Commentator and author Ralph Peters isn’t just closing the door on his career at Fox News Channel. He’s slamming it right off the hinges.
In a blistering goodbye email, Peters, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who commented on military affairs, called Fox “a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration.” He described President Trump as being “terrified” of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Peters accused Fox of assaulting America’s constitutional order, undermining the rule of law, and “fostering corrosive and unjustified paranoia among viewers.”
Peters had been associated with Fox for ten years, and it’s hard not to wonder what took him so long to recognize the cable channel’s business plan, which has always depended upon pandering to the biases of conservative viewers, no matter how much that required doing violence to accurate reporting–but I suppose it’s better late than never.
Although Peters didn’t use the word “treason” in the blistering email he sent to the organization, the implication was hard to ignore.
When prime-time hosts — who have never served our country in any capacity — dismiss facts and empirical reality to launch profoundly dishonest attacks on the FBI, the Justice Department, the courts, the intelligence community (in which I served) and, not least, a model public servant and genuine war hero such as Robert Mueller — all the while scaremongering with lurid warnings of ‘deep-state’ machinations — I cannot be part of the same organization, even at a remove. To me, Fox News is now wittingly harming our system of government for profit.
Previously during his ten-year stint as a Fox commentator, Peters said that his producers had never given him a script, or instructed him what to say. In the past year, however, as questions about the possibility of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia continued to gain salience, Fox refused to let him comment on the topic, despite the fact that he has considerable relevant expertise. (He was a former intelligence officer.)
There has been a good deal of research by political scientists into the operation of “confirmation bias”–a very human trait we all share to some degree. Fox–along with talk radio demagogues and outlets like Breitbart and InfoWars–intentionally feeds conservatives’ desire to see their beliefs confirmed by “news.” (At the other end of the spectrum, “Addicting Info,” “Occupy” and others provide similar grist for liberal true believers, but research suggests that their influence pales in comparison with Fox.)
Here in a nutshell (no pun intended) is the dilemma of a liberal democracy committed to the principle of free speech. The marketplace of ideas must be open to all–ideologues and cranks as well as thoughtful commentators and accurate journalists. That means the consumers in that marketplace must be discriminating, in the best sense of that word. They must be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. And in a country where civic and news literacy are low, consumers are more likely to “buy” substandard or counterfeit products.
I’m glad Peters finally figured out that Fox cares more about profit than patriotism, more about ratings than reality. Somehow, however, I doubt that his departure will prompt many loyal viewers to change the channel. Confirmation bias may be more addictive than cocaine.