If you watch Fox News, you’ll see a broad attempt to paint the rioters who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 as nothing more than peaceful “patriots,” despite endless live footage detailing the violence that aired on every news outlet, even Fox.
But what their hosts are saying publicly isn’t what they were saying privately.
The reality is that on Jan. 6 three Fox News hosts were terrified by what they saw unfolding on TV. They feared the rioting would damage former President Donald Trump’s legacy. In desperation, they reached out to Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, begging him to force the president to do something to stop the stampede that resulted in deaths and injuries.
“Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home,” texted Laura Ingraham. “This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy.”
Sean Hannity was less insistent but still asked that the president stop the mob. “Can he make a statement, ask people to leave the Capitol?” Hannity texted Meadows.
The pleading texts belie any pretense that Fox News is, as the network has said, “fair and balanced.”
Similar pleas came from Brian Kilmeade. “Please, get him on TV,” he texted. “Destroying everything you have accomplished.”
Kilmeade, Ingraham and Hannity’s texts were made public Monday evening as the House select committee investigating the insurrection voted 9-0 to recommend that Meadows be charged with contempt of Congress for defying its subpoena. Meadows began to cooperate with the investigation, turning over a trove of documents that included panicky texts from the Fox News personalities. Now, he refuses to work with the committee, which led the House to vote Tuesday night that he be referred to the Justice Department for a potential criminal charge.
Ironically, Fox News didn’t air the Monday night House hearing and Meadows, who appeared on Hannity’s show that night, wasn’t asked about the texts. Instead Meadows griped about the mainstream media and echoed a common conservative complaint that the media is out to get Trump.
That calculated move and the pleading texts belie any pretense that Fox News is, as the network has said, “fair and balanced.” (Fox stopped using the motto in 2017.) It reaffirms the network’s pro-conservative, anti-liberal bent that is pushing the message that Jan. 6 wasn’t that bad.
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo, who read the text messages out loud along with others during the committee meeting, said, "Indeed, according to the records, multiple Fox News hosts knew the president needed to act immediately.”
Hannity and Ingram criticized the committee for making their texts public, claiming they were being treated unfairly. But, the U.S. population, particularly those who religiously watch the network and take their talking points from the hosts should know the truth: The hosts knew how truly dire the situation was at the Capitol. And they knew that Trump had a responsibility to stop it.
Those who religiously watch the network and take their talking points from the hosts should know the truth.
Even Trump’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., knew his father needed to act quickly and that the situation was out of control. He, too, texted Meadows, demanding: “We need an oval office address. He has to lead now. It has gone too far. And gotten out of hand,” Trump Jr. said in one text Cheney read aloud.
"These nonprivileged texts are further evidence of President Trump's supreme dereliction of duty during those 187 minutes," Cheney said.
This private concern showed for a brief moment on air when Ingraham called the scene “disgraceful.”
But by the evening on Jan. 6, when the Capitol was on lockdown and the insurrectionists had gone home, Fox News’ concerns had changed and hosts began rewriting history.
Ingraham suggested, without evidence, a conspiracy theory that Antifa, a leftist group, was really responsible for the chaos rather than the blatantly pro-Trumpers who loudly proclaimed their loyalty on television to the outgoing president.
“I have never seen Trump rally attendees wearing helmets, black helmets, brown helmets, black backpacks — the uniforms you saw in some of these crowd shots,” she said.
It was the start of Fox’s re-framing Jan. 6 as “not that bad,” though the hosts’ texts undermine that belief.
Hannity and Kilmeade both — again, that same evening — also casted doubt that the violence was caused by Trump supporters.
“I do not know Trump supporters that have ever demonstrated violence that I know of in a big situation,” Kilmeade said. And Hannity claimed that the majority of the rioters were “peaceful.”
Despite volumes of evidence federal authorities have collected implicating Trump supporters, Ingraham, Hannity, Kilmeade and Fox evening host Tucker Carlson all strongly continue to support the Big Lie and blame others for stoking rioters. Carlson, while footage of Trump supporters breaching the halls of the Capitol played, said this in September: “They don't look like terrorists, they look like tourists, and all of them by the way are Americans.”
They didn’t look like tourists I’ve ever seen in the capital where I’ve lived for almost 30 years. But hammering the rioters won’t gain Fox viewers.
To hang onto viewers, Fox hosts need to stick to their "It wasn't that bad," pro-Republican, pro-Big Lie message — even though their texts reveal what they really think.
It really was that bad.