Foxitis: Not Guilty by Reason of Sean Hannity?

Updated: Dec 30, 2021

Anthony Antonio has attempted to shift the blame for his actions in the 2021 U.S. Capitol riot onto Fox News and President Trump himself. Such claims open up an old debate within media studies on just how direct of an influence mass media holds over its audiences. So just how reasonable a claim is it?

Antonio’s claim that Fox News made him do it is, as previously discussed, based on an outdated view of audiences as passive and uncritical. To dispute the direct effects of this hypodermic needle model one need only look at the role played by Fox News hosts and the aforementioned President in the build up to the event.

Research by sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld suggests that most audiences are influenced by these opinion leaders rather than directly by the media itself. This two-step flow theory recasts Antonio along with all other audience members into the proactive role of choosing from whom they will get their analysis and opinions.

This theory has, however, faced criticism, as there are seemingly more than two steps between the media and its audiences. Antonio’s own defence indicates that his exposure to Fox News came not from personal choice but under the influence of a new group of flatmates he moved in with six-months prior to the riot.

Communications scientist Joseph Klepper has gone as far as to say that these other influences, including school, family, community and church, have far greater effects on our opinions than mass media ever could. Perhaps pandemic isolation overrides Klepper’s claim, but Foxitis still seems an overly-simplistic defence.

Catch our Cambridge Skeptics: Live! discussions on this and other media influence as well as the social influence on Anthony Antonio and the others involved in the 2021 United States Capitol attack.

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