Beware the deadly new disease spreading across America: ‘Foxitis’

·5 min read
<span>Photograph: Julio Cortez/AP</span>
Photograph: Julio Cortez/AP

Fighting Foxitis

For decades a debilitating disease has been spreading across America. Risk factors include being over 65, Republican and white. Symptoms include unhinged muttering, delusional thinking and an irresistible urge to storm the Capitol. The disease is called “Foxitis” and a lawyer called Joseph Hurley, who is representing alleged US Capitol rioter Anthony Antonio, wants us to believe his client is suffering from it.

Antonio lost his job at the beginning of the pandemic and spent the next six months sitting at home watching Fox, Hurley told a DC court on Thursday. “He became hooked with what I call ‘Foxitis’ or ‘Foxmania’ and … started believing what was being fed to him.” According to Hurley, Fox brainwashed Antonio into believing Trump wanted him to march on Washington as part of a patriotic movement.” Now Antonio is facing five charges over his role in the January riot.

It seems unlikely that Hurley’s inspired defense will get Antonio off the hook. Particularly as a number of alleged Capitol rioters have, in a similar move, already unsuccessfully tried to blame the former president for their actions: a tactic that has become known as the “Trump defense”. (Gotta love rightwingers! While they love to talk about individual responsibility, they seem incapable of taking any themselves.) That said, while it may not end up getting a judge’s seal of approval, “Foxitis” is no joke. Unlike affluenza, another disease-defense dreamed up by a lawyer, Foxitis is something we should all take very seriously indeed.

Fox may not be able to take over your brain and force you to do things in the same way that weird parasite that turns ants into suicidal zombies does, but it is hard to overstate the network’s outsize influence. A number of studies suggest that Fox News’s coverage of the pandemic, which was characterized by racism and misinformation, may have caused its viewers to take the coronavirus less seriously, for example, with consequences to public health. Now Tucker Carlson, who was one of the few Fox News hosts who actually took the pandemic seriously early on, is diversifying his usual racist rants with dangerous anti-vaxxer propaganda. Weirdly, he never seems to mention that his boss, Rupert Murdoch, was one of the first people in the world to get the vaccine. Murdoch got his jab in the UK in December 2020: the King of Misinformation got vaccinated three weeks before the Queen of England.

Fox isn’t just a danger to public health, it’s a danger to democracy. It spent months amplifying Donald Trump’s lies about the integrity of the 2020 election; it may not have forced people to storm the Capitol, but it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t in some way responsible for inciting the riots. Antonio and his fellow alleged rioters shouldn’t be the only ones on trial: Fox should be too. And, to some degree they are, the network has been sued for $1.6bn by the North American voting machine company Dominion, which has accused the network of defamation. Media Matters has also started a campaign, unfoxmycablebox.com, urging people to ask cable carriers to drop Fox News from their packages.

Ultimately, however, lawsuits and protests are not going to be enough to fully eradicate Foxitis. Particularly as the disease has multiple variants, including the particularly nasty Facebookitis. Misinformation will never go away. However, we can and must inoculate people against it. How? By heavily investing in education and media literacy. I’ve quoted Audrey Tang, Taiwan’s digital minister before, but I don’t think this point can be stressed enough: misinformation is a virus and the only way to get it under control is to build what Tang calls “nerd immunity”.

Texas is trying to pass an extreme abortion ban

The state that supposedly loves small government is attempting to pass a draconian law banning abortions after just six weeks of pregnancy. To be clear: that’s two weeks after a woman misses her period. What’s more, Texas wants to allow private citizens to be able to sue doctors or anyone else who may have helped someone get an abortion after that time limit. So to recap: rightwingers think gun control is oppressive government overreach but extreme uterus control is totally fine.

New Ugandan sex crimes law may undermine LGBTQ+ rights

Uganda’s sexual offences bill has been praised for outlawing sexual harassment but it also criminalises gay sex and sex work.

Apple’s new AirTags could be used by stalkers

Apple recently came out with a small $30 tracker you can clip on to things like keys so you can locate them. Which is basically a dream product for a controlling partner. “I don’t expect products to be perfect the moment they hit the market, but I don’t think they would have made the choices that they did if [Apple] had consulted even a single expert in intimate partner abuse,” one cybersecurity expert told the Washington Post. Tech companies seem to have a blind spot when it comes to women’s safety.

*cough* My book is now for sale *cough*

We interrupt this newsletter to bring you a shameless plea to pre-order my new book. It’s called Strong Female Lead and it’s about how we desperately need to reassess what effective leadership looks like.

Looking for other feminist books to read in the meantime?

I can recommend Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons by Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Also: White Feminism by Koa Beck; See What You Made Me Do by Jess Hill. The latter is also now a documentary series.

Malian woman gives birth to nine babies

The nonuplets are all doing well, thankfully. As for the mother? If I were her I’d be having a mini panic attack. I do hope she’ll be getting a lot of help!

The week in panicarchy

As if a pandemic wasn’t enough to deal with, an out-of-control Chinese rocket is due to crash back down to Earth this weekend. Nobody knows where it’s going to land, but it’ll probably be the ocean. Jonathan McDowell, astrophysicist at the Astrophysics Center at Harvard University, summed up the situation for the Guardian in layman’s terms: “It’s potentially not good.”