In the aftermath of two horrific mass shootings—one of which occurred in his home state—Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick took to Fox News to whip up its viewers. Patrick, who has a habit of repeating neo-Nazi conspiracy theories about “illegal immigration” “replacing” whites in America (language mirrored in the El Paso shooter’s online “manifesto”), went on to lie some more.
Patrick blamed the weekend’s casualties on left-wing violence, the right-wing misdirection unicorn “Antifa,” and the absence of prayer in schools. He then went on to cite violent video games—which exist in every high-income democracy but don’t seem to provoke runaway gun violence elsewhere. GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy joined Patrick, also going on Fox News and assuredly telling Fox’s audience that, yes, it was the video games that did it.
This all made perfect sense, mind you. While most still think of the National Rifle Association (NRA) as the chief culprit in blocking any reform of the nation’s ludicrously lax gun laws, a key change has occurred over the past few years. The NRA is an organization in free-fall. Replete with Russian spies and comically corrupt chieftains, and in the midst of a civil war, the NRA isn’t close to the main problem anymore. Sure, it still has an email list to spam, a yearly convention, and various publications that toe the pro-gun line, but there is a place now on the airwaves that provides a more powerful daily diet of demonization and demagoguery. This outlet enforces GOP orthodoxy on guns while covering tragedies like Sandy Hook as sparingly as possible. It makes sure that politicians who break with this insanity are smeared and primaried. It helps create and excite gun-fetishizing, right-wing movements like The Tea Party, and it mainstreams the hate speech of white supremacists. And, oh yeah, it is the network the president of the United States watches constantly, the one where he gets all of his information in simple sentences, complete with colorful graphics even he can understand.
It’s Fox News, friends.
Let’s do a simple thought experiment: Imagine Fox News and its online properties suddenly came out, full force, for universal background checks and an assault weapons ban. Imagine Sean Hannity telling his audience that, without background checks, “American ISIS” would get weaponry to initiate large-scale attacks. Imagine Laura Ingraham’s sharing that to be pro-America you had to be in favor of an assault-weapons ban.
Day after day. Night after night.
If Fox News sold it this way, does anyone think Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wouldn’t call the Senate into special session to take up gun legislation already passed by a Democratic House? And when it passed, does anyone doubt the president would sign it, you know, once Fox & Friends told him to?
If you do in fact doubt it, let Matt Gertz, senior fellow with Media Matters, help bring the point home:
Fox helped build Trump’s political brand and fuel his electoral rise, and in recent years has remade itself as a propaganda outlet in support of his presidency. Trump, in turn, has long been obsessed with the network. His worldview and decision making are shaped by the former network personalities with whom he has stocked his administration, the “Fox cabinet” of current stars he reaches out to for advice, and the hours of Fox programming he reportedly watches each day.
Gertz goes on to show how having a “superfan in the White House” has given the network the ability to drive news cycles and national policy—and how Fox has used this power to elevate its obsessions.
A large-scale study of 6,000 registered voters conducted recently by political strategy firm GSB (full disclosure: I am a GSB partner) found that, among the population at large, Fox News is not a well-trusted organization. But for those who believe U.S. gun laws are perfect as is, there is a lot more faith in Fox. Also, Fox News is most trusted by those who also highly trust the NRA. So, as the NRA deals with its legal squabbles, cronyism, and perhaps more Natasha Romanoffs in their midst, lacking the means or ability it once had to influence our elections, Fox News is there for all those who want to believe.
The NRA still has some power: its grading system for legislators continues to have an effect. But as Trump-rally-chronicler Jared Yates Sexton shared with The New Republic, “with the implosion of the NRA ... it’s up to the next snake oil salesman to pick up the pieces and collect the checks.” Fox News has been only too happy to cash in on that con.
To change gun laws, you need to change or weaken Fox News. It is what’s preventing the U.S. from passing real reforms. It is what continues to keep viewers disinformed and politicians disinterested in change. It is the organization ensuring that massacres like the ones in El Paso and Dayton will happen again. And again. And again.