Since the rise of far-right conservative talk show hosts, there has always been a corresponding question: Do these figures actually believe what they’re saying? This might seem obvious at first – if they’re so adamant about pedaling conspiracy theories, they have to believe it, right? Well, the answer isn’t so simple, and often lies somewhere between exaggerating their actual thoughts and not believing what they say at all.
While it’s hard to prove when pundits are simply exaggerating their held beliefs, it’s shockingly clear when they’re just lying for monetary gain. Most of the time, these statements come out in court documents, in testimony during a court case or in the context of lawsuit risk.
For instance, Alex Jones lied on his podcast for years about the validity of the Sandy Hook school shooting. He called numerous individuals on the scene crisis actors, he said that the shooting was staged by the government and more. However, that was quickly found to be a false belief. During his trial in a defamation case against some of those affected by his vicious lies, he said that the reality of the shooting became apparent after meeting the parents of murdered children.
Obviously, this incident is particularly disturbing – causing the parents of school shooting victims to be harassed for the sake of profit or whatever else is fueling Jones’ monstrous talk show – is disgusting. However, Jones is far from the only one. While there are those that do believe in their claims, there are many more that do not.
Fox News is one of the most drastic examples. Its lies are constant, wide-ranging and many of its hosts and managers do not believe them at all – and, almost worse, they look down on the audience members that they fool and pull into extremism. Three examples of this – but by no means the only – are the infamous Tucker Carlson lawsuit, its public position on COVID-19 vaccines contrasted with their vaccination policies and its newly-released contrasting opinions on election fraud in 2020.
Back in 2020, U.S. District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil suggested in an opinion regarding a slander lawsuit that “Fox persuasively argues, that given Mr. Carlson’s reputation, any reasonable viewer ‘arrive[s] with an appropriate amount of skepticism’ about the statements he makes.” Then, in 2021, it was revealed that, despite heavily leaning on talking points disparaging the vaccine, over 90% of Fox Corporation staff were inoculated. Now, in 2023, we’ve learned that many top Fox News hosts and senior staff members were calling the stolen election rhetoric everything from “ludicrous” to “MIND BLOWINGLY NUTS” despite openly encouraging it on air for years.
Revelations like these are what make many right-wing pundits so terrifying – their goal isn’t spreading any genuine political agenda or belief, improving humanity, or any other sort of nobly-perceived cause; it’s just money and fame. But garnering that money and fame takes a toll on the politics of the country, and of the world. People like Carlson, Jones and dozens of others like them are continuing to shove our political landscape further and further towards far-right ideology and bigotry – and we shouldn’t be surprised that that keeps costing lives.