This article is part of a series about a legal threat sent to Crikey by Lachlan Murdoch, over an article Crikey published about the January 6 riots in the US. For the series introduction go here, and for the full series go here.
In the real world, the events in Washington DC on January 6 2021 are seen for what they are — a frightening attempt by a defeated president and his delusional followers to overturn US democracy through a violent invasion of Congress. It was an insurrection, incited by Donald Trump, that cost the lives of both protesters and police and has resulted, to date, in around 900 people being charged in relation to the attack.
But at the Murdoch family’s Fox News, things are very different. On, the insurrection was repeatedly described as “peaceful”; its “energy” and “positivity” were lauded by Fox personalities. As Trump supporters breached the building, one Fox host said, “This is a huge victory for these protesters. They have disrupted the system in an enormous way!”
As the “peaceful protest” line became increasingly difficult to maintain, Fox News personalities began comparing the insurrection to Black Lives Matter protests. That night, Tucker Carlson blamed a nebulous “them”, not protesters. “Millions of Americans sincerely believe the last election was fake,” he said. “You can dismiss them as crazy, call them conspiracy theorists, kick them off Twitter, that won’t change their minds.” Others claimed left-wing protesters had infiltrated the insurrection and turned it violent.
And ever since, even as the congressional inquiry into the events of that day unearthed the role of Donald Trump earlier this year, detailing planning that went into the event and the chaos and destruction that was caused, Fox’s best and brightest have continued to downplay the insurrection. It was “vandalism”. “Forgettably minor”. The inquiry hearings were an “anti-Trump show trial” and a “sham”.
It’s perhaps understandable that Fox News wants to downplay January 6 2021, given its crucial role in spreading and amplifying Donald Trump’s lies about a stolen election. But rarely has the network seemed so utterly committed to total disinformation as when its presenters have insisted nothing happened that day, and that anything that did happen was the fault not of those who perpetrated the deaths, the violence and the political disruption, but of politicians, of apparently ninja-like “antifa” subversives, of those who ran the protests as a supposed false-flag operation.
To understand the events of January 6 it’s crucial to understand the role of Fox News in spreading and amplifying the Big Lie. To understand the ongoing hold Donald Trump has on the Republican Party, it’s necessary to understand the continuing role of Fox News in feeding lies and propaganda to his supporters. And to understand that role requires understanding those who control Fox News — the Murdoch family.
To suggest that either the Murdochs do not have some responsibility for the events of January 6, or that making that suggestion should be punished in court, is an extraordinary denial of the public interest. Yet that is what Lachlan Murdoch is now pursuing in the Federal Court.
This is a matter of the highest public interest. The stability of the United States, as our most important ally and our security guarantor, is one of our most important strategic assumptions. But that assumption can no longer safely be made, and that is partly the result of the division, polarisation and hatred spread by Fox News: the possibility of widespread political violence, even of civil war, cannot be dismissed. The return to the presidency of Donald Trump — doubtless with the support of Fox News — cannot be dismissed. The election of a Trump-like figure of authoritarian populism like Ron DeSantis cannot be dismissed.
All would be alarming outcomes for Australia, given our lead role in taking on China in our own region. All would undermine our security. All would imperil the assumptions at the heart of our defence policy.
Yet according to Lachlan Murdoch, the role of his family in one of the key disruptive forces in US politics, Fox News, is somehow off limits, beyond public discussion in Australia. It’s never been more important for the toxic impact of Fox News and the malignant role of the Murdochs in public life across the world to be openly debated.