How I Lost My Father to Fox News
Heidi Siegmund Cuda examines the culture of lies perpetuated by Murdoch's news network and the very personal harms it causes to families around the world
I wasn’t in the habit of hanging up on my father, but in 2017 it started happening with alarming frequency.
The first time it occurred was when he discussed me attending the Women’s March in Washington DC and my father said it was “the most vulgar display of…” Click.
Being present in Washington DC. at one of the most profoundly important events for women in my lifetime was among the greatest days of my life. My dad thought it was vulgar, and it broke my heart. I found myself politically behind enemy lines. How and why?
My father had been a bleeding heart liberal his entire life. It wasn’t until 2011, when his Republican friends started forwarding him sinister and anonymous emails bashing Democrats that he started to drift. That I was working in broadcast news at a Fox affiliate, as I wrote in Confessions of a Fox Blonde, further complicated things. He could proudly show his daughter on TV.
Oh the guilt.
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I divorced broadcast news in 2013 – I, too, had started to drift and needed to make my way back to my pre-Fox self. But by then my dad was hooked. That so many of his immigrant friends also became radicalised at the time seemed confusing to me then, but looking back, it is all becoming clear.
Fox News was preying on older, white men, getting them hooked on right-wing victimhood.
“What happened to Dad?” asked filmmaker Jen Senko at the beginning of her documentary The Brainwashing of My Dad. She intended to find out. Her film is a personal story similar to mine – where she watched her father who “never had an unkind word to say about anyone” become angry and radicalised by watching Fox News and listening to Rush Limbaugh. Her father also started receiving aggressive right-wing emails around 2011.
Both our fathers were smart, successful professionals, and Senko bristles when radicalised people are dismissed as ‘stupid’.
“I think that’s stupid,” she told Byline Supplement. “Because then you don’t get at the root problem.”
In her film, she interviewed global experts who have been documenting Fox’s impacts on its viewers and how the Outrage Industrial Complex – the deliberate farming of fury – is addicting older adults to rage and victimhood, particularly directing rage at immigrants.
“Literally thousands of people have sent me their own heartbreaking stories about them losing their loved ones to Fox ‘News’ or some other bloviating angry right-wing host,” Senko told Byline Supplement. “I firmly believe there would not even be a Trump if not for Fox ‘News’.”
In recent evidence presented by Dominion Voting Systems in its $1.6 billion defamation suit against Fox News and Fox Corp. Rupert Murdoch testified under oath that he knew Fox anchors ‘endorsed’ lies about the 2020 election fraud, and that he did nothing to stop it.
Murdoch’s testimony is part of the fallout from Dominion’s court filings – causing renewed scrutiny of the network.
The court documents filed in Delaware by Dominion Voting Systems as part of the company’s lawsuit against Fox News and Fox Corporation and Fox Broadcasting contains text messages, emails and testimony from Fox anchors and executives that they did not believe the Big Lie promoted in the days after the 2020 election.
Among the allegations in court filings:
Fox host Tucker Carlson wrote that lawyer and Trump aide Sidney Powell was lying. “It’s insane.”
Fox host Laura Ingraham responded: “Sidney is a complete nut. No one will work with her. Ditto with Rudy.”
The filing alleges Carlson and host Sean Hannity mulled over getting a White House reporter fired after she fact-checked a tweet from Trump
The filing alleges Carlson told Hannity, “Please get her fired. Seriously….What the f**k? I’m actually shocked… It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.”
Dominion alleges the network was worried its viewers were leaving Fox for Newsmax, which also perpetuated the Big Lie.
Filings allege that Murdoch suggested putting his three top hosts on camera to admit Biden won. That didn’t happen.
Fox lawyers said Dominion has not sufficiently proven defamation and that Fox had a journalistic duty to cover claims made by Trump and his allies.
Senko said she sees no defense for the network.
"Why did it take so long for some kind of action to be taken against Fox?” questioned Senko. “I think of all the harm Fox has done to families, individuals and our country. They played their part in instigating the January 6 insurrection with their stochastic terrorism. They were responsible for so many deaths as they downplayed and lied about Covid and the vaccines. They drummed up racism and downplayed police violence against black people by blaming black people, resulting in this pushback against ‘woke-ism’. Franklin Delano Roosevelt managed to get rid of [propagandist] Tokyo Rose during World War II. How is Fox any less vile, anti-American treasonous, than Tokyo Rose?”
Some studies even suggest that viewing Fox can be lethal.
A University of Chicago study titled Misinformation During a Pandemic reported Fox News viewers experienced greater numbers of Covid deaths.
