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Two longtime commentators have resigned from Fox. They've long been at odds with the channel's slant toward Donald Trump, and they tell NPR they objected to a series by star host Tucker Carlson offering disinformation about the January 6 attack on the Capitol. NPR's David Folkenflik reports on their departure, which reflects divisions within Fox.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: The two conservative journalists who resigned from Fox News are Stephen Hayes and Jonah Goldberg, founders of the conservative news site The Dispatch. They say they could not tolerate Carlson's series, which relied on people who have trafficked in lies about the elections and peddled baseless conspiracy theories.
JONAH GOLDBERG: It's basically saying that the Biden regime is coming after half the country, and this is the War on Terror 2.0.
FOLKENFLIK: This is Jonah Goldberg, a voice familiar to NPR listeners.
GOLDBERG: It traffics in all manner of innuendo and conspiracy theories that I think legitimately could lead to violence.
FOLKENFLIK: The trouble really started when Fox News's elections data crunchers projected that Democratic candidate Joe Biden would win Arizona last November. Political anchor Bret Baier conveyed the pressure the network was under from Trump and his circle as he brought on the head of Fox's Decision Desk, Arnon Mishkin.
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BRET BAIER: We're getting a lot of incoming here, and we need you to answer some questions.
ARNON MISHKIN: I'm sorry. The president is not going to be able to take over and win enough votes to eliminate that seven-point lead.
FOLKENFLIK: It undercut Trump's abilities to plausibly claim he won. Trump turned his fire on Fox. Some of his diehard fans turned to more hardline outlets. Fox News opinion hosts and guests sought to make it up to Trump and to win back those viewers, embracing his false claims so intensely that two voting tech companies have sued them for defamation in multibillion-dollar cases. Fox News has sought to have the cases dismissed.
In the meantime, Carlson has led the charge to undermine the seriousness of the January 6 insurrection and the role of Trump supporters in it. His three-part series called "Patriot Purge" first aired in early November on the right-wing paid streaming service Fox Nation. In it, Carlson accuses the Biden administration of adopting police state tactics.
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TUCKER CARLSON: They've begun to fight a new enemy in a new War on Terror. Not, you should understand, a metaphorical war, but an actual war - soldiers and paramilitary law enforcement, guided by the world's most powerful intelligence agencies, hunting down American citizens.
STEPHEN HAYES: That's not happening. That's not true.
FOLKENFLIK: This second voice belongs to Stephen Hayes. When Hayes and Goldberg founded The Dispatch, they wanted to appeal to conservatives with commentaries and analyses grounded in fact.
HAYES: So this is more than just a matter of - you know, a difference of opinion. At the end of the day, I think what "Patriot Purge" was doing had taken those tensions and just made them irreconcilable. We couldn't really be there any longer with something like "Patriot Purge."
FOLKENFLIK: Some Fox News journalists on the news side distanced themselves from Carlson's series even before it began. Political anchors Bret Baier and Chris Wallace aired segments flatly contradicting Carlson's claims without ever mentioning his name. The two anchors also raised objections to Fox News Media CEO Suzanne Scott and its news chief, Jay Wallace. So did other Fox journalists - that according to five people with direct knowledge. Both Scott and Wallace declined to comment through a spokeswoman.
Again, Jonah Goldberg.
GOLDBERG: The opinion side of Fox has just been too histrionic, too over the top, too bombastic and too, alas, irresponsible.
FOLKENFLIK: For his part, Tucker Carlson tells NPR that Fox News will improve without the two men. Carlson declined to address the objections of his critics who remain at the network.
David Folkenflik, NPR News.
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