Illustration by Leo Clark

How Fox News is shaping right-wing politics

Conspiracy theories and confirmation bias

What do cow mutilations, dropping testosterone levels and de-transitioning all have in common? God if I know, but Fox News coverage of these topics intentionally panders to its core audience, an audience that is becoming increasingly obsessed with conspiracy and consuming information that confirms their biases. 


All other opinions and facts are ignored, and viewers are allowed to justify their opinions without a comprehensive understanding of the issues. 


Tucker Carlson appears to be one of the most influential broadcasters on Fox News. But he lacks impartiality and resorts to alarming and unethical reporting practices. Nevertheless, Carlson is shaping right-wing media on one of the United States’ most popular commentary shows. 


According to the Washington Post,Fox News has a larger audience than its competitors,” though its style seems to focus less on reporting stories in a factual way and more on using sensationalized language that appeals to its base audience. 


In a recent airing and promotion for his upcoming original shows, Carlson demanded viewers keep an open mind in his discussion of testicle tanning to combat dropping testosterone levels in men. Yet he does not seem to follow his own advice in any of his reporting. Carlson’s reporting on LGBTQ+ issues is alarming and biased as he equated Disney removing gendered language to “the behavior of a sex offender.” 


At the end of an interview with a formerly trans teen who de-transitioned, he thanked her for her “commitment to evidence-based science.” This statement is blatantly false, given the definition of evidence as “the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true.” One individual’s experience is far from being the full conversation. Other trans people may have had differing experiences that challenge this so-called evidence, though their stories are absent from Carlson’s reporting. It is grossly negligent behavior from a reporter with such a large platform. 


Carlson has also been highly supportive of Russian President Vladimir Putin in his invasion of Ukraine. Before the war started and troops were massing on the Ukrainian border, Carlson stated, “At this point, NATO exists primarily to torment Vladimir Putin, who, whatever his many faults, has no intention of invading Western Europe.” 


However, when Putin did invade Ukraine, instead of owning up to his false opinion, Carlson doubled down. His seeming callousness to the lives being lost in Ukraine and unwillingness to back down from a toxic opinion shows a man who clearly has a hard time opening his mind to the things that truly matter.


One of the most problematic opinions perpetuated by Carlson was labeling the Jan. 6 riot of the Capitol a “false flag operation”—claiming it was a disguised endeavor by another group intended to pin the blame on former President Donald Trump’s followers—which continues to threaten our democracy by portraying the attempted coup as anything other than what it was. 


Carlson perpetuated other conspiracy theories and actively encouraged his viewers to disregard all the facts and evidence, giving them an avenue in which they do not have to recognize their own duplicity.


Initially, one may be inclined to think: why bother with conspiracy theories? They are only for losers in basements wearing tin-foil hats. Those who are sane do not take conspiracies seriously, and that viewpoint is shared by many—including a federal judge. 


NPR reported that U.S. District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil said, in her ruling on a case of slander against Carlson, that the “general tenor” of Carlson’s show should lead the viewer to believe that he is not “stating actual facts about the topics he discusses” but engaging in “exaggeration and non-literal commentary.”


Unfortunately, the belief that conspiracy theories do not affect the general public is false. According to a study performed at the University of Chicago, “half of the American public consistently endorses at least one conspiracy theory.” 


It is also apparent that conspiracy theories are interconnected, since believing in one means being associated with the communities and beliefs of others, particularly through social media. Moreover, while believing in something does not always ensure action, a recent study found that belief in “conspiracy theories may be associated with increased radicalized and extremist behavior,” though “the level of influence appears to depend on preexisting attitudes.”


The Jan. 6 riot provided evidence that platformed extremist opinions—such as those expressed by Fox News and Carlson—pose an immediate threat to public safety. Those responsible for the attack and those who supported it from the sidelines will have an out, since they will be able to justify their views by pointing to a highly popular source to back them up. 


And individuals look to consume content that confirms what they already believe to be true—and Fox News knows this. While its content is no doubt incendiary, it is intentionally so. 


“News media does not have a ‘liberal bias’ or a ‘conservative bias’,” stated Rohan Upadhyay. “It has a ‘viewership bias.’”


Fox News knows its audience, and it is pandering to them. It is not necessarily the instigator of radicalized politics on the right. Still, it recognizes that its target audience wants to watch news that makes them feel good about the biases and the hatred they hold for those they deem other.


Fox News is strategically giving its audience exactly what it wants—confirmation that what they already believe to be true is true. News that never questions the status quo, news that justifies hate and contempt, news that provides evidence to prove opinion is actually fact and news that never really forces viewers to actually open their minds.