The year is 1893 and Clark Stanley, the self-styled “Rattlesnake King,” is preparing for his big moment at the World’s Exposition in Chicago. Fairgoers have already been wowed by Otis Brothers’ elevator exhibit, George Washington Gale Ferris’ giant wheel and Thomas Edison’s kinetoscope.
But they haven’t seen Stanley yet. According to the story:
“He reached into a sack, plucked out a snake, slit it open and plunged it into boiling water. When the fat rose to the top, he skimmed it off and used it on the spot to create ‘Stanley’s Snake Oil,’ a liniment that was immediately snapped up by the throng that had gathered to watch the spectacle.”
Of course, Stanley’s Snake Oil wasn’t real. It neither contained actual snake oil nor was it a salve for much of anything. It was merely a worthless potion disguised as medicine. Years later, Stanley faced federal prosecution, was fined $20 and America had its first “snake oil salesman.”
And that’s exactly what came to mind as Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) read aloud the text messages Fox News hosts sent to former President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, as part of the Jan. 6 commission Tuesday evening.
The texts beg Meadows to implore Trump to do something to end the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, where thousands of his supporters were smashing windows and doors, yelling “Hang Mike Pence” and breaking into congressional members’ offices in an attempt to overturn the democratic election. As we all know now, the day ended in horrific tragedy and violence, with multiple people killed and more injured, including police officers.
Fox primetime host Laura Ingraham texted, “Hey Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home… this is hurting all of us… he is destroying his legacy.”
Morning host Brian Kilmeade texted, “Please get him on TV. Destroying everything you have accomplished.”
And Sean Hannity texted, “Can he make a statement?... Ask people to leave the Capitol.”
Even Trump’s son, Don Jr., was seemingly appalled. “He’s got to condemn this s—t Asap. The Capitol Police tweet is not enough.”
Trump, by all accounts, was unmoved.
Pumping poison to drive up ratings
Of course, all of these people spent the months leading up to the insurrection feeding into Trump’s big lie on Fox News, convincing their viewers the election was stolen, even as the very same network declared Joe Biden the winner.
And they would spend the next 11 months dismissing the severity of the attempted coup. They would blame other actors, like Antifa and Democrats and the FBI, for what Trump supporters did.
They’d attack the merits and value of investigations and hearings into what happened that day. On her show, Ingraham cackled grotesquely as she handed out best performance acting awards to the police officers who were physically attacked that day and testified on the Hill.
All the while, these same people knew what really happened on Jan. 6. They knew it was bad, begged Trump to stop it.
If these folks aren’t the definition of snake oil salesmen, I don’t know what is.
They’ve used their influential platforms to sell concocted grievances and false remedies to millions and millions of people, knowing it was all, put simply, made up.
The election wasn’t stolen. Trump wasn’t robbed.
But they heaped this and other garbage on their viewers night after night, knowing it would anger and incite them. Because there was no penalty for lying. Fox bosses were all too happy to pump poison into people’s bloodstream, so long as ratings were up.
And over the years, as advertisers fled, so too did Fox News’ credible journalists and principled conservatives, from Shep Smith in 2019, to Jonah Goldberg and Stephen Hayes last month, to Chris Wallace last weekend.
They all know better
It seems like an exchange Fox is willing to make: Keep the liars happy, lose the inconvenient truth-tellers.
Why? Because the Fox mantra seems to be that there’s a sucker born every minute, and it’s the job of Hannity, Ingraham, Tucker Carlson, et al, to convince them of a non-existent ailment and then sell them the newest tonic, potion, tincture.
It’s heartbreaking on the one hand, because I know so many Fox viewers who truly, deeply believe that these people are not only telling them the truth, but what they personally believe in.
But make no doubt about it, they all know better.
“This is hurting all of us.”
“Destroying everything you have accomplished.”
“Ask people to leave the Capitol.”
“He’s got to condemn this s—t.” That’s what they really think, not what they sell on TV and social media day in and day out.
Whether you believe that makes them snake oil salesmen, or people who have sold their souls, or maybe just sell-outs, one thing is clear: They do not care if what they’re selling is real — only that you buy it.
S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.
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