“Media outlets often present diverging, even conflicting, perspectives on reality — not only informing, but potentially misinforming audiences,” its authors wrote. “Through both a selection-on-observables strategy and an instrumental variable approach, we find that areas with greater exposure to the show downplaying the threat of COVID-19 experienced a greater number of cases and deaths.”
Evidence in the study suggested a higher viewership of Fox News’ primetime show Hannity “is associated with a greater number of COVID-19 cases and deaths during the early onset of the coronavirus pandemic.”
In a Kaiser Family Foundation study, Fox News’ Covid-19 lies were documented, and the study determined Fox watchers were more likely to believe Covid lies than people who take in other sources of news.
And if you were a Fox News viewer during the January 6 Committee hearings investigating the Insurrection, you might not know they were occurring. Fox declined to air the hearings live in its primetime coverage, but did find time in its network scheduling to air wall to wall coverage of the Hillary Clinton hearings on Benghazi - ultimately, the network aired 1,100 segments on Benghazi.
As former FBI assistant director Frank Figliuzzi tweeted in 2022, in response to Fox’s declination to air the January 6 hearings: “Radicalization includes suppression of truth.”
The fact that some Fox News hosts are Russian-state TV darlings suggests to Kyiv-based reporter Paul Niland that Fox hosts are playing for the wrong team.
“You have to know your enemy,” he said. “Russian media was showing clips of Tucker Carlson and what you have to understand is that if Russia is on your side, you're on the wrong goddamn side, Russia means absolutely no good to the United States of America. Russia is your enemy.”
‘Changing the Channel’
The tentacles of radicalisation are not just felt stateside. Historian of Italian fascism Ruth Ben-Ghiat, who authored the book Strongmen - Mussolini to the Present, witnessed her UK-based mother become radicalised by RT (formerly Russia Today), voting for Brexit and becoming pro-Putin. But when the UK unplugged RT and her mother began watching the BBC, within days she started to return to her pre-RT self. She said she regretted voting for Brexit and came to believe Putin was a terrible human being.
Another personal story comes from Julie, who lives on the Isle of Wight. She said her father “bitterly regrets voting for Brexit” – but he did not come to that conclusion until she brought him back from a radicalized abyss.
“I live with my Dad and am an unpaid carer for him,” she told Byline Supplement. “The alarm really set in that day when I overheard a YouTube video where all I could hear was a man’s voice and the repetition of the word ‘immigration’. That was the day I knew something wasn’t right. It was in the lead up to Brexit, and it wasn’t like anything I had heard before.
“I went downstairs immediately and asked what he was watching. I could see Steve Bannon and Nigel Farage. He told me he’d bought Bannon’s book and thought he was great.”
Julie learned that YouTube’s algorithm had been feeding him right-wing content.
“Dad has always believed passionately in the unions and has been a Labour supporter all his life. Politics has always been something we have spoken about at length, and we have always seen eye to eye. As he has gotten older, his mobility has been greatly reduced and so he has the television on in the background. I’ve often walked in and said ‘What’s this rubbish you’re watching Dad?’”
Her story, like my story and Jen Senko’s story, is similar – our once liberal fathers had become radicalised by right-wing content.
“I believe elderly men are being targeted particularly,” said Julie. “I watched The Brainwashing of my Dad, because the title resonated with me and thought, ‘me too’. When you’ve been close to someone all your life, as I have been with my Dad, and I witnessed all of the Brexit rhetoric, and sensed him becoming hostile towards me, it really hurt my feelings. It created a ‘hierarchy of beliefs’ almost, where whatever I said to him at the time to try to counteract what he was saying was quite literally poo-pooed. His arrogance was astonishing.”
So Julie made a decision. She was going to get her father back.
“I spent an entire day with him,” she said. “It was to sort out our relationship first and foremost, because I couldn’t stand him talking down to me when he had never done that before, never. He raised his voice on several occasions. I may have raised mine, but I kept telling him that our relationship had changed and that it mattered to me a lot because we had always been close.”
He agreed to change the channel. She is now feeding him a different news diet. She encouraged him to watch the documentary, The Great Hack. She said it is still a work in progress.
“Yesterday, he brought up Shamima Begum, and it was evident he had a lot of hate for her. I am now really calm with Dad when he says these things – I counteracted his argument just by pointing out that she was extremely young and likely naive to the ways of the world and pointed out that sometimes, we make mistakes. He still doesn’t like her, but we have gentle rational conversations now. I got his respect back. That day we spent together was difficult, but I got my Dad back again.”
