In the weeks leading up to the US mid-term elections, the message was off Fox News was clear: violent crime is on the rise, cities are dangerous hellscapes, and Democrats are in charge.
With the vote over, however, the right-wing news outlet seemed to decide things weren’t so bad after all, cutting its coverage of violent crime by 50% compared to its pre-election average.
Media Matters for America, a media watchdog, found that every week from Labor Day until the Friday before the vote on Tuesday, Nov. 8, the network an average of 141 segments on crime across weekdays. The general crime coverage matched the Republican Party’s efforts to portray violent crime as out of control and portray Democrats as responsible.
However, in the week of the midterms, when the vote was over, Fox News aired only 71 segments on violent crime, Media Matters reported.
“I think this shows pretty clearly that the amount of Fox coverage of violent crime doesn’t really have anything to do with the level of violent crime in America — it has to do with the political benefits,” said Matt Gertz, a senior fellow at Media Matters.
“It spiked just before Election Day, and once the election was over, America’s crime crisis was no longer the top concern it had been in the previous weeks.”
Media Matters noted that Fox News’ crime coverage had increased somewhat in recent days after shooting at the University of Virginia and student killings in Idahobut said “the coverage was notably less focused on painting Democratic cities as crime-ridden”.
Fox News declined to comment.
Gertz said Tucker Carlson, Fox News’ most-watched host, had a big role to play in the coverage — and in how Republicans across the country used crime as an issue. In a monologue in August, Carlson said advised Republican politicians to focus their campaigns on “law and order,” which he said would result in a “red wave” in the midterms.
The Republicans did just that. spend millions on ads that highlighted instances of violent crime and portrayed Democrats, such as John Fetterman, who ran for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, as responsible. Washington Post reported that Republicans spent nearly $50 million on ads focused on crime between Sept. 5 and Oct. 25, far outpacing Democrats on the issue.
The network’s focus on a single issue in the run-up to an election is nothing new, Gertz said. He said ahead of the 2014 midterm elections Ebola outbreak became a repeat item on Fox News with the network blame Barack Obama for the spread of the virus.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s emails became the hot topicwhile in 2018 Fox News picked up on a so-called “migrant caravan,” using it to bolster Donald Trump’s midterm election sales that the country needed to elect more Republicans to pass tougher immigration laws.
“It’s a play that they’ve run over and over in elections over the last decade,” Gertz said.
“Fox does this every time they come up with some kind of message that they want to push, and they try to get the Republicans to adopt it, and they try to get the mainstream press to adopt it as well,” he added.
“And so the question becomes: to what extent will the mainstream press take the bait and turn it into a multiplier effect — where they repeat Fox’s message and the debate in the final days of the election is about what Fox wanted to talk about?”
This time, it seems neither the mainstream media nor the voters took the bait.
Carlson’s “red wave” failed to materialize in the midterm voting as Republican candidates largely underperformed expectations.
Fetterman, the target of repeated attack of Fox News and numerous crime ads from his opponent, Mehmet Oz, won his race by almost 5%, and although it has been predicted to make significant gains in Congress, only Republicans took tight control of the houseand the Democrats kept the Senate.