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Members of the activist groups Truth Tuesdays and Rise and Resist gathered at the first weekly FOX LIES DEMOCRACY DIES event outside the NewsCorp Building. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

It's Time the Pentagon Pulled the Plug on Fox News

Extremist propaganda should not be piped into military bases at taxpayer expense.

Jen SenkoMike Lofgren

Fox News has pushed anti-vaccine falsehoods and Americans have died as a result. Tucker Carlson has approvingly hosted an Oath Keeper now charged with seditious conspiracy, casting him as a victim. Jesse Watters has urged conservatives to "ambush" Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has lived under constant death threats, and to "go in for the kill shot," while Lara Logan likened Dr. Fauci to a Nazi doctor. 

It is puzzling that Pentagon leadership has not dealt forcefully with the omnipresence at military bases of a TV channel that not only whitewashes the January 6th insurrection, but spreads vaccine falsehoods posing a danger to the health and combat readiness of the military. 

All chilling enough. But the worst for our democracy may be that a significant number of the January 6th rioters came from the military, where Fox News plays in barracks, workplaces, and other common areas.

For two decades, Americans in the reality-based community have endured wars on Christmas and Barack Obama's birth certificate, and told themselves that Fox News is the price we pay for a free society. After January 6, 2021, our tolerance for knowingly false and inflammatory propaganda by a major television broadcaster has become a dangerous vulnerability.

There is a whole library of information about how Fox News influences mom and dad to become rabid right wingers. This is hardly surprising, because Republican operative Roger Ailes teamed up with media baron Rupert Murdoch for the specific purpose of a purported "news" channel to hype Republicans and malign Democrats. 

Less is known about how the network propagates incitement to sedition and refusal to follow lawful orders to members of the military, the very persons charged with upholding the Constitution and national security. And the Pentagon is abetting it. 

As to the seriousness of the problem, a former Marine has told the authors: "Right-wing society has captured the military . . . If you walk the Pentagon halls there will be not one TV tuned to anything but Fox." Another source told us that at their Air Force facility, Fox News is always blaring in common spaces during duty hours. Far from always being a service member's choice, the situation is often as at an airport lounge, where everyone is subjected to it like it or not.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has spoken of the need to prevent political extremism in the military. Indeed, the high percentage of service members and veterans among the Capitol rioters is alarming. DOD's recently released Report on Countering Extremist Activity outlines efforts to screen and train service members and guard against extremist activity.   

In view of the situation, it is puzzling that Pentagon leadership has not dealt forcefully with the omnipresence at military bases of a TV channel that not only whitewashes the January 6th insurrection, but spreads vaccine falsehoods posing a danger to the health and combat readiness of the military. 

Last year, Secretary Austin issued an order for all military personnel to be vaccinated. This requirement led to a lawsuit by the state of Oklahoma to exempt its national guard personnel, and a suit by Navy SEALS seeking exemption on purported religious grounds.

Because of this obstruction, the Pentagon has resorted to administratively separating from the military those who refuse vaccination. This will undoubtedly degrade force effectiveness and slow down troop deployments like potential operations to respond to the Ukraine crisis. Under the circumstances, it is incomprehensible that DOD allows a broadcast medium to propagate vaccine lies to its troops while on duty.

Inevitably, removing Fox News from military facilities will prompt cries of censorship on First Amendment grounds. While courts usually treat government venues more strictly than private platforms in free speech cases, Secretary Austin is not only justified in removing Fox News, military law requires it. The Pentagon cannot tolerate advocacy of the overthrow of the government or vaccine refusal on government property any more than Twitter is obliged to broadcast false statements. 

Our military leaders have a duty to maintain good order and discipline in the ranks. Allowing Fox News to blast into every barracks, orderly room, and enlisted club makes no more sense than allowing Radio Moscow to propagandize new recruits during the cold war. The military is not a debating society, and those who enlist know that wearing the uniform entails obeying a lawful order. 

There have already been rumblings within DOD. In 2019, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which controls most military retail facilities, sent a memo suggesting that sports rather than news channels be shown in common areas "due to their divisive political nature." The military veterans group VoteVets has asked for a ban on Fox News at DOD facilities. Unfortunately, it does not appear that these recommendations have been taken up as policy.

If military members wish to watch Fox News, they are welcome to do it on their own time as part of their own cable subscription (most troops these days live off-base or in privatized on-base housing). It should not be shrilled into a government duty space where it's unavoidable. Every dime spent for the military ultimately comes from American taxpayers. They should be outraged that their money should go to undermining the military they so generously support. 

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Jen Senko

Jen Senko

Jen Senko is an award-winning a documentary filmmaker, author, and media-activist based in New York City. In 2021, The Brainwashing of My Dad received the prestigious People's Voice Award in Public Service & Activism from The Webby Awards. Senko's adaptation of her film into a book of the same name (published on October 5, 2021) tracks the pernicious and addictive rise of right-wing media and how this media served as a tool for libertarian billionaires to get people to vote against their own interests and gain one-party rule.

Mike Lofgren

Mike Lofgren

Mike Lofgren is a former Republican congressional staff member who served on both the House and Senate budget committees. His books include: "The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government" (2016) and "The Party is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted(2013).

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