Fox News ruins a life, right up to the end

Fox News ruins a life, right up to the end March 21, 2012

Karoli at Crooks & Liars points us to this story — “Fox News Lies; An Elderly Woman Dies.”

Tracy Knauss posted this on Facebook:

Fox News killed my precious mother, Hallie. She watched FOX religiously. And when she fell ten days before she died, she refused to go to the doctor because, “I don’t want Obamacare to get all of my information! she declared, recalling the warnings from Fox News “anchors.” She was emphatic. She was not going to consort with the muslim enemy. As she made out her will she told her lawyer, “I don’t want any of my money going to the Muslim Brotherhood!” And her last protestation dealt with “Obama’s death panels.” Mother died just days later. I hold Fox News responsible for my mother’s death.

Karoli comments:

Don’t write this woman off as some ignorant back-country hick. She clearly wasn’t. She owned a company at one time. She paid attention to events and politics in the news, or at least, in the news as she understood it. She, like most of her neighbors, voted Republican. But until Fox News came along, Republicans weren’t stupid. They had different philosophies about government and its role, but they weren’t blatantly invested in advancing a lie-based ideology until Fox News came along.

It isn’t hyperbole to say Fox News killed her. She fell and feared the doctor would kill her. That fear can be laid at the feet of Roger Ailes and his obsession with advancing lies to promote his agenda.

I wouldn’t say Fox News is directly responsible for this woman’s death, although her allegiance to their fear-mongering and lies certainly contributed to her not getting the medical attention she needed.

But set aside the role Fox News played in her death and consider the role it played in her life. Watching Fox News made this poor woman miserable. She lived in needless terror, troubled by a constant anxiety that was manufactured and fabricated by political operatives posing as journalists.

This has happened to many people in Knauss’ mother’s generation. David Frum calls it Fox Geezer Syndrome, and odds are that you know someone made miserable by it. Fox News is making people unhappy for no reason.

That’s harmful. It’s wrong. Decent people don’t torment the elderly with imaginary threats.

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  • rizzo

    “Don’t write this woman off as some ignorant back-country hick.”
    Just because you own a business doesn’t mean you’re not ignorant.  The old guy I hang out with who believes everything Fox spouts is ignorant(also most people that believe those things are really just using them as a socially acceptable cover for deeply engrained racism).  Anyone who believes that bullshit without looking up facts and learning something about history is, technically, ignorant.  It’s sickening, but hey, yay free market I guess?

    If I’m the leader of the revolution, the first to asshats up against the wall will be Roger Ailes and Grover Norquist.  

  • rizzo

     to=two in that last sentence, apparently…

  • I was thinking the same thing. I found the comment about “back-country hicks” a little offensive. I’ve known “hicks” who were more compassionate and bigotry-free than most, and plenty of people with post-grad degrees who like to pontificate about the black-on-white crime wave that’s totally gripping our country.

    If anything, business owners are likelier than average to buy into the Fox News version of reality, because many of them see themselves as incarnations of John Galt.

  • Adrienneks

    As much as I hate Fox News… I don’t buy this.  Fox news doesn’t *make* you watch it and doesn’t *make* you believe it.  Yes, they do their best to spread fear.  But millions of people manage *not* to buy into it.  I’m not convinced they have any responsibility for what people choose to believe.

  • It is if they tell lies that directly affect the decisions people make to the point where they’re distorting the responses people have to things that affect them.

  • rizzo

    Seriously, ignorance can be found in the back country or in the middle of NYC.  It can be found in people who have never had 2 pennies to rub together and in people who swim in money bins like Scrooge McDuck.  I watch Fox News at the aforementioned old dude’s place, since he has it on his TV 24/7 like the old people in the article, and anyone who has an inkling of how economics works or historical events can recognize that almost every sentence said is at best politically slanted and at worst a complete fabrication. 

    I think a big part of it is that these people matured in an environment where pretty much anything said on a ‘news’ program was an incontrovertible fact, so since the channel is Fox ‘News’, they wouldn’t be allowed to lie and all these horrible things are true.  They’re not used to parsing information in a way that is second nature to those of use under 40 or so.

