Two Fox News pundits quit over concerns about ‘conspiracy-mongering’ Jan. 6 documentaryNovember 22, 2021
Two longtime Fox News commentators, Jonah Goldberg and Stephen Hayes, have cut ties with the cable news giant over a recent documentary series that cast doubt about whether a violent insurrection really occurred on Jan 6.
The Patriot Purge series, which aired this month on the Fox Nation streaming service, featured several rioters who floated an unfounded conspiracy theory that the federal government facilitated the storming of the US Capitol to entrap supporters of Donald Trump.
Supporters of Donald Trump gather to overturn the presidential election result outside the US Capitol on January 6.Credit:Getty
Fox’s decision to air the series drew bipartisan backlash – and it was the final straw for Goldberg and Hayes, they said.
The series “is a collection of incoherent conspiracy-mongering, riddled with factual inaccuracies, half-truths, deceptive imagery, and damning omissions,” Goldberg and Hayes wrote in a blog post on Sunday night, concluding that “the voices of the responsible are being drowned out by the irresponsible” at Fox News.
Goldberg and Hayes joined Fox in 2009 as paid contributors, appearing regularly to offer commentary and analysis, but their role in the broader media ecosystem – and their positioning on the network’s ideological spectrum – had changed in the intervening years.
After lengthy careers in conservative media – Goldberg spent 21 years at the traditional conservative publication National Review, and Hayes served as the top editor at The Weekly Standard – they emerged as critics of Donald Trump and found themselves on a small island with other conservative dissenters during his administration. They joined forces in 2019 and started the Dispatch, a digital news and commentary site that approaches national politics from a centre-right perspective.
But that willingness to criticise Trump put them at odds with Fox’s prime time stars, who remain largely supportive of the former president as he weighs a possible 2024 campaign. Their recent appearances were mostly limited to straight-news hours, including anchor Bret Baier’s 6pm program.
“Over the past five years, some of Fox’s top opinion hosts amplified the false claims and bizarre narratives of Donald Trump or offered up their own in his service,” Goldberg and Hayes wrote, though they offered praise for the network’s news anchors and reporters – “the people who put the ‘news’ in Fox News.”
A Fox News executive said the network had not planned to re-sign Goldberg and Hayes when their contract expired next year.
While it is not uncommon for paid commentators to exit, often for new opportunities at rival television networks, it is extremely unusual for longtime pundits to burn down their former employer on the way out.
The only recent precedent at Fox News is Ralph Peters, a retired US Army lieutenant colonel who called out the network in a scathing 2018 internal memo conveying to colleagues his reasons for not renewing his contract as a strategic analyst.
“In my view, Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration,” Peters wrote at the time.
On Monday, Peters told The Washington Post, “Emotionally, I’m bewildered that two people as well-informed, well-intentioned and thoughtful as Hayes and Goldberg could rationalise their complicity for so long.”
Peters acknowledged that “the allure and rewards of performing on Fox can be immensely seductive”.
Their departure drew praise Sunday night from Weekly Standard founder Bill Kristol, a veteran of the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, who also left a role as a Fox News contributor in 2013, though he did not publicly criticise the network at the time.
“Kudos . . . for standing up to Fox, yelling Stop, at a time when few other conservatives are inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it,” Kristol wrote on Twitter.
In recent months, Goldberg had shown a willingness to call out Fox on social media, portending a future split.
Goldberg and Hayes’s exit also won praise on social media from the two Republican members of Congress who serve on the House committee investigating the insurrection. “Thank you @stephenfhayes and @JonahDispatch for standing up for truth and calling out dangerous lies,” wrote Representative Liz Cheney, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, called it “leading by example”.
But Peters said the departures were unlikely to make much of an impact at the network. “While Hayes and Goldberg arguably had been the most honest and eloquent contributors remaining at Fox, they will not be missed by the core Fox audience, nor will their departure trigger any soul-searching within the moral and ethical black hole of the Fox hierarchy,” he said.
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