Ross Abramson, a software engineer and recent New York University graduate, had a fairly conventional news diet until recently. He regularly checked his phone for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. And as a Jew with an interest in Israel, he would browse a handful of outlets like The Times of Israel.
Then the brutal Hamas-led attack on Israel happened on Oct. 7, and Mr. Abramson found himself turning to an outlet he said he didn’t rely on much before: Fox News.
“Did I watch it religiously before? No,” he said, adding that he found Fox’s reporting and commentary on Israel’s military campaign in Gaza “less antagonistic for sure” than that of other news organizations. “You don’t feel as attacked,” Mr. Abramson said.
Fox News, long a preferred source of news for the right, has lately become an information refuge for American Jews who believe that the mainstream media has been too hostile to Israel.
It’s somewhat of an improbable alliance. Jews overwhelmingly identify as Democrats. And as the Republican Party came to embrace a more populist brand of politics that vilifies “globalist” corporate interests and wealthy liberal businessmen like George Soros — something many see as coded antisemitism — Fox News hosts and guests promoted those views.
But more than any of the major cable news channels — and perhaps more than any other major American media outlet — Fox News has wrapped itself in the Israeli flag in the weeks since the Hamas attack. Its coverage tends to emphasize the radical and antisemitic elements of the pro-Palestinian opposition, particularly on college campuses, while playing down the civilian casualties from Israeli strikes.
In recent days, a Fox News White House correspondent has sparred with President Biden’s press secretary over whether the administration would label anti-Israel demonstrators “extremists.” Its hosts have criticized the White House for announcing this week that it would put in place a national strategy to fight Islamophobia while hate crimes against Jews are on the rise. It debuted a new section on its website this week called “Antisemitism Exposed.”
As CNN and MSNBC went live on Tuesday with breaking news that Israel had bombed the Jabaliya neighborhood, the site of the largest refugee camp in Gaza, an entirely different scene was playing on Fox News: a segment from southern Israel reporting that two Israeli soldiers had been killed in battle and two others wounded.
There are no specific metrics available on the religious affiliation of Fox’s audience since Oct. 7, the day Hamas first attacked Israel. But ratings data from major metropolitan areas with large Jewish populations including New York, Miami and Los Angeles, show a spike in viewership that outpaces its rivals.
Since September, Fox News’s audience has grown by a larger percentage than CNN and MSNBC in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Washington and Miami. And in the New York market — the nation’s largest — Fox has lately beaten its left-leaning rival, MSNBC, by a few percentage points. In September, Fox was drawing 16 percent fewer viewers than MSNBC in New York.
Fox News — with the largest audience in all of cable television in recent years — draws a sizable number of Democratic and liberal-leaning viewers. Among viewers who are 25 to 54, the demographic most important to advertisers, Fox News had more people who identify as Democrats watching in prime time than either CNN or MSNBC, according to Nielsen data through August.
Critics of Israel have noticed Fox’s coverage, with some calling the network “Zionist propagandists” while mocking its coverage as turning a blind eye to Palestinian casualties. (One Fox story that recently came under attack featured a puppy who needed a home after his Israeli owners were killed in the Hamas assault.)
Some Jews who paid little attention to the conservative network in the past are now tuning in — and surprising themselves. In an interview with The Free Press, an outlet that has been critical of mainstream coverage of Israel, one liberal Jewish woman from Minneapolis said, “My friends and I are like, ‘My God, we find ourselves watching clips on Fox News.’ ”
One liberal Fox host, Jessica Tarlov, said in a recent appearance on “Real Time with Bill Maher” that her pro-Israel perspective put her out of step with younger Democrats but not with many of her fellow older millennials, some of whom recently started watching Fox News.
“My Jewish liberal friends will text me and they’ll say, ‘Oh, this is where you go in the afternoon?’ because they never watched Fox before,” she said.
Fox anchors, especially those who offer the most steadfast defense of Israel on their shows, insist that they are shining a light on reports of antisemitism that other media overlook and are displaying support for an American ally that is being wrongly vilified.
On Thursday, Fox broadcast its morning show, “Fox & Friends,” live from the Second Avenue Deli on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, a New York institution that bills itself as “an authentic Jewish culinary experience.” It was the site of antisemitic vandalism last month after someone drew a swastika near the restaurant’s back door.
Lawrence Jones, a co-host of the show, received a loud ovation from the patrons picking at their corned beef hash, bagels and scrambled eggs when he said the media hadn’t done an adequate job of reporting on Israel’s plight.
He singled out the coverage last month of a blast at a hospital in Gaza. Multiple media outlets initially said in headlines that Israel had bombed the site, citing an official in Gaza. Hours later, Israel said that the explosion was caused by an errant Hamas rocket. Those early reports, he said, were a “hoax.” (Fox News initially reported that Hamas claimed Israel was responsible, but also noted that Israel had not confirmed that.)
Then, referring to criticism that some outlets like Fox had been too pro-Israel, Mr. Jones said it was legitimate to pick a side in this conflict. “I think we’ve taken the side of life.”
One of the deli patrons, Elliot Galpern, who lives in Manhattan and works in real estate, thanked Mr. Jones off camera after the segment ended. In an interview, Mr. Galpern, a registered Democrat, said he couldn’t have imagined six months ago that he’d be turning to Fox News, which he said he probably would have laughed off as “fake news.”
Now, he said of Fox: “We’re very happy that they’re covering this. We’re not getting enough coverage. And it’s extremely important to see what’s going on.”
Mr. Galpern pulled out his phone to display headlines from Israeli publications that were reporting on various atrocities perpetrated by Hamas, as well as the group’s vows for revenge against Israel. “These should be headlines in the United States,” he said.
His sister, Ariel Stern, said she found Fox’s reporting to be a counterweight to the bias in other American media. “Any chance, it seems, to blame Israel, the media is on it.”
But Fox can also overreach. This week, the network was accused of Islamophobia after a host, Jesse Watters, declared, “We have had it with them,” referring to Muslims. A White House spokesman condemned the remarks.
Fox, as a corporation, has not only devoted extensive coverage to the Israeli perspective, it has also begun running public service announcements on Fox News and Fox Sports. One recent spot produced by Robert Kraft’s Foundation to Combat Antisemitism laments, “When one hate rises, they all do.”
In many ways, Fox’s coverage of the Israel-Hamas conflict is reminiscent of the way the network covered the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. Fox News anchors left little daylight between their commentary and the policies of the Bush administration. American flags and red, white and blue graphics rippled across the screen.
“This is our 9/11,” said Gilad Erdan, Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, in a recent interview on Fox News.