As rioters clashed with police officers and stormed the Capitol on January 6, Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity desperately texted then–White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows with a simple message: This had gone too far; Donald Trump had to do something to stop it.
“The president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home,” Ingraham texted Meadows. “This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy.” Hannity, meanwhile, had more or less the same message: “Can he make a statement, ask people to leave the Capitol,” he texted Meadows. (Hilariously, the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. also texted Meadows with a similar plea, suggesting he had no other way to reach his father than to text his chief of staff.) Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade, meanwhile, pleaded with Meadows: “Please get him on TV, destroying everything you’ve accomplished.”
Soon after, Ingraham and Hannity had very different messages for their viewers. Ingraham went on the air that evening and hand-waved away the entire affair, insinuating that the real agitators were antifa infiltrators bent on discrediting the MAGA movement and Donald Trump. “They were likely not all Trump supporters, and there are some reports that antifa sympathizers may have been sprinkled throughout the crowd,” she said. Hannity, meanwhile, toed a similar line, telling his viewers, “We also knew that there’s always bad actors that will infiltrate large crowds.”
Behind the scenes, Ingraham and Hannity were clear—and clearly alarmed—about what was actually happening: Trump supporters were storming the Capitol, and the president needed to act to put a stop to what had quickly become a riot. But while under the gaze of the camera lens, they threw in with the rioters themselves, casting doubts and making excuses, hopelessly advancing a reality-defying line that the violence was all some convoluted effort to make Trump supporters look bad. (An odd thing to want, given that Joe Biden’s election win was being certified that very day.)
And that has been their line ever since: On their respective programs, Hannity and Ingraham have repeatedly cast doubt about the seriousness of the January 6 insurrection and suggested that Democratic attempts to uncover what really happened were part of an elaborate political revenge plot.
The texts to Meadows, released on Monday evening during a January 6 committee hearing in which it was recommended that the former chief of staff be held in contempt for failing to testify about documents he had submitted, complicate matters for these Fox luminaries. It is unclear that Hannity and Ingraham knew that their correspondence might one day be made public. It doesn’t matter now. We now know that the Fox News hosts not only knew the seriousness of what was happening on January 6, they acted to try to get Donald Trump to do something to stop it. They have been knowingly lying to their audience about the Capitol insurrection and their attempts to intercede ever since.
Fox News has, over the same period, become a crucial source of misinformation and deceit regarding the riot, as well as the subsequent congressional investigation. This disinformation mission peaked with the network’s promotion of Tucker Carlson’s Patriot Purge—the host’s flamboyant effort to enshrine all of these lies in one place, which is one of the presumed reasons for Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace’s decision to depart the network. That two of the network’s biggest stars were pleading with the president to stand down didn’t change the calculus for Fox, and the network’s message remains a well-coordinated deception. The only thing that’s changed is that it’s now focused on the investigation into the events of January 6 as an elaborate political witch hunt. Perhaps we know the reason why!
These hosts nevertheless have some responsibility for what happened that day. Both Ingraham and Hannity spent substantial amounts of time on their programs leading up to January 6 sowing doubts about the legitimacy of the 2020 election. Hannity told his audience that they should all be “outraged” by what they were seeing. “Do you trust what happened in this election?” Hannity asked his audience. “Do you believe this was a free and fair election?” he asked. Many of his viewers listened, were outraged, and surely showed up at the Capitol on January 6.
Ingraham and Hannity may have recoiled from what they saw that day, but they bear responsibility for it. And yet, despite their horror, they have spent the intervening year happily spreading doubt and outrage all the same. They knew better; their texts prove it. They just don’t care.