CPAC Attendees’ Unexpected New Enemy: Fox

Elijah Nouvelage/Getty
Elijah Nouvelage/Getty

DALLAS—It comes at no surprise that disdain for mainstream media was a common theme among both attendees and speakers at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference, held last weekend in Dallas, Texas.

“I love CPAC because it blows up the fake news narrative of the liberal media time and time again,” Kimberly Guilfoyle said in a speech to the crowd on Friday afternoon.

Jeff Johnson, an attendee who sells large-print copies of the Declaration of Independence, echoed the sentiment. “The liberal media is glossing things over and we’re just being destroyed,” Johnson said. “We’re being destroyed by evil.”

But skepticism and disdain of the press at CPAC has drifted and found a surprising target—one of the major sponsors of the event, Fox.

Richard Hedges, who drove from Houston to the Dallas confab, said he hasn’t watched Fox News since November, when he said the outlet became increasingly anti-Trump. While Hedges said he occasionally watches NewsMax, he said he mostly reads things he finds online.

The far-right Gateway Pundit picked up on the CPAC trend, boasting in an article that attendees are removing their lanyards because Fox News’ streaming service, Fox Nation, is listed as a marquee sponsor.

“Fox Nation sponsored the whole CPAC, and then they’re deplatforming Ivory [Hecker] when she’s talking at CPAC with Project Veritas,” said Beth Anne Keller. “It’s horrifying. It’s like we are in Communist China… screw you Murdoch.”

On Saturday, The Daily Beast witnessed Ivory Hecker accusing a Fox staffer of censorship. “You cut the live feed while I was speaking on stage last night,” Hecker said. He later posted a video of the confrontation on Twitter.

A spokesperson for Fox Nation said the feed was never cut and that the service had already stopped streaming the event.

Hecker previously worked for the local Fox outlet in Houston until she was fired after interrupting a live on-air report to accuse the station of “muzzling” her.

Several women in Hecker’s videos said they don’t watch Fox. “I will never watch Fox. I watch One America News Network,” one said. “That’s all I watch.”

While the majority of Republicans still say they regularly watch Fox News, according to two recent polls in March, the same polls suggest a growing core of conservatives are increasingly gravitating toward far-right outlets like Newsmax or One America News Network.

This shift occurs at a time when the share of Republicans who trust the media is at an all time low. As of 2020, only 10 percent of Republicans say they trust the media “a great deal,” compared to 73 percent of Democrats and 36 percent of independents.

These changes in media habits appear to be reflected in the media habits of CPAC attendees. Out of dozens of attendees that were asked by The Daily Beast, fewer than half said they regularly watch Fox. Most said they don’t trust mainstream media at all.

Carl Lautenschlager, who came in from Washington state, felt similarly. He said he never watches Fox and occasionally watches Newsmax. Lautenschlager said he mostly reads things he finds on Telegram channels or CloutHub. CloutHub is a social networking app similar to Parler that has become popular among conservatives as fringe-right influences have been banned from Twitter and Facebook.

For those who said Fox News was a part of their regular media diet, some emphasized that it was a decreasingly significant part.

“Sometimes I watch Fox, but I don’t like it anymore,” said Jamie Honeycutt, a resident of a suburb of Dallas. Honeycutt said she likes The Epoch Times, but also relies on Ground News, an app that allows her to compare news stories from different sources.

While Honeycutt said she occasionally watched Newsmax, she said wasn’t as much of a fan of outlets like OANN, which she believes are too divisive. “It depends on what your end goal is,” Honeycutt said. “Do you want a civil war, or do you want to bring the country together?”

Grizzly Joe, a conservative podcast host who made headlines on CNN for saying that Trump lost the election, said that he does still watch Fox News, and that those who no longer do are upset over Fox’s decision to call the election for Biden.

“A lot of those people are people who got angry because Fox called the election too early,” podcast host Grizzly Joe said. “The people who say don’t watch Fox News are very set in their beliefs and are not interested in hearing other views.”

According to research by FiveThirtyEight, Republicans who get their news from OANN or Newsmax tend to be more extreme in their beliefs. Those who prefer OANN and Newsmax are more likely to believe in QAnon theories, to oppose getting vaccinated, and to agree that the election was stolen.

Joe said he occasionally watches Newsmax, a growing favorite among CPAC attendees, but said that some outlets are too fringe for his taste. “I cannot watch One America News Network, because if I pay to watch them, I’m also supporting InfoWars, because they’re a part of the same package.”

Joe said his disdain for InfoWars stems from the conspiracies they peddled after 9/11. “My earliest knowledge of them and Mr. Jones is that they were 9/11 truthers who say it was a setup,” Joe said. “I was an NYPD officer on 9/11. I was there. I have very little patience for anybody that said 9/11 was a setup.”

But plenty of attendees didn’t hold the same reservations with supporting outlets that increasingly traffic in conspiracy theories.

Darrin Martin, an oil and gas executive from the Frisco area, said that he still regularly watches Fox News, and while he occasionally tunes in to CNBC and CNN, he increasingly supplements it with OANN and Newsmax.

“I think they’re all good,” Martin said. “Just different sources.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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