There’s nothing Fox News enjoys more than a good culture war. When President Trump first attacked protesting NFL players, Fox happily piled on, yakking about millionaire athletes for hours and hours. Any time a celebrity blows off steam, from Samantha Bee to Robert De Niro, you can be sure Fox & Friends, Tucker Carlson Tonight, and The Ingraham Angle will be hooting and hollering in ridicule. Now there are new targets for Fox News: Prominent producer-writers like Seth MacFarlane, Judd Apatow, Modern Family’s Steve Levitan, and How I Met Your Mother creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas have all been tweeting against Trump’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the border. But there has been virtually no derision from the Fox talking heads. Why? Because Apatow has done something no prominent celebrity has done before: He has made the connection between Fox News, Fox’s entertainment division, the Rupert Murdoch family that owns 21st Century Fox, and their unceasing support of everything Trump says and does.
This is crucial. Apatow is articulating for millions of his followers what some of us have been saying on a smaller scale: that the misinformation and anger stirred up by Fox News every single day is having a terrible effect on the country, making millions of people less knowledgable about the facts and far more rude in civic discourse. Beyond that, Apatow’s tweets connect to the business motives behind this.
Apatow began with tweets about the immigration crisis, writing: “It’s important to speak up when your boss is the propaganda arm which promotes putting children in cages and holding them hostage so Trump can build a wall. What other stars, showrunners or executives from Fox will speak up against this madness?” But now he has broadened his attack: “People don’t want to deal with the fact that when you work for any part of Fox you are supporting a family which has made billions lying and manipulating our citizens for their personal financial gain. Now that includes supporting the kidnapping of children.” Apatow has starting using the hashtag #boycottfox and tweeting, “You can’t just boycott Fox News. You have to boycott Fox everything. Movies, TV, sports, business, books. Shut it all off. Stop buying. They support the kidnapping of children and babies…”Apatow’s ideas are spreading. That’s almost certainly why Trevor Noah did this Daily Show segment Tuesday night, which concluded with him exhorting his viewers to “get on the phone and call the people who can do something about this. I’m not talking about Congress. I’m talking about the policy makers at Fox News.” He ran Fox’s phone number on the screen.
How do I know this line of attack is potent? Because the Fox News heads have not been sniping at Apatow. Because Tucker Carlson on Tuesday night refrained from calling Seth MacFarlane by his name when Carlson alluded to “one famous liberal” who “donated two and a half million dollars to NPR”—which MacFarlane did specifically in response to Tucker Carlson’s command to his viewers to believe the opposite of everything they hear from every news source other than Fox News.
Unless I’ve missed it, there hasn’t been much of a specific response to Apatow’s or MacFarlane’s tweets on Fox. Certainly there have been none of the usual Fox segments, complete with interviews from sympathetic voices, eager to tear down the latest “liberal” plot. That’s partly due to the fact that the subject framing this — the immigration crisis — is running heavily against Trump and Fox in public sentiment: It’s no longer a “liberal” or “conservative” issue. But it’s also due, I think there’s no doubt, to the fact that Carlson and his colleagues have to tiptoe around direct criticism of their bosses. Tweet away, Judd!