Coming soon: A sham impeachment, brought to you by Fox News

Twenty-seven years ago, Fox News made its first appearance on American television screens. In October 1996, it  would have seemed foolhardy to assume that this tacky corporate creature—an embarrassing facsimile of actual journalism, patently dedicated to serve as a mouthpiece for the Republican Party—would eventually metastasize into an impermeable, alternative universe for millions of Americans. Few would have guessed that within two decades we’d actually witness the core functions and operations of our government appropriated, coopted, and bastardized simply to promote that network's constant spigot of inflammatory lies and misinformation, even when the very lives of its own viewers were literally put at risk as a result.

That transformation reached its apotheosis during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Fox’s fountain of rank COVID denialism was duly parroted day after day, month after month, by elected Republicans. As the pandemic spread into the so-called “heartland” of America, the bacillus of Fox News proved itself as insidious as the virus itself, with its viewers absorbing and internalizing its preposterous science denial and anti-vaccination rhetoric. This doubtlessly led (as suggested by several studies conducted afterward) to the sickness and premature death of many Americans.  

The saddest and most depressing aspect of all this, however, was that no one seemed surprised. By that time, Fox’s tentacles had already infiltrated nearly all of our nation’s institutions, transforming our entire political system with a malignancy that has proved impossible to eradicate. Even now, the remainder of our media seem unwilling to acknowledge the wholesale degradation Fox has inflicted on this nation, its discourse, its politics, and its institutions. 

During his entire tenure, Donald Trump huddled with and spoke through his willing vessels at Fox News; the Republican Congress has conducted pointless, wasteful political show trials based on Fox-driven fantasies; and even the conservative federal judiciary began to blatantly regurgitate Fox’s hyperbolic, fact-challenged talking points in its legal opinions. Yet, despite its corrosive influence, the media continues to treat Fox News as simply another legitimate player in the information ecosystem, something to be envied, even emulated, occasionally criticized, but never truly called to account. The first rule about Fox News for the rest of the media, it seems, is that you don’t talk about Fox News. 

Now it appears likely the American people are about to witness the consequences of that neglect, in the form of a wholly contrived, factually baseless presidential impeachment, with no purpose other than to satisfy Fox News’ hyperpartisan fever-dream agenda. It remains to be seen, what, if any, response the “reality-based” journalistic community is prepared to give to this coming travesty.

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As explained by Matt Gertz, writing for Media Matters, the carnival barkers thinly disguised as journalists on Fox News have been pushing for an impeachment of President Joe Biden since before he was even elected.

The right-wing propaganda network’s stars have long demanded a Biden impeachment as both retaliation and political cover for Donald Trump’s various impeachments and criminal indictments. Since those Fox commentators wield more power within the GOP than most of its putative leaders do, a Biden impeachment inquiry has seemed inevitable, with the only question being what they’d end up backfilling as its rationale. And somehow, they’ve settled on taking a shot with the Hunter Biden minutiae they’ve all spent years feverishly rehashing (but that no one can parse without a PhD in Sean Hannity Studies).

As Gertz reminds us, Fox News “personalities” such as Mark Levin were agitating for the impeachment of the “next Democratic president” long before Biden even secured the nomination. Levin knew he didn’t need to articulate an actual reason for this drastic action to his audience; the plain fact that Trump himself was about to be impeached for acting on Fox News’ unfounded assertions that Biden had somehow corruptly influenced the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor was reason enough. Because Trump’s impeachment was literally the result of a phony narrative that Fox News itself (with the assistance of right-wing dark money groups) had promoted and pushed, it obviously struck far too close to home.

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As Gertz himself reported in 2019:

Fox’s role -- and particularly that of Sean Hannity, the network star who also privately advises the president -- was central to every phase of the story. The network was the source of the president’s long-held animus toward Ukraine, the vector of Giuliani’s disinformation campaign, a common former employer of some key figures and a unifying factor of others, and the fountainhead of arguments that Trump and his House Republican allies have used to try to minimize the scandal.

And the impeachment talk at Fox continued to snowball from that point, again, in nearly every circumstance, stemming directly from “reporting” that originated in Fox’s own fetid swamp of fact-challenged propaganda. Fox had relentlessly pushed the Hunter Biden story throughout the run-up to the 2020 election, in a failed effort to help Trump win. But even as November 2020 approached, their hosts were carefully “setting a predicate,” as Gertz puts it, in the event Trump lost. Lisa “Kennedy” Montgomery floated in late October the prospect of an immediate Biden impeachment over the amorphous Hunter rabbit hole the network had been hawking for months. As Gertz reports, these sentiments were echoed by Fox showboats Jeanine Pirro and Greg Gutfeld only days before the 2020 election, and reemphasized by Hannity in December 2020—as Trump was allegedly scheming with his cohorts to overturn the election well after it became obvious he’d lost.

In fact, Hannity came up with a remarkable quote (particularly the last sentence).

