In its latest propaganda push ahead of the midterm elections, Fox News hosted a focus group billed as a “panel of Virginia parents” to deride progressive and Democratic policies that was, in fact, largely made up of conservative activists, including a former Trump administration official.
This is not the first time Fox has presented a handpicked gallery of right-wing activists as an ordinary sample of concerned Virginia voters. The network employed the same strategy repeatedly throughout 2021 in the run-up to the Virginia gubernatorial race that year, during which the network actively promoted the successful campaign of Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin.
The six programming blocks on Friday’s edition of Fox & Friends totaled roughly 35 minutes of airtime. All the panelists delivered messages that went against progressive politics, with sales pitches ranging from a quasi-nonpartisan appeal to urging viewers to defeat every single Democratic candidate, and even warning against the supposedly looming threat of communism in America today.
The show opened with a brief look at co-host Ainsley Earhardt with the panel, as she asked them to raise their hands on which issues mattered to them in the midterm elections. The panelists indicated their concerns over inflation and crime, as well as other Fox-promoted scare campaigns such as “gender ideology,” while literally laughing at a question about climate change. The one panelist who said abortion was an “important” issue expressed his strong support for the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. (He is also a former official in the Trump administration, a fact that was not disclosed during the program.)
The panelists were in fact dedicated political activists, with nearly all of them having ties to various conservative organizations and Republican politics.
- Amie Bowman is treasurer of the Fauquier County chapter of the right-wing group Moms for Liberty, a right-wing group with ties to the Republican Party and which has received extensive promotion in right-wing media. Bowman’s own personal activities have included pushing to ban books from her local high school library.
- Will Estrada is a former Trump administration official, who worked for over three years in the Department of Health and Human Services. He is also a long-time figure in the Christian home-schooling movement, and is now the full-time president of Parentalrights.org. Earhardt noted Estrada’s foundation when she introduced him, but never once mentioned his prior role in the Trump administration.
- Christy Hudson and Bonnie Myshrall are members of Fairfax County Parents Association, which Myshrall initially founded under the name Open Fairfax County Public Schools “to lobby for a return to in-person learning” amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Cheryl Onderchain is a member of the Moms for Liberty chapter in Loudoun County.
- Fred Rege has been featured on Fox News before as a member of Fight for Schools, a political action committee led by Ian Prior, another former Trump administration official who has appeared frequently on Fox News.
- Xi Van Fleet is activist affiliated with the conservative group Independent Women’s Forum, which spreads the claim that America today resembles Maoist China under the Cultural Revolution, an argument she repeated throughout the Fox & Friends panel, and which the network replayed during the America’s Newsroom segment. (For some important context, the Cultural Revolution was a violent period of political and economic turmoil that resulted in the deaths of up to two million people over the course of 10 years, according to estimates by some historians.)
- Ram Venkatachalam was a rare exception to the dishonest presentation of the panel, as he and Earhardt openly stated that he’d previously run for school board and intended to do so again next year.
Smith’s introduction of the clips reel also demonstrated a pattern in which a Fox anchor announces what the election issues would be, then presents a Fox panel’s take on what to think about those issues. This was exactly what Fox did last year, too, as part of its saturation coverage of handpicked issues in the Virginia elections, and which the network is looking to repeat nationwide.