    Thank god my parents are both unabashed liberals and have extensive educations in history and psychology.  They tend to rant a bit also, but at least their ranting is historically accurate…

  • If I put on the uniform of a police officer and tell somebody that I need their car, they’re not solely responsible for the theft of their car. I’m responsible for using a facade of authority to deceive them.

    Fox News wears the uniform of a respectable news agency (albeit a lot flashier, like maybe a stripper cop in hot pants). They’re doing it to willfully deceive people. Yes, people should be more critical and skeptical, but people also shouldn’t be malicious liars.

  • Rowen

     So, a person who willingly repeats a lie and presents it as Truth and
    says that all those other people who disagree are just WAITING to TAKE
    OVER AND DESTROY YOU aren’t culpable because you should come fully
    equipped with a bullshit detector?

  • Holden Pattern

    I guess what I’d say here is that the conservative movement, like other con artists, has a long history of deliberately preying on the fear, insecurity, and infirmities of the elderly.  So (a) FNC knows exactly who their audience is, as does every network, and (b) they tell lies to whip up their audience.  

    Sure, it’s on each individual to make their own decisions, but we do hold fraudsters and con artists responsible for their lies — seems to me that you’re adopting the same “Devil take the hindmost” philosophy that FNC promotes, which means that any agency on the part of the victim, no matter how weak, should immunize the fraud from any responsibility, because the victim should have known better.

  • Holden Pattern

    I would also add that FNC tells these lies specifically to increase the personal wealth and power of Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes and their friends and allies.  So FNC really is a straight-up con job helping to fleece the rubes for the benefit of those on the profitable side of the con.

  • rizzo

    Not to mention outfits like Goldline and the jackass who sells the end of the world seedbank thingy.  Even the commercials on FNC are made specifically to cause paranoia:  “The economy of the world is going to crash any second, buy our $1,500/oz gold now!”  “The world is going to turn into a wasteland next month, buy my end of the world seedbank so you can start your freehold early!”  Just a slight understand of psychology gives insight into the way these jokers work.

  • Anonymous

    “Fox News is making people unhappy for no reason.”

    Oh, they have a reason.

  • Joel Hanes

    I’m going to set up a sidewalk stand selling lemonade quite heavily dosed with cyanide.
    I won’t *make* anyone buy it.  Yes, I’m doing my best to poison people physically, but millions of people will manage *not* to buy my lemonade.

    I want to thank Adrienneks for pointing out that I have no responsibility if some fool drinks it and gets sick.

    Faux “News” is deliberate moral and intellectual poison.
    They know they’re lying.

  • JessicaR

    I guess I’m in the inbetween camp, yes Faux Noise bears some responsibility, but so many of their true believer viewers are miserable racists outraged that a :racial slur: is president. And more over, all too eager to believe the worst about him and anybody else who would support him, or even just vote democratic.

    To use the lemonade stand anology it’s like seeing a lemonade stand with a sign, “WARNING, DRINK CONTAINS CYANIDE” and rushing up to it and trying to guzzle down the whole pitcher. You reap what you sow, live in hate and fear, and eagerly feed that hate and fear and it will kill you.

  • Anonymous-Sam

    The fact that Republicans nationwide have been making an excellent bid to destroy society and haven’t yet been removed from office (or killed by angry mobs) indicates to me that not enough people have successfully escaped Fox’s brainwashing.

  • JenL

    Except that this pitcher doesn’t say “Drink contains Cyanide”, it says “Healthy, Wholesome Lemonade” and the sign on the stand says “Unlike our competitors, we here at Healthy, Wholesome Lemonade don’t put any Cyanide in OUR Lemonade.”

  • rizzo

     And when you hand people their glasses, you say “Good choice, every other beverage is out to destroy you and all you hold dear.”

  • First, and most importantly, Fox is pretending to be a legitimate news source when they *know* they aren’t. 

