How Fox News lost the Black Lives Matter debate

A nation turns its back on Murdoch

I don’t normally publish four times a week, but once again this week demanded our attention. These are tumultuous times and I feel like they deserve a proudly progressive voice holding the press accountable.

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Channeling his deepest white privilege fury, Tucker Carlson opened his Monday night Fox News show with an angry, 25-minute, race-baiting monologue about Black Lives Matter, which he depicted as a "mob" that would soon "come" for his loyal viewers. As protests spread nationwide over police brutality and racial injustice, Carlson denounced the “Black Lives Matter riots,” warned of "woke militia policing our cities enforcing Democratic Party orthodoxy," and suggested Brown University might soon have the power to arrest people (?).

For weeks, Rupert Murdoch’s incendiary cable network has been warning viewers about BLM's "Marxist and LGBT" agenda, and claiming the police's use of excessive force against peaceful protesters was justified in order to quell threats posed by anti-fascist activists who allegedly stood poised to demolish cities across the country.  

Among Fox News' hardcore viewers, the scare tactic seemed to work. NBC News reported that in Oregon, hundreds of armed residents in the town of Klamath Falls gathered because they feared "that antifa, paid by billionaire philanthropist George Soros, were being bused in from neighboring cities, hellbent on razing their idyllic town." (The were not.)

On paper, the nationwide protests seemed like a perfect chance for Fox News to score political points by following Trump's lead and leaning into its law-and-order programming, while attacking activists as dangerous radicals. (The divisive strategy worked for Richard Nixon 50 yrs ago.) Fox News has spent weeks doing exactly that, embracing a "conspiratorial, propagandistic, and outright dishonest tone, ranging from an insistence that systemic racism isn’t real, to uncritical parroting of the Trump campaign’s attempt to induce panic over antifascist activists, to an embrace of Infowars’ conspiracy theories related to the death of George Floyd," according to Media Matters. "Fox News has also crossed over into the realm of pure fantasy, conjuring images of diabolical and violent young men, presumably men of color or members of the right’s boogeyman conception of antifascist groups." 

Crises like this are why Roger Ailes created Fox News — to give the conservative movement an oversized microphone that could distort the national conversation, while putting Democrats on the defensive with endless, baseless allegations. 

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But something startling has unfolded over the last two weeks as the nation grappled with the unprecedented, youth-led protests, and watched police time and again abuse their power against mostly peaceful protesters. (See here, here, here, and here.) Instead of Fox News helping define the cultural conversation and leading a so-called silent majority in opposition to the protests, an overwhelming majority of Americans have rejected Fox News’ narrative surrounding Black Lives Matter. An overwhelmingly majority of Americans support the protests (including a majority of Republicans), agree there's a national, systemic problem regarding racism, and specifically with the police. They also disapprove of how Trump has handled the grassroots uprisings.

"Since the death of George Floyd in police custody on May 25, public opinion on race, criminal justice and the Black Lives Matter movement has leaped leftward," the New York Times reports. "Never before in the history of modern polling have Americans expressed such widespread agreement that racial discrimination plays a role in policing — and in society at large." Today, voters by a ratio of more than 2-to-1 say they're more worried about the death of Floyd, the black man who died in Minneapolis after a police officer put a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes, than they are about recent protests, according to recent NBC polling data.

The cultural surge is evident beyond surveys. All across the country we're seeing landmark shifts, like the Southern-based NASCAR racing circuit announcing that Confederate flags will be banned from events. Like the city of Charlotte, N.C., following Washington, D.C.'s lead and painting a "Black Lives Matter" mural on city streets, and the A&E television network cancelling its wildly successful cop show, "Live PD," announcing it was the right thing to do during this "critical time in our nation's history"

As for Trump, Americans can't stand his pugilistic response to the protests, and his open support of police violence. In the immediate aftermath of his incendiary claim on Twitter that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts," Trump's support among senior voters dropped 17 points, according to one nationwide poll. The real turning point appears to have been the stunning tactical decision to use massive police force to clear peaceful protesters out of Lafayette Park across form the White House last week, so Trump could walk to a nearby church for a photo-op. In the wake of that jarring event, "Americans by a huge margin, by 22 percentage points, express more trust in the Black Lives Matter movement to promote justice and racial equality than they do in the president of the United States," USA Today reports.

Fox News is supposed to function as the GOP's megaphone. It's supposed to help Trump communicate his agenda and force Democrats onto the defensive. When it comes to Black Lives Matter and the protests they have sparked, Fox News has lost the debate.

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The always-insightful Wesley Lowery has a must-read piece up at The Atlantic, "Why Minneapolis was the breaking point":

For decades, police violence and impunity had been problems that, polling suggests, only black people could see. The street uprisings of recent years—in Ferguson and Baltimore, Baton Rouge and Chicago—were propelled by black rage; although they had allies, those who flooded the streets in response to those incidents of police violence were primarily black men, women, and children. Now white eyes have been opened too.

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Two months ago I highlighted a clip of R&B singer Lizzo and her glorious version of Sam Cooke's civil rights classic, "A Change Is Gonna Come," which I called one of the most important, lasting songs in the history of pop music.

This week, this scene unfolded 3,000 miles away from America, and it made me smile: