In the wake of the Capitol riots and the rhetoric from fringe elements on the right that inspired it, there is once again a renewed effort to get Fox News taken off the air, as well as One America News (OAN) and Newsmax.
All three of these networks have had opinion hosts sharing their thoughts on the stolen election, and as the rhetoric got more and more heated, the people watching were in turn more and more heated.
Many of the fringiest conspiracies were not on these networks, but the stories and opinions pushed by those networks were used by the conspiracy theorists to advance their own insane theories on the November election. That, in turn, convinced a number of people that something had to be done. That “something” became a riot at the Capitol building in Washington D.C.
But these news outlets were no more responsible for the riots than Donald Trump was. Did Trump tell these people to go break into a federal building and trash it? No. Did he order them to roam the halls, looking for Congressmen to hurt (or worse)? No.
Did Trump’s fiery passion over the stolen election play a part? It might have been the spark, but there was no direct order. In the same way, Fox, OAN, and Newsmax did not tell their audience to go out and commit these acts of violence in the name of Trump.
The argument against Fox is laid out by folks like this:
It’s time for this question to be front and center: Should Fox News be allowed to exist? Brain-mashing as a business model shouldn’t be legal.
— Anand Giridharadas (@AnandWrites) January 22, 2021
The idea that political rhetoric made these people violent is the same argument over the last couple of decades arguing violent video games make kids more violent. It’s nonsensical, completely takes all the responsibility for the riots away from those who actually deserve the blame, and accomplishes nothing except censorship if it’s successful.
But it won’t be successful. The arguments made by the Supreme Court over a violent video game case out of California could largely apply here. In Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, the Supreme Court ruled that video games enjoy full First Amendment rights to freedom of speech. It also argued that studies linking video game violence to violence in children were methodologically flawed. Any study that could be produced to show a correlation between Fox/OAN/Newsmax and political violence would be just as substantially weak, and you would never get a Supreme Court majority to vote to take down entire news channels simply because you don’t like what they’re saying.
75 million Americans voted for Trump. 3.6 million people watch Fox News during the prime time (opinionated) hours. A few hundred people were at the Capitol and not all of them took part in the violence.
8 million copies of Mortal Kombat 11 have been sold. Millions of copies of the other games have sold throughout the series’ existence. Same with Grand Theft Auto and other violent games.
How many kids/young adults are inspired to go out and commit similar violence? Very few.
Media consumption does not a violent terrorist make. Mental instability and a complete detachment from reality do. If combined, it can be a bad thing, but those instances are statistically insignificant. If anyone at Fox News outright said “Y’all go storm the Capitol building and threaten to hang Mike Pence,” and that person was not fired, then hell yeah shut the whole thing down.
But that never happened.
Should we hold the anchors who speculated on the election legitimacy accountable for the violence two weeks ago? No more than we should hold Jodie Foster accountable for John Hinckley, Jr. shooting Ronald Reagan in an attempt to impress her (I may be wrong, but I still don’t think it has).
It would be unconstitutional to ban any (or all three) of these networks over the riot at the Capitol building. Even if it weren’t, though, it would be setting an incredibly dangerous precedent: You would be saying to all Americans that their political speech does not have any place on the airwaves anymore. And if that’s a power you want your side to have, you need to realize pretty quickly that it’s a power that the other side will have.
And at that point, it’s not going to be pretty.