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NY Times pegs Brian Stelter’s whiny new book on Fox News for ‘name-calling and gratuitous gossip’

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A new book by CNN host Brian Stelter alleging there is an improper relationship between Fox News hosts and President Donald Trump was partially panned by a book reviewer at his former employer, The New York Times.

The review of “Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News, and The Dangerous Distortion of Truth” by David Enrich begins predictably enough: Bashing Fox News as a propaganda outlet and purveyor of fake news that caters to President Trump not because the network is interested in honest journalism but for ratings and to feed his ‘deranged’ base.

But then Enrich goes on to engage in periodic fits of honesty when he notes, correctly, that Stelter, host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources” program, is — like his network — guilty of the same kind of behavior:

Early on in “Hoax,” Stelter acknowledges that he is “shocked and angry” by what is going on at Fox, and his emotions sometimes seem to get the better of him. He resorts to name-calling and spreads gratuitous gossip about Fox personalities, at one point quoting an unnamed source’s assertion that a female anchor “knew how to use sex to get ahead.” Coming from a victim of Fox’s smears, it feels a little retributive.

Stelter also glosses over the fact that CNN is guilty of its own, Fox-lite version of partisan pandering. Certain hosts tend to ask leading, left-leaning questions. Everyone is incentivized to say things that go viral; hyperbole trumps nuance.

To be sure, there is plenty in Enrich’s review that is flat-out false.

For instance, he remarkably claimed that “there is no equivalence between the occasionally inaccurate and misleading ‘liberal media’ which generally owns up to its mistakes” — despite the fact that the same media, including the Times, pushed the Trump-Russia collusion conspiracy for years, without evidence (and some still do, including CNN’s hosts). There have been few occasions where media outlets have admitted they were wrong about the collusion story.

But Enrich also hit Stelter for making statements and leveling accusations about Fox News viewers without actually talking to any:

The book cites research that shows Fox viewers are especially likely to hold inaccurate views of important issues, but what is actually going on in their heads when they sit down in front of the TV? The closest Stelter comes to answering this question is when he asserts that for some, “Fox is an identity. Almost a way of life.”

That may be true, but I would be curious to hear from and better understand those viewers. There is no sign that Stelter spoke to any. Readers are left to look down on Fox’s millions of loyalists as gullible members of an extremist cult. It is just the sort of easy-to-digest but unnuanced conclusion that would play well on cable news.

Overall, Enrich’s opinions about Fox News and President Trump were more prevalent in his review than anything that Stelter wrote, giving readers the impression he was sort of “meh” about the book after reading it. Andrew Stiles, writing at the Washington Free Beacon, noted that Enrich “was underwhelmed by the unnuanced, salacious nature of Stelter’s reporting.”

There are also questions about Stelter’s alleged sources, one of whom was, apparently, “lifelong liberal” Sean Graf, a now-former Fox News researcher.

“Fox’s editorial voice, and disregard for the facts, is rejected by many of those within the organization,” Graf claimed, according to Stelter.

Graf says that much of Fox’s staff is comprised of ‘Mitt Romney’ Republicans, not ‘Donald Trump’ Republicans.

“In the same way that the Republican Party has abandoned their core principles, so too has Fox,” Graf said. “President Trump represents the antithesis of what Republicans and Fox stood for only a few years ago. What happened to supporting free trade, fiscal conservatism, defending our allies and promoting the rule of law?”

That’s a curious characterization considering:

— ’Free trade’ was ‘free’ for our allies while costing Americans and America millions of jobs over the years. Trump won on a ‘fair trade’ platform, which many anti-NAFTA Republicans have long embraced.

— ‘Fiscal conservatism’ is impossible in Washington, D.C., as long as there are enough Democrats and Romney Republicans in Congress to block budget cuts (which Trump proposed right out of the gate in 2017).

— Trump and the GOP are literally preaching “the rule of law,” especially in reference to riot-filled Democrat-run cities.

The host also gave an interview to NPR ahead of the Republican National Convention, in which he ‘elaborated’ on his Fox News and Donald Trump obsession. A series of perfectly set-up questions gave Stelter the opportunity to spread more rumors, unchallenged. A few of the biggest Pinocchios:

  • Sean Hannity and President Trump collaborate on Hannity’s show content before shows and discuss the nightly show’s successes and failures after it airs.
  • Fox News gins up reports of violence, rioting, and looting in the inner cities when it’s not really happening. The photos and videos are all old footage.

Finally, Enrich gets something else right about Stelter’s book: There won’t be many Fox News viewers buying it.

Jon Dougherty

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