    Second, Fox isn’t starting out on an even footing with the people who watch it. It appeals to people who are ignorant in the first place — some of that is by choice, but some of it is also bad luck, especially among their older viewers. People who are over 60 are a lot less likely to be savvy about internet use, for one thing. 

    And Fox tells its viewers not to trust anyone else. Not to go to any outside sources for information, only to them. This is the one thing that every cult and cult-like group I’ve learned anything about has in common. It’s a flashing warning sign that someone is trying to control you.

    People in cults often aren’t easy to sympathize with, because of what the cult has done to their minds and hearts. That cuts them off from the outside world even further, leading to a feedback loop until we get present day America. Most people who believe Fox News are victims, even when they’re also villains. 

  • This is definitely a “responsibility is mutual” situation. In this media-driven world, there are so many sources of information, many easily accessible without even leaving your home, that there aren’t too many excuses to wrap yourself in a bubble that repels all knowledge. People who do that aren’t making a mistake; they’re doing it deliberately, because their need to feel righteous anger and scorn for others is more important even than their own health and financial well-being.

    That being said — that doesn’t let Fox or any of them off the hook. If you put yourself out there as a journalist, you have an ethical responsibility to tell the truth. Rigorous fact-checking should be the norm, something done every single day, not just a periodic special feature or something that you do only after presidential debates. If you make a mistake or miss something, correct it as soon as possible in as prominent a position as possible. And, most importantly of, create a clear demarcation between your opinion columns and your ‘news’ sections.

    Oh, and fact-check your opinion columnists too. They’re entitled to their beliefs, but they can’t mis-cite a statistic from a report or rewrite a speaker’s quote to make them look bad. Because come on.

    (This whole thing reminds me of something that came up here a couple of months ago, where the NYT Public Editor asked readers if they wanted the newspaper to make sure the things that they print are true, and seemed generally baffled and surprised when the response was, “Yes, you fool.”

  • Tonio

    Calling Fox News a “lie-based ideology” is an insult to the concept of ideology.

    Generally the conservative commentators who work in print at least make an attempt at articulating principles of small government. I simply disagree with them and say that government does have a role in working toward social justice, noting that what they favor would push the country further toward oligarchy. (Their motivations in favoring such an agenda are relevant, but not to the point I’m making.)

    But the ones at Fox and on radio espouse nothing that even vaguely resembles a political philosophy. Their demagoguery panders to the resentments of people terrified of losing their social privilege based in personal characteristics. I’ve said many times that the Fox Geezers’ hatred of Obama isn’t from ethnicity alone, but from that combined with his education, which fits the classic bigoted idea of “uppity.”

  • Paranoia is mainly a disease of the ego, as this blog has pointed out time and time again.  As a business owner it can be assumed that this woman came through the years to take great pride in being socially powerful and self-reliant.  She wanted to believe that pain and death could always be fought off through force of will.  She hated health-care reform at least partly because it dares to acknowledge that there is any such thing as random, undeserved suffering that isn’t subject to toughness and will.  She wanted to believe that it was only ever other people; her family and employees, who were dependent on her; and that a strong creature like herself would never be the one who was dependent; not on her doctors, not on the State, not on anyone or anything.

    Fox News told her what she wanted to hear, with passion and martial conviction. Disagree with what they say and by God they will fight you to make their assertions true.  What great American Lords among these manly White reporters are.  What a great American Lord I am for watching and believing them. 

    Which isn’t to say that one can’t be both a villain and a victim.  Of course you can be, and of course she was.  Just as most all of us are at some point. 

  • rizzo

    You’re discounting information overload, though.  Sure, I’m a bit over 30 and I can surf the net all day, take in a load of information from many different sources and feel pretty confident that I can parse the good from the bad info, but that’s a much taller order for someone over 50.  Remember, they grew up with 3 channels(well, so did I but only until I was 6 or so).  They grew up with a law that prevented a channel like Fox News and radio shows like Rush and Beck from even existing.  The newsmen they listened to for most of their lives were dedicated to reporting the truth and they had no reason to doubt that people like Murrow and Cronkite were eternally truthful.  They literally do not have the critical thinking skills necessary to separate good from bad info in the modern world.

