many of the false storylines that intertwine in Trump’s preferred narrative of the last few years: Russia never tried to sabotage our political system on his behalf," he writes.
"Trump expects and demands that Fox News hew to this propagandistic narrative entirely. But, even more to the point, he publicly and unabashedly tells his supporters that he expects and demands it."
"The whole point here is the open declaration that something meant to be a news network should function as his personal 24/7 propaganda and disinformation outlet," Sargent writes. "It’s a double-fisted declaration of impunity: Trump must be immune from journalistic scrutiny and be permitted to operate and lie with absolute impunity, and he will publicly assert that an ostensibly journalistic institution should be entirely subservient to him with absolute, shameless impunity as well."
Although Trump is hardly the first politician to lie, he's taken misinformation to a whole new level.
"This is a form of insidious corruption — corruption of our discourse. All politicians shade the truth; politics inescapably involves artifice of one kind or another," Sargent observes.
"But most hew to some kind of underlying belief that gaslighting voters too shamelessly treats them with a form of deep contempt; that at some point, factual reality has to matter; that journalism plays a legitimate institutional role in restraining political dishonesty; and that all this is a necessary foundation for deliberative democracy to function."