The media wants the audience’s trust. But is it being earned?

by Sean Illing at

About a month ago, we learned something important about Fox News.

For decades, the conventional view of Fox — certainly from the left — is that it’s a propaganda arm of the Republican Party. Thanks to a defamation lawsuit from the voting machine company Dominion — and the trove of internal communications from Fox News it’s unearthed — we now know that the reality behind the scenes is a tad more complicated.

Fox is being sued by Dominion because of the lies people on the network were telling about their voting machines in the wake of the 2020 election. As revealed in emails and text messages Fox News hosts and higher-ups were sending to each other, it turns out they were lying because they believed — correctly — that that’s what their audience wanted to hear.

This is a pretty high-level media industry scandal, so I invited Brian Stelter, a longtime media reporter and the former host of CNN’s Reliable Sources, to talk about it on the latest episode of The Gray Area.

Stelter wrote the 2020 book on Fox News, called Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth, so he’s been tracking this for years. We cover the Fox story, but it became a much broader conversation about why he thinks people are losing trust in the press. Below is an excerpt, edited for length and clarity.

As always, you can listen and follow The Gray Area on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotifyStitcher, or wherever you find podcasts. New episodes drop every Monday and Thursday.

Sean Illing

I want to ask about the Fox News revelations first. As someone who wrote the book on Fox, what was your reaction?

Brian Stelter

When I wrote Hoax in 2020 and then updated it in 2021, I was relying almost entirely on anonymous sources. There was one brave staffer who put his name on the record, but it was mostly anonymous sources saying that the place is out of control, that it’s been radicalized because the audience has been radicalized.


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