  • Anonymous

    The popular media has a lot of power ~ partly because they keep on shouting variations on the same theme VERY LOUDLY whereas more reasonable people are just plain reasonable. Fox News and its ilk are shamelessly good at targetting the things people are afraid of.

    This applies especially to the more vulnerable, hence more fearful, members of society such as the sick and elderly. My mother was an intelligent woman, a hospital administrator. She was always very pro-vaccination, the more so as she lost a cousin to diptheria. Polio was also a real fear I can remember kids in leg-irons and “iron lungs”. So my siblings and I were vaccinated against everything. Then came the MMR scare and the spurious “research” linking the vaccine to autism. The Daily Mail newspaper exploited this for all it was worth, purely as a stick to beat the then Labour government with. And my mother ~ now elderly, in very poor health and housebound ~ fell for it. She was by no means the only one, vaccination rates in Britain fell markedly and there is no telling what the consequences may be in years to come.

    Some vicious bigots are devotedly, energetically good at being vicious bigots.

  • Ian needs a nickname

    I’ve been rereading Pratchett’s “Going Postal,” which reminded me that it’s quite possible for a con man to cause 0.023 deaths without ever drawing a weapon.  Fraud and embezzling cause bankruptcies, and inflicting deprivation and misery shortens lives.    The fractions add up over time, and a competent serial con man might find himself responsible for the deaths of 2.338 people before he’s thirty, and that’s small potatoes compared to the body count a crooked hedge fund manager can rack up.  

    So too with Fox news.  Even if it hadn’t scared her away from the medical system entirely (we might tally that as high as 0.2 of a killing) its owners and staff deliberately caused her needless anxiety, year after year.  How much of a toll did that do on her heart?  If deliberately alarmist coverage were to shorten a lifespan by just one day that would be about 0.0000342 of a killing, and their viewership is in the tens of millions.  Three hundred dead, give or take.

    (Yes, the idea is absurd.  Human lives don’t aggregate.  The underlying thought is sound: serially wounding huge numbers of people is sometimes worse than murder)

  • JessicaR

    I’m not saying Fox News is innocent, they are nasty con men and women, but all that hate wouldn’t go anywhere without a congregation of primarily white, elderly bigots ready to eat up an explanation that it’s not their fault they didn’t get what their privilege promised them, rather it’s the fault of Those People. And if they focuse their ire on Those People they’ll get what they deserve, and they focus their ire on Those People while Fox and its cronies pick their pockets. But again, for the most part you have to have a mindset ready to embrace the condemnation of The Other to be able to drink Fox’s poison in the first place.

    Doesn’t make Fox right for playing to that market, but it’s important to remember Fox didn’t appear out of thin air. It’s roots run deep, before television, before radio even, from everything from vicious Know Nothing anti-immigration bigots in the 1800s to Father Coughlin screaming about FDR and the socialism of the New Deal in the 1930s. There’s always been something ugly and unkind in the American character, just like any other nation, along with the good. And there’s always been someone or someones to pander to it.   

  • Anonymous

    I still maintain that she possesses some fault in her own death. She didn’t have to use Fox at her sole source of information. She could have bothered to do some research into something that that concerned her so much. She gave up her responsibility to think, and she suffered the consequences. Tragic, and Fox News is by no means innocent overall, but I can’t really pin this one on them.

  • Mary Kaye

    I was a lot more libertarian until the last few years of my grandmother’s life.  She had a series of strokes and it became very difficult for her to filter information.  She also had short-term memory issues.  A recently-made friend was able to con her out of several hundred dollars because, while she had been a wary and prudent person, she just didn’t have the mental capabilities to see what he was doing any longer, and was very vulnerable to “just leave the key where I can find it, it’ll be easier.”

    Do I blame her?  No:  she didn’t ask to have those strokes.  I blame the guy who took her money.  I blame myself and other family members a bit, for not spotting him sooner, but it was a tough situation.