“What are you going to do if -- you know, all these people that impeached Trump, how do you not impeach if it's Joe Biden one day? How do you not do it? It's a foreign -- it's a family foreign crime syndicate. Got an email provided to the FBI pointing out that Hunter hadn't paid taxes on some of the Burisma payments and that's just the tip of the iceberg, with -- now they're talking about money laundering as well. You know, pretty amazing stuff, I've got to tell you. Amazing times we're looking -- living in. They all have an agenda. You know, the difference between us and them is we're just honest about who we are.”

After Republicans eked out a narrow House majority in 2022, Hannity once again bloviated about impeachment, setting the stage for his most ardent fan, Trump, to begin turning the screws on members of the newly (and narrowly) Republican-led House. As reported by Kristen Holmes and Eric Bradner, writing for CNN, the screws have turned harder as the criminal indictments began to pile up for Trump. 

Donald Trump has publicly and privately encouraged House Republicans’ push to impeach President Joe Biden ahead of their potential rematch in 2024, two sources close to the former president said.

Trump has kept close tabs on the matter, the sources said – including speaking by phone with New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, the House GOP conference chair, about the party’s impeachment strategy shortly after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced on Tuesday that he is calling on his committees to open a formal impeachment inquiry into Biden.

Gertz notices a pattern here:

The year that followed has been marked by three overlapping trends: repeated indictments of Trump on state and federal charges, fruitless congressional efforts to uncover damning evidence of Joe Biden’s involvement in his son’s businesses, and demands from Fox for Republicans to retaliate against Democrats for the former, including by turning the latter into fodder for impeachment.

Fox’s Jesse Watters weighed in on June 9, the day Trump was hit with 37 felony counts in the Southern District of Florida, saying that the Republicans should welcome the “distraction” of impeachment. And on Aug. 2, Watters probably revealed more about the Republicans’ nakedly political purposes than he realized.

“[W]ithout the impeachment, you have back-to-back-to-back-to-back Trump trials. The media’s not going to cover anything else. Biden’s going to hide and Trump is going to be criminalized on TV. But if Republicans time this right and follow the evidence where it leads, impeachment is going to run counter to the Trump trials next year.”

Or as Gertz sums it up: ”Rather than picking [a presidential candidate] who isn’t looking at four state and federal trials on scores of charges, they want to tear down his opponent by ginning up a scandal and hoping that the mainstream press fails to make clear what they’re doing.”

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The Republican Party’s impeachment efforts against Biden, egged on by Fox News, are without any legitimate basis. They are premised wholly upon a vendetta urged by Trump, who is facing actual, real criminal liability in several actual, real courts of law. The complete absence of any legal justification to pursue impeachment proceedings against this president has even been obliquely acknowledged by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy himself. In reality, what Republicans are pursuing—and what it seems that Americans are going to be forced to witness—is an impeachment by Fox News itself, fraudulently justified by the same lies and fact-free innuendo in which the network habitually traffics.

A network that didn’t consider it necessary to modulate its grievance-driven political rhetoric even when that rhetoric threatened to kill or sicken its own viewers obviously has no compunctions about subverting our constitutional system. Nor would it spare the slightest thought for the personal anguish it will inflict on Biden or his family, who have to watch as their (obviously troubled) son’s name is dragged through the mud by the Republican charlatans who will outdo themselves with pre-packaged, Fox-friendly soundbites. They know that’s what their base voters are conditioned to look for.

But the non-Fox-viewing American public doesn’t have to play along with this cheap and disgusting farce. They can be shown exactly what it is, if the rest of the media—the ones not in thrall to Rupert Lachlan Murdoch’s propaganda network—finally do their jobs. That means doing a lot more than “fact-checking” Republicans and their statements. Fox viewers will never, ever see those fact-checks (and if they did, they would disregard them). This impeachment will mostly be an exercise in Republicans preening for the cameras and making declarative speeches, which will be edited into tight soundbites and run alongside nothing but approving nods and supportive chatter from Fox’s talking heads. And while we can expect Democratic House members to do yeoman’s work exposing this travesty during the hearings themselves, none of their rebuttals will make Fox’s highlight reel.

“Fact-checking” is simply a cop-out. What the media should really do here is explain who is telling the lies, why the lies are being told, and what motivates the lies. Explain how each Republican is following a template laid down by the likes of Hannity and his ilk. Explain who pays for Hannity and his ilk to spread their manure, and where their true interests lie. Explain how every Republican lives in mortal fear of a primary challenger promoted by Trump. Explain how Trump’s situation has influenced this sham impeachment’s timing and presentation, the selection of witnesses, and the things those witnesses will say. Explain who’s not called as a witness by Republicans, and ask why.

Above all, the media must expose this travesty for what it is: a “distraction,” as Fox’s Watters so eloquently put it, from the “back-to-back-to-back-to-back” Trump trials, pending in real criminal courts, before real judges and real jurors, not a group of corrupted, political hacks terrified of getting on the wrong side of Donald Trump.

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