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“The word ‘hoax’ was uttered more than nine hundred times on Fox News in the first six months of 2020. Every time Trump tweeted it, or [show host] Sean Hannity shouted it, a little bit more truth was chipped away from America’s foundation ... .” That is the conclusion of “Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth,” by Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s Reliable Sources.

Stelter reached his findings after speaking with more than 140 staffers at Fox News and another 180 former employees and others with direct ties to the network. They detailed to Stelter the paranoia and fear that pervade Fox. A former producer put it this way, “We were deathly afraid of our audience leaving ... . But we also laughed at them. We disrespected them.”

The Fox-Trump circle was whirring full throttle in October, 2018, when Newt Gingrich appeared on Hannity’s show saying that “caravans” would be huge in the coming mid-term election. The next day, Trump repeated the warning. Soon, Fox & Friends baselessly reported that over a hundred ISIS fighters had been caught trying to use the caravan to enter the U.S. Before the show ended, Trump had tweeted, “... criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in [the caravan],” as if it was an established fact.

On March 4, 2020, Trump called Hannity’s show to pat himself on the back for his “containment” of COVID-19, even though the virus had begun to spread like wildfire. During the 45-minute call, Hannity offered no pushback when the president dismissed credible warnings of the pandemic, although Hannity knew that Fox executives were planning drastic action to keep the Network on air if New York City shut down, which it soon did.

That week, as Fox staffers quietly tested their telecommuting equipment, Hannity claimed that media were trying to, “... bludgeon Trump with this new hoax.” He disingenuously compared COVID-19 to gun violence in Chicago as if gun deaths could be spread by one’s breath. A month later, as the pandemic raged, Hannity lied to his audience, “... we’ve never called the virus a hoax.”

Other Fox hosts, such as Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson, were equally adept at hawking snake oil to prop up the president who, in turn, touted their shows. As the NBA was shutting down, Broadway theaters were going dark and Disney World was closing, Fox continued to downplay the virus.

Many of the network’s lesser stars played the game, as well. On the morning of March 13, Ainsley Earhardt claimed it was “the safest time to fly,” and Geraldo Rivera talked up a debunked method at self-testing — “If you can hold your breath for 10 seconds, then you don’t have the disease.”

On Sunday, March 22, Fox & Friends hosts were prepping to broadcast the next day from the safety of their remote locations. That didn’t stop the host of another show, Steve Hilton, from saying of the shutdown, “You know that famous phrase, ‘the cure is worse than the disease?’ That is exactly the territory we’re hurtling toward.” Hours later, Trump tweeted in all caps, “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF.” The loop spun on, unfazed by reality.

A few Fox holdouts still wanted to be truthful with their audiences. Ultimately, however, they could no longer endure the network’s epidemic dishonesty. On Oct. 11, 2019, Shep Smith, having negotiated out of his contract, signed off for the last time. (Note: A year later, Smith joined CNBC. His initial ratings were a quarter of what they had been at Fox.)

Days following Smith’s departure, Catherine Herridge left for CBS. The following month, Ellison Barber gave notice and joined NBC. Many others departed, as well, because they wanted to do journalism, which had become incompatible with employment at Fox, Stelter writes.

Recently the loop has wobbled on a blown tire because, five days after the presidential election, Fox called it for Joe Biden. Donald Trump now often opts for the cozy comfort of small, radicalized networks, such as One America News Network, that continue to produce florid fantasies about imaginary election fraud.

Business Insider listed individuals who have circled through the revolving door of employment between Fox News and the Trump administration. They include Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Hope Hicks, Bill Shine, Sebastian Gorka, Elaine Chao, John Bolton, K.T. McFarland, Kaleigh McEnany and 13 others.

Joseph Wyatt is a Gazette-Mail contributing columnist and emeritus professor at Marshall University.Reach him at Wyatt@Marshall.edu.