    If she had been a Fox News victim (thankfully she wasn’t) I would blame Fox News for lying to her, not her for being in poor health and unable to filter effectively.  One thing that was clear about her was that she retained the emotions of fear and anxiety much longer than she retained intellectual memories of what had caused them.  That meant that even if she was told a false upsetting story and *realized it was false* she would end up upset and afraid, and not knowing why, often for a day or more.

    The libertarian myth that you can always be in 100% control of your faculties is just that, a myth.  I have been taken by a con artist once myself.  I had just had four wisdom teeth extracted, and I was not in a position to make good decisions.  But that is *going to happen* to people.  We need to go after the con artists, not sit on our butts blaming their victims.  One day you, too, may be on antihistamines or painkillers for a perfectly sound reason, or have a stroke, or Alzheimer’s Disease, or a high fever, or be totally distracted by your sick child.  On that day there will be predators looking out for you.  They sense weakness and are attracted to it.  I believe it’s our duty as healthy members of the flock to spot these predators and drive them off–not to stand around bloviating about how *we* aren’t sick and *we* can’t be hunted, so too bad about the victims.

  • P J Evans

    these people matured in an environment where pretty much anything said on a ‘news’ program was an incontrovertible fact

    You can tell: if they say things like ‘they wouldn’t say it on TV if it wasn’t true’ – they don’t seem to get that most things on TV are fiction, that the govenment doesn’t have a truth-in-broadcasting requirement, and that Fox has a bad habit of lying even about things that could have been checked in a few seconds. (They’ve mislabeled the party on legislators at least three times that I know of.)

  • P J Evans

    Actually, Fox got a court decision (in Florida, IIRC) that says they don’t have to be truthful. Really. (It doesn’t say much for that judge, though.)

  •  I heard about that! I tried not to say or imply that they had a legal requirement to do those things. I was talking about ethics and morals, which might be a waste of time in this case given the subject matter.

    I think people have an ethical duty to be the best they can be at their jobs, especially if their jobs grant them a position of trust.

    Being a bad journalist is of the same type of badness as being a bad police officer, or a bad accountant, or a bad doctor, or a bad lawyer. Your incompetence might end your career eventually (well, hopefully), but in the meantime it will hurt everyone you’re supposed to be serving.

  • I still maintain that Fox News is a travesty of a news organization.

  • It’s comforting to believe that victims of cults and con artists are stupid, ignorant, irresponsible. Because of course that means we can’t be taken in by them, right? I’ll never be a victim of that sort of thing, I’m a responsible person, it’s their fault for not being responsible enough.

    There’s such a thing as techno-privilege in the information age, and it’s related to one’s chronological age. My father has a law degree and a job that requires him to be highly intelligent and well-informed. He’s online a lot. And every time I visit him, I have to re-install a virus scanner and pop-up blocker on his computer. About once or twice a year, I get an e-mail from him with a virus attached to it, and I have to tell him what to do to get rid of it. 

    This doesn’t happen to my mom — she works in academia, so she’s saturated with this stuff all the time. She uses Firefox and Safari, she knows to keep her anti-virus up to date, etc. And yet, I’m more adept at using computers than her. The fact that I grew up with computers, playing computer games, using computers for research, means that it’s second-nature for me, but it isn’t for her. (She kicks my butt at Tetris though.)

    I’m 35, and I have friends who are in their early 20s. The ease with which they code, create blogs, and do everything through the internet staggers me. Whenever I’m linked to Tumblr, I’m glad I have a cane so I can shake it at these kids and yell at them to get off my lawn. In another 30 years, at the very most, I’m going to be left behind technologically. And I can only hope that by then, we have a society in which that doesn’t leave me easy prey for something like Fox News.

  • Something strikes me as possibly ironic here: 

    If Medicare were to be privatized, there might be a case of people being denied coverage for being regular watchers of Fox News. 

    After all, it has been demonstrated to be a serious risk factor. 

