Attack o the CapitolDon’t Blame Fox News for the Attack on the Capitol

By Ashique KhudaBukhsh,Mark Kamlet, and Tom Mitchell

Published 29 January 2021

In the immediate aftermath of the 6 January assault on the Capitol, in a Trump-inspired effort by his supporters to prevent Congress from ratifying the rightful winner of the election, Fox News was criticized for “whipping up the radicals.” A close comparative study of post-election news coverage, however, shows that Fox News was restraint, and largely accurate, in its coverage, while three right-wing fringe networks – Newsmax, One America News Network (OANN), and Blaze TV – had a far bigger role in amplifying Trump’s disinformation and conspiracy theories about the election. The hyper-partisan coverage of election integrity provided by the three fringe networks – combined with the almost perfectly sealed echo chamber they had created for their viewers – makes them the more likely culprit for having riled up loyal Trump supporters.

In the days following the attack on the Capitol, theNew York Times, in its print edition, ran an op-ed titled “Yes, You Should Blame Fox for Whipping up Radicals.” The Washington Post ran an article with the headline “Trump Couldn’t Have Incited Sedition without the Help of Fox News.”

But our analysis tells a different story.

We studied the official YouTube channels of six U.S. cable news networks. We looked at cable news powerhouses CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. But we also focused on three fringe networks – Newsmax, One America News Network (OANN) and Blaze TV – that have a relatively homogeneous audience, relatively extreme opinions and limited reach.

Our unique dataset – which consisted of all the comments made by viewers of those six networks from 3 November, the date of the presidential election, through 5 January, the day before the Capitol riots – showed that the fringe news networks were key players in the riots. And ironically, their outsize impact can be traced to Fox News’ controversial decision to call Arizona for Biden on election night.

Fox Holds Firm
Around 10 p.m. on 3 November the Trump campaign was reportedly upbeat, having significantly outperformed the polls in Florida to win the state.

However, at 11:20 p.m. – with only 78 percent of the votes in Arizona counted – Fox News called the Grand Canyon State for Biden. It would be days before any other network would do so, yet Fox News’ call significantly narrowed the odds of a Trump victory.

According to the New York Times, “what ensued … was a night of angry calls to Republican governors” and “a middle-of-the-night presidential briefing” with claims that the election was fraudulent. Trump then spent the next few days urging his base to abandon Fox in favor of Newsmax.

In the days and weeks that followed, Fox’s coverage of the election continued to be much more accurate in its reporting of the results than any of the three fringe news stations.