Much of the Dominion case material has been previously reported. Yet Stelter finds new nuggets. The essential thing he does is lash this material together, as if he were a prosecutor, and turn it into a narrative with sweep and power. He places time stamps on obvious lie after obvious lie from Fox insiders, nearly all of whom knew they were peddling snake oil.
Stelter has watched a lot of Fox News, nearly as much as anybody alive. In doing so he has been — to borrow a term from “Succession,” the Murdoch family-inspired HBO series — a national pain sponge. He has been glued to the set, eyes peeled, notebook in hand, so others don’t have to be.
He really lets the brown water flow over you. His Fox News is a nightly Russell Stover assortment of ginned-up grievances and predictions of cataclysm and collapse. The network delivers insinuation instead of reason, in this account, irritable gestures instead of journalism, a great deal of voice and little of mind. Fox News is biased against expertise and culture. Its hosts patrol and destroy, as white blood cells do in the body, any hint of sequential reasoning. They deliver the kind of shallow and primitive totalitarian propaganda that George Orwell, in “1984,” called prolefeed. In “Network of Lies” it is a dead-end grotto of the human spirit. Flood the zone with wit, as Steve Bannon did not say.
Stelter spends a good deal of time on Tucker Carlson. There is his “big, hysterical, hyena-like laugh” and his “look of chronic dyspepsia.” More essentially, there is his mainstreaming of white nationalism. His paranoid messages sounded good to certain ears: “You are being manipulated”; “It’s our country, not theirs”; “Your views are not evil.” Stelter describes how, when Carlson left Washington, D.C. and began spending all his time in remote Maine, and on an island in Florida, the isolation changed him because “it separated him from people and events, from the diversity of the real world.”
Carlson’s influence over the Republican Party was enormous. He was like Joaquin Phoenix in “Gladiator,” asking the crowd to give a thumb’s up on whether someone, in this case a politician, lived or died. Stelter tracks the long list of reasons (ad boycotts, sexist and racist texts, the dislike colleagues felt for him, his smug sense that he was bigger than his network) that led to his firing.