  • Matri

    *is gobsmacked* I… I-I think my IQ just forcibly lowered itself reading that.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart


  • Tonio

    Good points, but the concept of techno-privilege doesn’t drill down into the problem far enough. The phenomenon is really about the fear of being irrelevant, forgotten and vulnerable, and chronological age is a major cause but not the only cause. It’s the same fear that drives people who perceive the loss of their privilege based on ethnicity or religion or gender, particular with demographic trends in the case of the first type of privilege.

  • Anonymous

    My dad was a confirmed Fox News watcher and spent many of his last years angry. He died suddenly in January. One of the blessings for me and hopefully for him in the last year of his life is that as his short term memory disappeared, the anger that he had felt all his life over politics disappeared with it. He repeated conversations and topics endlessly, but they were all about how happy he was with his home and happy times in his past. I am so sorry for Tracy Knaus’ loss and for the situations that add to her grief.

  • What the balls.

  •  The hell?  Come on Fox, a violent Muslim slaughters innocent victims left helpless by weak-ass French anti-gun laws.  The propaganda here is virtually handed to you on a silver platter and yet; you manage to screw it up that badly?  Really? 

  • And Fox tells its viewers not to trust anyone else. Not to go to any outside sources for information, only to them. This is the one thing that every cult and cult-like group I’ve learned anything about has in common. It’s a flashing warning sign that someone is trying to control you.

    Which is why I don’t watch it.  And why I don’t understand those who do. 

  • The libertarian myth that you can always be in 100% control of your faculties is just that, a myth.  I have been taken by a con artist once myself.  I had just had four wisdom teeth extracted, and I was not in a position to make good decisions.  But that is *going to happen* to people.  We need to go after the con artists, not sit on our butts blaming their victims.  


  • Jared Bascomb

    >I can parse the good from the bad info, but that’s a much taller order for someone over 50. <
    You might want to up that age a bit. I'm 57, grew up with the communication system you describe, but I can parse the good from the bad quite easily.

  • Anonymous-Sam

    Age has nothing to do with it. It’s all about mental aptitude, skepticism, and access to information. When my parents moved to Texas, Fox became their primary news source and consequentially I have to deal with their livid snarlings on a regular basis about how “our nigger Muslim Socialist president” is ruining America. These were people who hated George W. Bush with a fiery passion the whole eight years he was in office, and now I think they’d turn around and vote him in for a third term if they could.

  • Anonymous

    Could you please edit out the racial slur against black people from your comment? I know it’s not intended to convey your own attitude but that word is powerful in an entirely negative and hurtful sense.

  • Anonymous-Sam

    I have no capacity to edit posts. If I did, I think I would still need to–always respectfully–refuse, on the grounds that this is real language. The existence of that language is a sad, but very real fact. I will never use that word to refer to a person, but neither will I pretend it isn’t said by ignorant and hateful people (even if those people happen to be my parents).

    My point is that Fox contributed to this. It turned my parents from reasonable people into angry, bitter people who vote against their own interests and xenophobically spit fury at all the foreigners, illegal aliens, Hispanics and African Americans who are supposedly to blame for all of the country’s problems. As a result, we barely speak anymore, and the fact that they’ve become so fond of such discourse is exactly why. Rather than asking me not to acknowledge that it happens, it’d be far more effective to demand that Fox stop teaching people to believe it’s acceptable to think such things.

  • QXZ

    I suspected that FOX screenshot was a fake. Not that they aren’t full of bull, but it’s reliably tendentious bull, and “TOOLOOZ” is overselling it just a tiny bit. Anyway, it seems to be a fake after all. See for the original.

  • Ah! :) I sit corrected, then. :)

  • Yeah, Toolooz seemed like a bit much to me, too. No matter how dumb Fox’s staff is, I’m sure they have spell check.

  • It did have the slight flavor of a parody, I admit, but given the shocking level of ignorance about the rest of the world that I’ve found some Americans tend to have, the fact that Fox News would fuck something like this up didn’t seem out of the bounds of probability.