Ralph Peters, a retired army lieutenant colonel and Russia expert, left a blistering email for Fox News staff as he exited the network. His main point seems to be that the Fox News shift from conservative propaganda to nationalist propaganda is problematic.
Liberals and other Fox News haters are thrilled to see a Fox News commentator railing against the network as a “propaganda machine.” And, with a few exceptions like Shepard Smith, the network has shifted from an outlet for conservative views to a captive megaphone for the Trump White House.
But my job here is to take apart what people write and reveal what is evidence, fact, and truth, and what is hyperbole and emotion. Thanks to Buzzfeed, we can now see Colonel Peters’ exit email (which, he insists, he never wanted to make public). So here’s my analysis, with weasel words (vague qualifiers and intensifiers) in bold, and a translation:
On March 1st, I informed Fox that I would not renew my contract. The purpose of this message to all of you is twofold:
Translation: Please don’t focus on it, but I’m only writing this now that Fox has dumped me.
First, I must thank each of you for the cooperation and support you’ve shown me over the years. Those working off-camera, the bookers and producers, don’t often get the recognition you deserve, but I want you to know that I have always appreciated the challenges you face and the skill with which you master them.
Translation: Thanks for doing the actual work and making me look good on camera.
Second, I feel compelled to explain why I have to leave. Four decades ago, I took an oath as a newly commissioned officer. I swore to “support and defend the Constitution,” and that oath did not expire when I took off my uniform. Today, I feel that Fox News is assaulting our constitutional order and the rule of law, while fostering corrosive and unjustified paranoia among viewers. Over my decade with Fox, I long was proud of the association. Now I am ashamed.
Translation: When Fox was the loyal opposition to liberals and Obama, that was good. Now that it is backing Trump — and has adopted his world of “alternative facts” and fear — I’m afraid of it.
In my view, Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration. When prime-time hosts–who have never served our country in any capacity–dismiss facts and empirical reality to launch profoundly dishonest assaults on the FBI, the Justice Department, the courts, the intelligence community (in which I served) and, not least, a model public servant and genuine war hero such as Robert Mueller–all the while scaremongering with lurid warnings of “deep-state” machinations– I cannot be part of the same organization, even at a remove. To me, Fox News is now wittingly harming our system of government for profit.
Translation: Fear and schadenfreude drives cable news. Fear of Obama and rejoicing in his misfortunes was healthy. But I favor government enforcement of law and order. So when you create fear of that, I’m can no longer be on the team.
As a Russia analyst for many years, it also has appalled me that hosts who made their reputations as super-patriots and who, justifiably, savaged President Obama for his duplicitous folly with Putin, now advance Putin’s agenda by making light of Russian penetration of our elections and the Trump campaign. Despite increasingly pathetic denials, it turns out that the “nothing-burger” has been covered with Russian dressing all along. And by the way: As an intelligence professional, I can tell you that the Steele dossier rings true–that’s how the Russians do things.. The result is that we have an American president who is terrified of his counterpart in Moscow.
Translation: I hate Russia. So if you defend Russia and Trump’s connection to it, you a traitor. And Fox News is filled with traitors.
I do not apply the above criticisms in full to Fox Business, where numerous hosts retain a respect for facts and maintain a measure of integrity (nor is every host at Fox News a propaganda mouthpiece–some have shown courage). I have enjoyed and valued my relationship with Fox Business, and I will miss a number of hosts and staff members. You’re the grown-ups.
Translation: I like capitalism, the kind they talk about on Fox Business. Those commentators are still okay.
Also, I deeply respect the hard-news reporters at Fox, who continue to do their best as talented professionals in a poisoned environment. These are some of the best men and women in the business..
Translation: I like facts.
So, to all of you: Thanks, and, as our president’s favorite world leader would say, “Das vidanya.”
Translation: Just one more dig in case you were still confused about where I stand.
What have we learned here?
Let’s be clear about this email. There are no facts in it. There are a lot of emotional words like “savaged,” “pathetic denials,” “profoundly dishonest,” and “ethically ruinous administration.” It’s a rant. Cable news likes ranters — it’s no surprise that Ralph Peters succeeded at Fox News. He once got suspended from Fox News for calling Barack Obama a “total pussy.” So he knows how the game is played.
The only thing that has changed is that Peters’ flavor of rants no longer fits with the political slant at Fox News, which has switched from conservative to nationalist and Trumpian.
Your reaction to Peters’ rant is probably predictable.
If you are a liberal or a moderate, you are excited that a former Fox News commentator has not just criticized the network, but has done so in incendiary language, “revealing” that Fox is just a state media organ.
If you are traditional conservative, you are also pleased to see a conservative voice criticizing Trump and Fox News for its shift away from your values.
And if you are a Trump supporter, you discount this as the rantings of a man who hates the president and anyone who supports him.
But consider this.
If Fox News were to go back to its traditional conservative positions (as it no doubt will if Mike Pence or Ted Cruz or some other conservative becomes president), Peters would be back on there, and conservatives would still be happy with it — as slanted as its coverage would be. And if this happened, liberals would still hate it as much as they hate it now.
Fox News taps fear and the worst impulses of the nationalist, Trumpian right. It’s been very successful at it. This isn’t about taking positions, it’s about tapping into viewers’ emotions: both conservatives who love Trump and can now hear what they want to hear, and conservatives who hate Trump and can get all upset with it. Like Colonel Peters.
This is not news, and it’s hardly commentary. It’s awful. But it’s awful because it favors emotion over facts. Peters’ problem is not with that, it’s with the details of the positions that Fox News takes.
One response to “Shouting and screaming on Fox News, or at it? A rant from Lt. Col. Ralph Peters.”
Yeah, it’s a rant. Yeah, it’s self-serving. But I did like the line about the “nothing-burger” covered with Russian dressing. So there’s that.