© Darrell Arnold, Ph.D. – (Reprinted with Permission) http://darrellarnold.com/2018/07/16/fox-news-an-information-ecosystem-for-fallacious-reasoning/
Fox news has long functioned in the service of America’s conservative movement. What is particularly concerning is their willingness to do so even if it undermines truth and sound reasoning. One way that it regularly undermines truth and clear reasoning is through subtext in the framing of their stories. Another is through editorial decisions on what stories to feature — not the framing of their stories but their framing of their news environment. This creates a kind of informational ecosystem that facilitates fallacious reasoning for ideological purposes.
As an example of this latter issue, on their webpage on the day of the Helsinki Summit, after many hours they finally featured a story about “bipartisan backlash.” Yet one of their other featured stories of the day was about — you guessed it — Hillary and Bill Clinton. The day’s lead story thus dealt with the issue of the day. The other though didn’t but served as a reminder for the Fox viewer of all the “Clinton scandals.”
Fox’s decisions in this instance, like on so many others, borders on serving as propaganda, and the informational ecosystem they create facilitates fallacious reasoning in service to their ideological agenda. By selective editorial placement a modern media company like Fox will not exactly commit the Tu Quoque fallacy, sometimes known as Whataboutism (though they do this often in enough of their commentary) — but it can certainly facilitate it among its audience, or create an environment for it.
Whataboutism is a version of the Tu Quoque fallacy. Tu Quoque means “you too” or “who’s talking?” The fallacy in its various forms functions as a diversion, directing people’s attention away from the issue under discussion by focusing on how those making a particular accusation are themselves guilty of the same kind of thing they are accusing others of. Whataboutism in a context of a political scandal will often draw attention away from a scandal by pointing out that an opposing political party also has committed scandals that are just as bad or worse.
In our given example, on the one hand, we have an extraordinarily serious scandal of a sitting U.S. president undermining his own intelligence agencies and the preceding U.S. administration, with no apparent reason other than the fact that Vladimir Putin very strongly protested the charges. Indeed, the event was serious enough that Senator John McCain called it “one of the most disgraceful performances of an American president in memory.” John Brennan, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said “Donald Trump’s press conference … rises to and exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’” Various Democrats also clearly condemned the president’s actions at the summit.
The bipartisan reaction to Trump’s performance is highlighted in the main story of the news of the day. On the other hand, we have the “scandals” about the Clintons, which have been thoroughly investigated but already dismissed. In the case of the Hillary “scandals,” for example, the Benghazi Affair was Congress’s longest investigation, costing over 7 million dollars. The Email controversy was investigated by various bodies over numerous years. In both cases, no criminal wrongdoing was found. But a new story about the Clintons is placed a story or two under the lead story of the day. So we have the Trump issue presented, but the Fox audience is at the same time presented with the question: What about Hillary? What about the Clintons?
Fox is facilitating the Whataboutism fallacy as it subtly suggests a false equivalency between a very real scandal of the day and a trumped up one. This is something they have done regularly over the years and continue to this day, bringing up both of Hillary’s controversies on a regular basis. Through their editorial decisions about what stories to feature and highlight (and to run regardless of credibility) and then by decisions about how to place these in proximity to other stories, media companies and information providers like Fox can serve the purpose of facilitating fallacious reasoning, and in the case of Fox to do so for reasons of ideology.
Though this observation here focuses on one story, an observer of Fox will easily find that this is going on regularly. Add to it the regular commentary of certain media figures and the regularity with which it brings up stories with little credibility at all, and we can see that Fox in particular is essentially an information ecosystem that continually nudges toward fallacious reasoning for ideological purposes. It has long been doing this at the service of the Republican’s moves to undermine democratic norms. Now it is apparently pleased to assume the role in support of an administration with clear authoritarian characteristics.