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Analysis: Fox News is trying to sugarcoat its right-wing propaganda. Some news outlets are falling for it

Analysis by Oliver Darcy, CNN

(CNN) — It is the year 2023. And news organizations are still failing in their coverage of Fox News.

The right-wing channel, which is in the spotlight as it prepares to host the first GOP primary debate of the 2024 election on Wednesday, was exposed in grand fashion as a dishonest propaganda organ of the Republican Party just months ago when it paid a historic $787 million defamation settlement to Dominion Voting Systems over the lies it spread during the last presidential election.

If newsrooms somehow didn’t comprehend what Fox News really was before that explosive lawsuit, there isn’t an excuse now. The lawsuit humiliated the channel and shredded what was left of its credibility, putting on display in thousands of pages of court documents the unethical behavior of its top executives and hosts behind the scenes.

The dishonorable conduct spelled out in black and white in the cache of legal filings would get most journalists fired at actual news organizations and constitute scandals that would permanently run them out of the news business — maybe even other industries as well.

And yet, just months later, Fox News is trying to move on, as if the shameful behavior brought to light by the Dominion case simply evaporated from history the moment it opened up its checkbook. In fact, while Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch did pay a record sum of money to make the Dominion case vanish, they kept in place the channel’s top executives, Suzanne Scott and Jay Wallace. And, perhaps more importantly, they have expressed zero regrets for the dishonest Fox News programming that threw them in legal hot water.

But Fox News attempting to move past the embarrassing saga is not surprising. It is to be expected. What is striking, however, is how many credible news organizations are failing to describe in clear-eyed terms to their audiences — who count on them, and often pay them to deliver the unvarnished truth — what the network actually is.

In stories about the looming GOP debate published over the last several days, it is evident that the majority of newsrooms are dropping the ball, willfully taking part in a Fox News rehabilitation tour led by Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum. (In one interview last week, MacCallum actually referred to the Dominion settlement as “ancient history.” The network settled only 126 days ago and is still facing an even larger lawsuit over its election lies.)

Most outlets still haven’t worked up the courage to describe Fox News as a “right-wing channel.” The WaPo on Tuesday didn’t even refer to the outlet’s prime time bloc of Donald Trump propagandists in such terms. It merely described the channel’s evening programming as “conservative leaning.” Calling that language weak would be generous.

It should not be difficult or controversial to describe Fox News as right-wing. It is not opinion to call Sean Hannity a MAGA propagandist. These are facts. Perhaps uncomfortable facts. But they are facts. Facts that major news organizations such as The WaPo have the responsibility to grapple with. Instead, they inexplicably punt the football.

Either most of the country’s leading outlets lack the understanding of Fox News to spell out the ugly truth to their audiences — or they lack the spine. Neither possibility is particularly comforting given how corrosive the poison the channel has endlessly pumped into the public discourse has been for the country, destroying our sense of a shared reality and allowing anti-democratic forces to gain power.

The reality is that news organizations are misleading their audiences by omission when they mince words and avoid the elephant in the room. Doing so offers audience a warped and incomplete view of the information environment. In the context of the first GOP debate, it is important to point out that the Republican Party ran to the friendliest media outlet to host the first two debates. It is part of the story that the first GOP debates are taking place in the GOP’s safe space.

It seems that a number of influential news professionals prefer to be stuck in a time vortex from a decade ago, in which it was easy to go along with the narrative that Fox News had a respected news division that was fire-walled off from a merely “conservative leaning” prime time lineup.

But we live in very different times now. The channel has evolved in disturbing ways, having morphed from a traditionally conservative news network into a MAGA propaganda monster. And if years of watching the network shamelessly serve as the Trump White House’s mouthpiece wasn’t enough, the Dominion revelations surely should have nailed the coffin shut tight.

At this point, failing to point out this unsightly reality might just say more about those media outlets than Fox News itself.

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