As The Fox World Turns: Mueller Attacked, Smith Claps Back, and Peters Exits

It’s time to Break It Down!

Fox News, also known as Fox News Channel (FNC) is a basic cable and satellite television news channel owned by the Fox Entertainment Group, a subsidiary of 21st Century Fox. The network was created by Australian-American media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who hired former Republican Party media consultant and CNBC executive Roger Ailes as its founding CEO.

FNC has been accused of biased reporting, promoting the Republican Party and shilling for a variety of conservative causes. In many circles, much of what appears on the network is not actually considered news. Not surprisingly, unless you are immersed in the FNC orbit, you already knew that. While critics and detractors contend the channel is detrimental to the integrity of news overall, FNC employees retort that its news reporting division operates independently of its opinion and commentary programming division; they (those on the opinion side) have in turn denied bias in news reporting.

For the past 14 months, since Donald Trump has been President, FNC has emerged as the President’s virtual lifeline, inspiration, and cultivator of a cult-like following. It has been frequently reported that Trump starts his mornings with a healthy dose of Fox and Friends. His subsequent tweets often take on the tenor of whatever rant the Fox hosts started the morning by hammering. Recently Sean Hannity has been excoriating Robert Mueller. Monday, for the first time, Trump actually used Mueller’s name in a full-frontal attack. To turn a phrase, as usual, Trump and FNC, at least the opinion and commentary segment, are simpatico.

Shepard Smith, who serves in the capacity of FNC’s chief news anchor, and who signed a new contract Thursday, expressed his gratitude and excitement at being given the opportunity to continue leading the news division. He said:

“I am incredibly proud to be part of a group of journalists who helped build the Fox news division from scratch 22 years ago and extremely thankful for the opportunity to continue to lead our breaking news coverage for years to come. Our team’s commitment to delivering facts to our loyal viewers in context and with perspective, without fear or favor, is unwavering. The investment that Mr. Murdoch has infused into our already strong news division affords us endless opportunities. I am excited for the future and honored to continue to call Fox News my home.”

It appears the proverbial, all Trump, all the time, love fest has begun to take a toll on the collaborative interworking dynamics at the vaunted network. Mr. Smith was one of the network’s original hires in 1996. He has been one of the few; I would even say rare, Fox employees to eschew the company’s party line (pun intended) when it comes to Trump. In fact, he has gone so far as to contradict the President’s claims that the investigation into possible Russian interference in 2016 was a Democratic “hoax.” Smith said on air in February:

“This is an American investigation. And this is not a hoax. The Russians interfered. The Russians were sanctioned by Congress, the President has not put those into place, and the question is why,” he said at the time.

The well-regarded anchor, who Rupert Murdoch described as an “exemplary journalist,” stated firmly, the line between news and opinion on the network is clearly drawn – and he knows which side he’s on.

Oh yes, I mentioned the stresses of push-pull, yin-yang, and the resulting toll. In an interview with Time magazine last Thursday, Smith compared the networks news and opinions divisions this way:

“We serve different masters. We work for different reporting chains, we have different rules. They don’t really have rules on the opinion side. They can say whatever they want. I get it that some of our opinion programming is there strictly to be entertaining. I get that. I don’t work there. I wouldn’t work there. I don’t want to sit around and yell at each other and talk about your philosophy and my philosophy. That sounds horrible to me.”

He did not directly call out colleagues such as Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, and Laura Ingraham, by name. But there is little doubt any of them missed the hard inside fastball, around zipper level. Moreover, if you’ve ever listened to Sean Hannity and Company, and I admit, since the ascendancy of Trump to the throne…I mean, to the Presidency, I have periodically glanced “over there” to see how differently they cover the news of the day, and occasionally to see what passes for excuses for not covering Trump’s latest hijinks, you know that about all you had to do was count down 3, 2, 1, before they’d utter some variation of a Trump inspired response.

OK, so it took until the next day, but sure enough, on Friday, Hannity tweeted (of course he did…Trump must have been so proud) that Smith was “clueless” about what Hannity does on his show each night. Hannity said he counted Smith as a friend and respected his ability to deliver breaking news, but he wrote that Smith held “political views I do not share.” In the past, Hannity has called Smith “so anti-Trump.”

Laura Ingraham is the most recent addition to the FNC prime time lineup. She tweeted that she “always liked” Smith, but thought his comments critical of Fox News opinion programming were “inconsiderate & inaccurate.” At first blush, that sounded downright snow flakey. How could she possibly be so sensitive and still be a stout representative of the Right? Fake news, I guess.

But there’s more. Yesterday, Ralph Peters, a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel who served as a military analyst for FNC, in announcing his departure from the network denounced the outlet as a “propaganda machine,” devoted to President Trump. He went on to add that FNC was:

“Wittingly harming our system of government for profit.”

In his stunning internal exit memo, Peters said he felt compelled to explain his leaving the organization to his colleagues before skewering the network he has called home for years. He distilled his thoughts in a nuclear fashion, thusly:

“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 Peters’ letter, first reported on by BuzzFeed, and independently confirmed by CNN, Peters said he felt FNC “degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices” to morphing into a “mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethnically ruinous administration.”

Peters called out the Fox News opinion hosts’ relentless attacks on the FBI, Justice Department, intelligence agencies, and other branches of government. He characterized Fox News as harming the country in exchange for making a profit. He went on to emphasize that his criticism did not apply to Fox Business, or the hard news reporters, whom he described as some of the best men and women in the business.

Naturally, FNC came to its own defense. The network issued the following statement last night:

“Ralph Peters is entitled to his opinion despite the fact that he’s choosing to use it as a weapon in order to gain attention. We are extremely proud of our top-rated hosts and all of our opinion programming.”

Clearly, FNC has faced some degree of strife and criticism internally. In October, “Fox News Sunday” anchor Chris Wallace told the Associated Press he was bothered by how some of his colleagues on the opinion side of the network used their platform to attack the media. At this point, it may not be much more than a drip, drip, drip. But the frequency just may be increasing. From my perspective, that’s a good thing. As The Fox World Turns: Mueller Attacked, Smith Claps Back, and Peters Exits!”

I’m done; holla back!

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