Both Jen Senko and I lost our fathers, but she managed to get her father back from Fox before he passed away.
She collaborated with her now 102-year-old mother to lure him away from Fox and other outrage instigators.
“At one point, my mother was going to get an apartment and leave him,” said Senko. “But instead - she changed the channel.”
Her mother ran a successful Mission Impossible-style caper. When the family TV broke, she ordered a new one and programmed the channels to not include Fox. When the family radio broke, they never repaired it, so the daily three hours of Rush Limbaugh ceased.
She went into her husband’s computer and unsubscribed him from all the mailing lists sending anti-democratic emails. She then subscribed him to pro-Democracy lists.
Jen Senko and her family got her father back in his lifetime.
Her mother called her one day, and said, “You’re not going to believe this. Your father was watching TV and President Obama came on. And your father said, ‘I like that guy.’”
And then it happened again.
I never had the opportunity to de-radicalise my father. He passed away before we could have that conversation. Those are difficult conversations to have because people who become addicted to othering outrage are looking for a fight – they become “facts resistant.”
I made sure my last words to him were kind. As I was hanging up on him – with the phone pulled far away from my ear – I heard myself loudly saying over his words, “I LOVE YOU...”
I had the sense to make sure my last words were kind. We never know when we will lose someone, and I lost my father in August of 2017.
Since August of 2021, every Tuesday, a group of grassroots activists under the title “Truth Tuesdays” protest in front of Fox News’ New York headquarters, and one of the organizers, Julie DeLaurier, said their goal is to inspire “meaningful action.”
“We're not just posting memes, we're not just complaining, we're giving people meaningful actions they can take against Fox,” DeLaurier told Byline Supplement. “We can UnFox our Cable Boxes. We can ask proprietors to change the channel from Fox in every cafe and gym and dentist office in the country. We can help a friend or loved one understand they've been lied to. We can work to get Fox off our military bases, where our troops are being radicalized on our tax dollars. There are lots of small actions we can all take that will add up.”
Since Fox News is not reporting to its viewers about the Dominion lawsuit, DeLaurier said “Truth Tuesdays” members brought a truck with a giant TV screen on a recent Tuesday that reported what Fox anchors allegedly said in text messages about not believing election lies promoted by Trump allies, earning the group international media coverage.
“There's a definite ‘David and Goliath’ feel to going up against a billionaire global media baron,” said DeLaurier. “We're just a grain of sand in Murdoch's eye. But think what a grain of sand can do in your eye. And what grassroots movement didn't start out seeming hopeless?
“We're not trying to convince people that Fox is hurting America. Most people already know that. Our message is that it's not hopeless - that together, Americans can and must put the brakes on the Murdochs.”
Many pundits speculated that the phone hacking scandal more than a decade ago in the UK would mean certain ruin for the Murdochs, but that did not materialize.
While the phone hacking scandal surrounding News of the World did not leave the Murdoch family unscathed – Murdoch shuttered the 168-year-old tabloid newspaper, paid millions in settlements to victims, and withdrew his bid for full control of BSkyB – but within two years the Murdoch empire was boasting record profits.
As we learned from reading the Dominion Voting Systems’ court filings, another decade would pass and the damage Fox does appears to continue unabated.
More warnings on the horizon come from the New York-based activist group, Fix Media Now, which expressed concerns about Fox Corp owning Tubi – a streaming network that Fox was just offered $2 billion to sell but declined.
“My concern is that Rupert Murdoch doesn’t just see Tubi as entertainment-revenue generating,” Fix Media Now organizer Milo told Byline Supplement. “My concern is for their ultimate political agenda – you can certainly see circumstances where they might prioritize their Fox strategic disinformation – using Tubi as a platform. This is something that right now, the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] is wholly unprepared for.”
In a Dominion deposition released last week, Murdoch tried to distinguish between his anchors and ‘commentators’ – and he explained away why his network would continue to run ads by QAnon conspiracy promoter Mike Lindell by saying: “It’s not red or blue, it is green.”
When I think of the Murdoch clan, I often reflect on these words by F. Scott Fitzgerald from The Great Gatsby:
“They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
Some of these stains are permanent.
I am not the only daughter who lost a father to Fox.
Investigative reporter Heidi Siegmund Cuda wrote Confessions of a Fox Blonde for Byline Supplement, where she writes about American politics. She also writes about politics and culture at her Bette Dangerous substack.
An excellent and revelatory piece. It deserves a much wider audience. Especially with Trump trying to rise again! He seems always to know the right thing to say to rouse a crowd but never the right thing to do! Thank you for these articles.