Fox News host Tucker Carlson's special on the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol was the last straw for two network commentators. Stephen Hayes and Jonah Goldberg have resigned.
Two longtime conservative Fox News commentators have resigned in protest of what they call a pattern of incendiary and fabricated claims by the network's opinion hosts in support of former President Donald Trump.
In separate interviews with NPR, Stephen Hayes and Jonah Goldberg pointed to a breaking point earlier this month: network star Tucker Carlson's three-part series on the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol that relied on fabrications and conspiracy theories to exonerate the Trump supporters who participated in the attack.
"It's basically saying that the Biden regime is coming after half the country and this is the War on Terror 2.0," Goldberg tells NPR. "It traffics in all manner of innuendo and conspiracy theories that I think legitimately could lead to violence. That for me, and for Steve, was the last straw."
Hayes has been a close friend of Fox News political anchor Bret Baier since their college days at DePauw University; both he and Goldberg were mainstays of Baier's Special Report since joining the network in 2009. Together, Hayes and Goldberg co-founded the conservative news site The Dispatch .
According to five people with direct knowledge, the resignations reflect larger tumult within Fox News over Carlson's series "Patriot Purge" and his increasingly strident stances, and over the network's willingness to let its opinion stars make false, paranoid claims against President Biden, his administration and his supporters.
Senior Fox News journalists warned network executives
Veteran figures on Fox's news side, including political anchors Bret Baier and Chris Wallace, shared their objections with Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott and its president of news, Jay Wallace. Those objections rose to Lachlan Murdoch, the chairman and CEO of the network's parent company, Fox Corporation. Through a senior spokeswoman, Scott and Wallace declined comment. Murdoch did not return a request for comment through a spokesman.
Goldberg says that he had been assured by Fox's news leaders that, as Trump left Washington D.C. following his defeat, the network would tamp down on incendiary commentary and claims.
Instead, Goldberg says, the decision by Fox's election analysts to be the first to project that Biden would win Arizona on Election Night last November led the network's stars, including Carlson, to demonstrate their dedication to Trump and his most adamant fans. And that led Fox's opinion stars to embrace increasingly indefensible positions, Goldberg argues. (Fox News is currently facing two multibillion-dollar lawsuits from voting technology companies alleging they were defamed by network hosts and guests who supported Trump's grandiose and false claims of election fraud. Fox has filed motions to dismiss both lawsuits.)
Fox News also jettisoned the leaders of its political desk, laid off a bunch of researchers and installed a new opinion hour at 7 p.m., shifting news anchor Martha MacCallum from that time to a less visible mid-afternoon slot. The news anchor at 11 p.m., Shannon Bream, was pushed back to midnight in favor of Greg Gutfeld's opinion-driven comedy show. All these moves tilted the channel to even more Trump-friendly content, even as its news programs gently tried to correct the record on the 2020 elections and the siege.
"It was irresponsible to put that out into the public airwaves"
Carlson's series on the Capitol insurrection aired on Fox's paid streaming service "Fox Nation" in early November.
"They've begun to fight a new enemy in a new war on terror," Carlson warned his viewers in the first episode. "Not, you should understand, a metaphorical war, but an actual war, soldiers and paramilitary agencies hunting down American citizens."
Promotional videos for the series that aired on Fox News late the week before set off loud alarm bells throughout the network.
"I thought it was irresponsible to to put that out into the public airwaves," Hayes says.
"The trailer [for the series] basically gave people the impression that the U.S. government was coming after all patriots — half of the country in the word of one of the protagonists in the piece," he says. "And that the federal government was going to be using the tools and tactics that it used to go after Al-Qaida. And that's not happening. That's not true."
"It's a narrative that's contradicted by certainly the vast collection of legal documents charging those who participated in January 6th, the broad reporting by a wide variety of news outlets on what happened on January 6th then and in the time since, and contradicted in part by Fox News's own news site and the reporting that people on the news side have done," he said.
Asked for comment for this story, Carlson says the departure of the two "will substantially improve the channel."
He also mocked the two men for denouncing him for propounding conspiracy theories: "These are two of the only people in the world who still pretend the Iraq war was a good idea," Carlson writes to NPR. "No one wants to watch commentary that stupid."
Carlson declined to comment about the objections of other prominent journalists at the network.
News programs distance themselves from Carlson's series on the air
Viewers could see Fox's prominent journalists distance themselves from Carlson's series immediately after the promotional videos first aired.
On the Friday before the release of "Patriot Purge," Baier aired a segment on the investigation of the insurrection by veteran national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin. The featured interviews dismissed claims of a so-called "false flag attack" - that is, violent left-wing activists such as antifa pretending to be Trump fans as they attacked the Capitol.
The day before the series launched, Wallace broadcasted an interview on Fox News Sunday with Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, one of Trump's chief Republican critics. She is one of just two GOP members of the House committee investigating the insurrection at Congress.
"Patriot Purge" relied on known peddlers of unfounded conspiracies, people who sought out the company of white supremacists who would not be cited as credible sources by Fox's reporting teams.
Goldberg said he and Hayes could no longer tolerate the wild claims beamed, broadcast and streamed on Fox News.
"Being a Fox contributor is kind of a brass ring in conservative and right-wing circles, and I was well-compensated," Goldberg says. "I'm not looking to be a martyr or ask for pity or any of that kind of stuff. But it's a significant financial hit for sure. And it's also cutting yourself off from a very large audience."
"We don't regret the decision. But we found it regrettable that we had to make the decision."
Hayes and Goldberg were formerly top editors at the Weekly Standard and the National Review, respectively. They recently joined forces to found the conservative anti-Trump site The Dispatch. Hayes, the outlet's founding CEO and editor, and Goldberg, its editor in chief, say the site is intended to appeal to conservatives with commentary and news grounded squarely in fact.
"We launched The Dispatch in part to model behavior we thought was increasingly missing on the right, particularly in conservative media," Goldberg says. He says the online magazine is not "beholden to a partisan agenda, not looking to simply monetize dopamine hits by making people angry."