A former Fox executive has condemned the network as “poison for America”, accusing the broadcaster of having “contributed” to deaths and division in the US by providing a platform for anti-mask views during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as for unfounded claims from the right, including former President Donald Trump’s repeated claims of fraud in the 2020 election.
In an op-ed published by The Daily Beast, Preston Padden, a former broadcast executive who helped launch Fox, said he believed the broadcaster had started out with the goal of filling an “opening for a responsible and truthful centre-right news network”.
However, he said: “In recent years things have gone badly off the tracks at Fox News. Fox News is no longer is a truthful centre-right news network [sic]”.
The network, he said, “has caused many millions of Americans – most of them Republicans – to believe things that simply are not true”.
Noting a recent poll suggesting that more than 70 per cent of Republicans blame “left-wing protesters” for the 6 January insurrection at the US Capitol, he said: “Of course, that is ludicrous.”
“All one has to do is look at the pictures or videos of the attack to see that the violent mob was comprised of Trump supporters,” he said.
“Similarly, a poll by SSRS in late April found that two-thirds of Republicans either believe or suspect that the election was stolen from Trump – 60 per cent saying there is ‘hard evidence’ that the election was stolen’,” he continued. “As noted above, this ridiculous notion has been thoroughly refuted. But millions of Americans believe these falsehoods because they have been drilled into their minds, night after night, by Fox News.”
Mr Padden accused the network of having deepened divisions in the American society “by stoking racial animus and fuelling the totally false impression that Black Lives Matter and Antifa are engaged in nightly, life-threatening riots across the country”.
He also said that he believed Fox News has “contributed substantially and directly” to the “unnecessary deaths of many Americans by disparaging the wearing of life-saving Covid masks” and by “fuelling hesitation and doubt about the efficacy and safety of life-saving Covid-19 vaccines”.
Mr Padden noted that Fox had objected to the latter depiction, providing him of “examples of pro-mask/vaccine on-air comments”. However, he said: “In my opinion, they were heavily outweighed by the negative comments of the highly rated primetime opinion hosts”.
The former Fox executive said “the greatest irony” is that he does not believe the views shared on Fox reflect those of its owner, media magnate Rupert Murdoch.
“I believe that he thought that it was important to protect his own health by wearing a mask during the pandemic and he encouraged me to do the same,” Mr Padden said. “I believe that he thought that it was important to protect his own health by getting vaccinated at the earliest opportunity and he encouraged me to do the same. And I believe that he thinks that former President Trump is an egomaniac who lost the election by turning off voters, especially suburban women, with his behaviour.”
The former Fox executive said that he has tried “with increasing bluntness” to convey his feelings to Mr Murdoch about the “real damage that Fox News is doing to America”.
“I failed, and it was arrogant and naïve to ever have thought that I could succeed” he said, adding: “I am at a loss to understand why he will not change course.”
“I can only guess that the destructive editorial policy of Fox News is driven by a deep-seated vein of anti-establishment/contrarian thinking in Rupert that, at age 90, is not going to change,” Mr Padden said.
Mr Murdoch, he said, “owes himself a better legacy than a news channel that no reasonable person would believe”.
The Independent has contacted Fox for comment.