The Acquittal of Donald Trump Is Brought to You by Fox News | Opinion

For the better part of the past five years, I have called Lubbock, Texas, home. Like much of West Texas, Lubbock is dry and desolate. Drive 10 miles in any direction, and the barren, wind-swept landscape allows you to see unobstructed for miles. There is, to be sure, a kind of sublimity in that, especially when multihued sunsets paint the wide-open skies.

The folks here are generally friendly and often openly religious. It is not uncommon, for instance, to be wished a "blessed day" in a wide variety of contexts. While Lubbock has steadily grown in recent years, the greater High Plains region has one of the lowest population densities in the United States. Like many rural areas, this is Trump Country. Even as I write that phrase, I'm struck by its oddity. After all, five short years ago, the moniker "Trump Country" didn't exist.

Before running for president, Donald Trump was a real-estate developer best known for playing himself on NBC's The Apprentice. At that time, Trump spoke for no one and stood for nothing. But following his surprise victory in 2016, "Trump Country" became shorthand for the mostly rural areas where Trump won handily.

Yet Trump is not responsible for the rise of Trump Country, only for the nomenclature. After all, the people and values of these regions predate his political ascendancy. So what is responsible? What is responsible for the fact that only about 48 percent of Americans support the removal of a tyrannical, impeached president who pressured foreign nations to interfere in our elections and abused his power?

The answer is simple. Walk into any restaurant, athletic club or other local establishment with a television set in rural America, and there's a good chance it's tuned to one channel: Fox News. Trump Country is Fox News Country.

Demographic data support this conclusion. What separates Fox News viewers from other cable networks' viewers is race, ideology and education level. Fox News viewers are 94 percent white, according to a CNN analysis of Nielsen data, and 93 percent "conservative" or "very conservative," with less education overall. This is Trump's base. So what precisely are they consuming?

Fox News is overwhelmingly dominated by right-wing political opinion and commentary programming from the likes of Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro and Tucker Carlson. There is very little news left on the channel. A 2012 Fairleigh Dickinson University survey found that "Fox News viewers were less informed about current events than people who didn't follow the news at all."

Nevertheless, Fox News is "America's dominant news channel." Since 2002, it has been the highest-rated cable news channel in the United States, significantly outpacing both CNN and MSNBC. This, more than anything else, accounts for the toxic nature of our current political environment and the acquittal of a president who even Republicans admit acted wrongfully.

Throughout the impeachment process, the hosts of Fox News have vigorously defended the president, providing talking points to be parroted by the general public and even Trump's own legal defense team. It makes sense that four members of the team have had more than 360 Fox News appearances combined since January 2019, according to Media Matters.

Donald Trump on Fox News
President Donald Trump’s pre-game Super Bowl interview with Fox News is broadcast in a bar on February 2 in Washington, D.C. Mario Tama/Getty

Now, at the conclusion of a Senate trial that saw impeachment managers detail Trump's misdeeds, a large segment of the American public still has had little to no exposure to the actual facts. When interviewed, Trump's followers blindly repeat the Fox News talking points that are endlessly retweeted by the authoritarian president.

Historically, the news media in the United States has played a vital role in our democracy as a check on the powers of government and an arbiter of the truth. But thanks to Fox News' descent into propaganda and Trump's labeling of any critical information as "fake news," much of the public doesn't know the truth: This nation's democratic principles, norms and institutions are under attack.

In the end, it will have been Fox News, not Donald Trump, that destroyed democracy.

Brian L. Ott is professor of media and communication at Texas Tech University. He is co-author of Critical Media Studies: An Introduction (2020) and The Twitter Presidency: Donald J. Trump and the Politics of White Rage (2019).

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.