VOICE OVER: Ryan Wild
WRITTEN BY: Cameron Johnson
... So, how about that Fox News? For this list, we'll be looking at the most consequential moves made by the conservative news network, on-screen and off. Our countdown includes doctored photos, explaining Sandy Hook, 2020 election aftermath, and more!
Top 10 Worst Things That Fox News Has Done
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Worst Things That Fox News Has Done.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the most consequential moves made by the conservative news network, on-screen and off. Beyond biased or simply miscalculated, these lapses in journalistic integrity are considered uniquely harmful.
What Fox News moments do you find particularly controversial? Give us your take in the comments.
#10: Bill Sammon’s Emails (2010)
It’s no secret that Fox News is recklessly dedicated to subversive agenda-setting. The public were still stunned when watchdog group Media Matters for America gave them a peak behind the scenes in 2010. They published a leaked memo email from Fox vice president Bill Sammon, who suggested rephrasing “public option” healthcare to the more sinister-sounding “government option”. This was the first in a series of emails that advised reporters to avoid discussing climate change, paint Barack Obama as a socialist during his presidential run, and more. Never mind a leaked conversation in which Sammon admitted to finding these angles far-fetched himself. His memos point to Fox’s fine line between brand protection and meddling with the public… or government.
#9: Trayvon Martin’s Hoodie (2012)
The tragic death of Trayvon Martin sparked one of the most heated contemporary debates about race in America. Most media outlets considered unjustifiable prejudice behind George Zimmerman’s actions. Fox News, however, emphasized his self-defense claim and backlash from gun control activists. Geraldo Rivera of “Fox & Friends” finally called attention to Martin, or rather, the teen’s hoodie. Rivera condemned Zimmerman and maintained rationality in Black and Latino parents regulating their children’s wardrobe. Still, critics felt he was blaming the victim and belittling race as the main factor in fatal prejudice. As Fox and public discourse circulated Rivera’s argument, the hoodie became a symbol of anti-racism protests. Rivera has since apologized to Martin’s parents for his tasteless comments, but he can’t take back their impact.
#8: Doctored Photos (2008, 2020, 2022)
Fox News' history with altered photos is not just unsettling, but bizarre. They were first caught in 2008, when "Fox & Friends" addressed a New York Times piece that criticized their network. Photos of the reporters were drastically doctored to disfigure their appearances. Nobody on the show explained the likely satirical fabrication. In a similar incident in 2022, Judge Bruce Reinhart was digitally inserted in place of sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. But perhaps the most dangerous alterations ran in 2020, depicting violent imagery and high-powered weaponry within protest demonstrations in Seattle. Fox quickly removed the fake images, vaguely claiming they were “errors”. It's bad enough to use manipulated material to defame public figures. But letting it misrepresent sensitive issues represents the most serious of journalistic crimes.
#7: Feminists in the Military (2012)
There's no doubt that Fox News has shown more sympathy to the armed forces than feminist issues. When both subjects collided in a 2012 report on a spike in sexual assault in the U.S. military, pundit Liz Trotta took the rhetoric to a new low. Her correlation of these statistics with an increase in female military personnel was sadly astute. But Trotta callously accused feminists of hypocritical self-victimization and political meddling. When host Eric Shawn asserted the value of the Defense Department's victim services, Trotta said that the military should be more concerned with defending the country than personnel. Public outrage ensued, but Trotta simply doubled-down on her comments.
#6: Bill O’Reilly vs. Jeremy Glick (2003)
Not all Americans demanded revenge after the transformative tragedy of 9/11. Jeremy Glick, whose father died in the attacks, notably participated in condemning the controversial War on Terror. When Bill O’Reilly invited him to “The O’Reilly Factor” to explain himself, Glick instead explained things the way Fox News wouldn’t. He defended the Afghan people who had nothing to do with the attacks, while condemning O’Reilly for his bias and use of 9/11 to excuse atrocities. By the time he brought up Al-Qaeda’s roots in CIA training, the interview was cut off. It was one of Bill O’Reilly’s worst moments on the network, and that’s saying something.
#5: Explaining Sandy Hook (2012)
After almost 30 deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary School, gun control became one of the defining issues in an era of American politics. Even Rupert Murdoch, chairman of Fox News’ parent company, advocated for banning automatic weapons. As for his network, producers were allegedly instructed to downplay this debate. Instead, shows blamed violent video games, suggested arming faculty, and more. Most infamously, Mike Huckabee claimed that the real debate was over the lack of religion in public schools. He received backlash for immediately attributing mass shootings to American culture's secularization. It is hard to argue against moral decline as a factor in the rising violence since Sandy Hook. Of course, Fox’s often strangely contrarian coverage of the issue offers no real help.
#4: Culture of Harassment (2002-17)
The MeToo movement was partly ignited by bombshells about Fox News' office politics. The network has long faced accusations of female objectification and discriminatory practices. But in 2016, the depths of harassment were exposed after personality Gretchen Carlson filed a complaint against network CEO Roger Ailes. He resigned after six more women came forward. Over the following year, multiple lawsuits revealed a culture of harassment that executives had been covering up as far back as 2002. It was so bad that the network was ultimately fined for violating New York City Human Rights Law, years after Bill O'Reilly and other major figures departed over allegations. With misogynistic behavior reportedly factoring into Tucker Carlson's termination in 2023, Fox still has a long way to go.
#3: 2020 Election Aftermath (2020-)
Throughout Donald Trump's presidency, Fox News was his lead mainstream media advocate. Even after Joe Biden's election, many at the network humored Trump's assertions that his loss was illegitimate. Hosts and pundits mainly went after two voting machine manufacturers who were baselessly accused of rigging the election. "Lou Dobbs Tonight" even suggested that Venezuelan businessman Majed Khalil was involved in the conspiracy. The three slandered parties filed suit against Fox News, with Dominion Voting Systems’ especially high-profile legal battle ending in an almost $800 million settlement. This dealt a uniquely devastating blow to the network’s credibility, especially with evidence that hosts who promoted the “Stop the Steal” movement privately laughed off Trump’s claims.
#2: Covid-19 Disinformation (2020-23)
Audiences around the world relied on news outlets to guide them through the Covid-19 pandemic. Fox News too often betrayed their audience's trust. The initial narrative was that the health crisis was exaggerated and politically weaponized by left-leaning media. When credible medical opinions could no longer support that claim, the network peddled pseudoscience, mask and vaccine misinformation, and conspiracy theories, despite the fact that later on, the network itself had vaccine mandates. "Tucker Carlson Tonight" also attributed the spread of coronavirus to a "woke" reluctance to scrutinize China and migrants (xref). It's worth noting that this network had the ear of the President. Some of Trump's most reckless statements and policies during the pandemic seemed eerily similar to Fox rhetoric. Besides direct consequences, such rhetoric marked the height of Fox choosing contrarianism over public safety.
#1: Play to Prejudices (1996-)
Founded with the motto “Fair and Balanced”, Fox News has a long history of promoting racial stereotypes, xenophobic policies, and regressive gender and sexuality roles. They have also openly accused the pejorative “Left” of pushing myths about injustice and prejudice as a major public issue. There are solid theories that this rhetoric is a brand that has become too lucrative to walk back. Still, there are many reports of workplace discrimination and disturbing ideologies among network personalities. Either way, multiple studies have correlated overconsumption of Fox News with decreased political and social awareness. One of the few explicitly conservative news networks on American television, Fox is widely considered reckless in profiting off of a target audience that has no genuine interest in “fair and balanced”.