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Fox News is getting pummeled by former evangelists. And it could get worse.

You no longer need to take the word of the network’s many critics.

It’s not every day you see a former employee condemn the media company they helped build as a malevolent force in American public life. But for Fox News, it sometimes feels that frequent. A slew of Fox veterans — out of genuine remorse, a desire to rehabilitate their reputations, or a combination of both — have sounded the alarm in recent years over the network’s unhinged demagoguery and virulent pro-Trump propaganda.

Last week, three onetime Fox executives who helped plot Rupert Murdoch’s rise became the latest veterans of his media empire to denounce the network he founded. Preston Padden, Ken Solomon, and Bill Reyner apologized for having “unknowingly helped create the Fox disinformation machine” in a joint statement published Wednesday.

Padden, Solomon and Reyner join a growing list of former Foxers who came to similar conclusions.

The trio had not worked for Fox News — they helped Murdoch launch Fox Broadcasting Company in the 1990s as an alternative to ABC, CBS and NBC — but nonetheless felt compelled to speak out given the right-wing propaganda channel’s “many negative impacts on our society.”?

“Arguably the worst has been Fox’s role in promoting Trump’s ‘Big Lie’ about alleged widespread fraud in the 2020 election and, in our opinion, Fox’s role in contributing to the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol that undermined our democracy,” they continued. “The reputation of the Fox brand we helped to build has been ruined by false news.”?

Padden, Solomon and Reyner join a growing list of former Foxers who came to similar conclusions in recent times. For years, these people cashed Murdoch’s checks, willfully blind to Fox News’ role since its inception as a Republican Party megaphone. But as the network became increasingly unhinged, aided Donald Trump’s ascension to the leadership of the GOP, and then reinvented itself as his personal propaganda apparatus, they became increasingly uncomfortable with the network’s role, called it quits, and spoke out.

The result is that you no longer need to take the word of the network’s many critics that Fox News is a dangerous cesspool. You can hear it from the people who know the network best: the longtime staffers who helped turn it into a political force,?“news side” stalwarts who participated in Fox’s fiction that it operated like any other outlet, right-wing commentators who also happened to be Trump skeptics, and executives overseeing its operations have all come forward warning about their former employer.

Carl Cameron, Fox’s former chief political correspondent, was both one of the network’s earliest hires and among the first to see the writing on the wall when he retired in 2017. He later explained that he had left because “over the years, the right-wing hosts drowned out straight journalism with partisan misinformation.” Those hosts, he pointed out in a 2019 interview, were “allied” with Trump, and had access to the then-president that was “questionable, if not dangerous. It’s not normal.”

The result is that you no longer need to take the word of the network’s many critics that Fox News is a dangerous cesspool.

Ralph Peters, the former Fox strategic analyst, is no soft-headed lib — he’s a Islamophobe whom Fox once suspended for calling President Barack Obama a “total p—-” on-air. But in 2018 he left the network, writing in a blistering op-ed that he was unwilling to continue working for a network that was “propagandizing for the Trump administration” and engaged in an “assault on our constitutional order.” He later told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that “with the rise of Donald Trump, Fox did become a destructive propaganda machine” that was “doing a great deal of damage” to the United States and whose hosts were “knowingly attack[ing] our Constitution, the bedrock of our system of government, the bedrock of our country.”

Fox anchor Shepard Smith drew well-earned plaudits for years for being the rare Fox employee willing to forcefully debunk the right-wing falsehoods propagated by his colleagues. As the network sank deeper in the Trumpian fever swamp, he held on, explaining that he worried about whom Fox would put on the air in his place if he left. But in October 2019 he had apparently had enough and stunned his colleagues by announcing his abrupt departure from Fox on-air. He later explained “that his presence on Fox became untenable as opinion shows on the network spread falsehoods that hosts knew were lies,” as CNN put it.

Joseph Azam, a former senior vice president at Murdoch’s News Corp., left the company in 2017 over the xenophobic rhetoric he saw on Fox. “Scaring people. Demonizing immigrants. Creating, like, a fervor — or an anxiety about what was happening in our country,” he told NPR. “It fundamentally bothered me on a lot of days and I think I probably wasn’t the only one.”

The breaking point for conservative media veterans Stephen Hayes and Jonah Goldberg to leave their jobs as Fox contributors in November 2021 was, according to Hayes, Tucker Carlson’s “truly dangerous” hagiography of the Jan. 6 rioters. Soon after, longtime anchor Chris Wallace followed them out the door. “I’m fine with opinion: conservative opinion, liberal opinion,” he told The New York Times. “But when people start to question the truth — Who won the 2020 election? Was Jan. 6 an insurrection? — I found that unsustainable.”

“Some people might have drawn the line earlier, or at a different point,” Wallace added. “I think Fox has changed over the course of the last year and a half. But I can certainly understand where somebody would say, ‘Gee, you were a slow learner, Chris.’”

Wallace is surely a slow learner compared to his former colleagues who reached their own limits more quickly, as are the three executives who spoke out last week. But the only lesson the network’s brass seems to have learned from the last several years is that their own power and paychecks are at risk whenever Fox is perceived as straying from Trump’s camp. And that means the future likely holds more former Fox employees expressing remorse over the extremism machine they helped assemble.

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