Pursuing power with propaganda: The ties that bind Brnovich and Fox News

February 24, 2023 7:17 am
Mark Brnovich 2019 inauguration

Mark Brnovich in 2019 at his inauguration for a second term as attorney general. Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Maybe Mark Brnovich should get a job hosting a show on Fox News. 

It’s clear that Arizona’s former attorney general and the propaganda channel’s premier hosts share the same instinct for lying to their followers about invented election fraud claims for purely selfish reasons. 

On Wednesday, the world learned that Brnovich both hid the results of his office’s thorough — and resource-intensive — investigation into the 2020 election fraud conspiracies that have become orthodoxy in the modern conservative movement. And what little he did say, in a highly unusual “interim report” released last spring, was full of half-truths and prevarications that his staff told him were wrong.

Brnovich’s moves are strikingly similar to how Fox News’ top primetime hosts and company leaders behaved in the wake of the 2020 election. Their off-camera opinions were made public last week in a devastating filing by election equipment company Dominion Voting Systems as part of the firm’s defamation suit against the conservative cable outlet. 


Fox’s top hosts and network executives were texting each other and noting that the election conspiracy theories were entirely bogus. But while hosts like Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham privately bashed the claims of ex-President Donald Trump — and those put forward by surrogates like Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani — Fox’s talking heads were undeterred in presenting those lies to their viewers. And they tried to get the company’s actual journalists fired for fact-checking those lies.

Fox News executives were willing to turn a blind eye to the obvious falsehoods they were airing on a daily basis — all because they were afraid that their viewer base would defect and instead change the channel to upstart rivals like Newsmax, which were fully invested in the conspiracy theories. 

One Fox reporter who fact-checked a false claim was told she “needed to do a better job of respecting our audience,” while CEO Suzanne Scott wrote to Lachlan Murdoch (the son of Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch) that, to maintain the “trust” of viewers, the network had to let them know “we hear them and respect them” by airing support of the Trump-fueled conspiracy theories.

The idea that “respecting” people is best done by lying to them is a twisted justification for acting in a purely self-interested way. 

But Brnovich knew firsthand the consequences of telling the truth to a Republican electorate that has been conditioned for decades — first by right-wing talk radio, then by Fox News, and now by an entire online conservative media ecosystem that creates an alternate reality for its consumers — to believe Democrats are out to destroy America and accept any and every lie from Trump and his comrades on the right.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2020 election, Brnovich went on Fox and threw cold water on the nascent election denialism movement, telling the audience that the “reality” was that Joe Biden won the election and there was no apparent evidence of any fraud that swung the election.

Doing so arguably sunk his bid for the U.S. Senate months before it actually began. Brnovich had not only enraged the burgeoning “Stop the Steal” movement, but he outraged Trump, who took any and every opportunity to savage him both before and after he jumped into the Senate race.

Back then, Brnovich was a straight-shooter who wasn’t shy about challenging the status quo within his own party. But he abandoned all of that in a quixotic attempt to win the love of the MAGA faithful who were essential to winning an election. He pivoted hard to questioning the election to curry favor with Republicans, but only in vague terms and with no commitment that he would do the “perp walks” demanded by misinformation vectors like state Sen. Wendy Rogers and then Rep. Mark Finchem. 

Along the way, he advanced widely debunked conspiracy theories, spread fear about elections that undercut faith in our democratic process and hid the results of an investigation by his own office, which found there was no proof — not a single shred — that 2020 was affected by fraud of any kind.

But Brnovich couldn’t go full Big Lie. The only major candidate in the race who didn’t offer a full-throated endorsement of the “2020 was rigged” conspiracy, GOP voters rejected him for it.

Telling the truth to Arizonans, and to America, about the 2020 election wouldn’t have changed Bronvich’s fate in 2022. But it would have been significant to have the state’s top law enforcement officer tell people the truth they need to hear, even if they disregard it: Our elections are safe, secure and reflect the will of voters.

Instead, Brnovich showed that he cared more about pandering to the anti-American forces that dominate his party in his raw pursuit of political power.

He’ll fit in perfectly on Fox News.


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Jim Small
Jim Small

Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications. He has also served as the editor and executive director of the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting.