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Fox News broadcasts Sen. Roger Marshall’s anti-Asian conspiracy theory

The network allowed a Republican senator to spread unsubstantiated claims about Chinese massage parlors on the air.


As we head into this year's elections, Fox News is again pushing anti-immigrant bigotry, no matter how contrived the story sounds. This time, the target is Asian Americans.

On Sunday, Republican Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas went on the network to spread a conspiracy theory that massage parlors owned by Chinese Americans are part of a decadeslong scheme by China’s government — and the Triads, a Chinese gang — to infiltrate and influence the U.S. 

Marshall's broad conspiracy theory centered on the assertion that an “explosion of massage parlors” and other Chinese American-led businesses in Kansas and other parts of the U.S. is part of “the next chapter” in deceased dictator Mao Zedong’s supposed mission to wield nefarious influence over U.S. politics.

The rant was steeped in stereotypes. He claimed the Triads deploy “Harvard-trained” lawyers and accountants backed by China’s government to make the parlors look legitimate and launder money for what Marshall alleges are really hubs for human and drug trafficking. He repeated claims that China is helping Latin American drug smugglers bring fentanyl across the border. And he claimed that China is sending women to work in U.S. massage parlors who’ve been sold “into sex slavery for the rest of their lives.”

As in many of these conspiracy theories, there are some facts buried beneath the wild-eyed claims. There have been massage parlors linked to prostitution, but you'd have to go back at least 15 years to find a big federal bust in Kansas. But to jump from there to a vast conspiracy involving the Chinese government, Chairman Mao and fentanyl without any evidence is irresponsible and illogical.

Asked by anchor Maria Bartiromo toward the end of the interview if the FBI and CIA were aware of these claims, Marshall said he had "no idea" and that he was getting his information only from "my sheriff's officers" and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

It's bad enough that this kind of speculative nonsense is coming from a U.S. senator, but allowing him to spread it on cable TV with little pushback from the hosts is even worse. Unfortunately, it's par for the course at Fox News lately.

Late last week, Manhattan prosecutors cleared a migrant man who’d been accused of attacking a New York City cop of wrongdoing after it was revealed the man wasn’t even at the scene of the attack when it occurred. Fox News gave the initial allegations breathless coverage and appears to have quietly parked a reference to the charges’ being dropped on its website.

Similarly, Fox host Sean Hannity had to issue a correction in February after airing a segment in which he showed the conservative group the Guardian Angels attacking a man falsely accused of being a migrant and shoplifting. 

Inspired by Fox News’ anti-immigrant coverage, I had “The Birth of a Nation” on the brain over the weekend. For the unaware, that’s director D.W. Griffith’s racist film from 1915, designed to stoke resentment of free Black people — with several highly dramatized scenes.

As Stanford professor Allyson Hobbs wrote for The New Yorker back in 2015, many viewers of the film saw the dramatic scenes as “facsimiles” of the racist version of American history they held as truth. 

Hobbs said:

When the film was released, many members of the audience believed Griffith when he claimed that these scenes were “historical facsimiles” that represented the actual truth. To these viewers, who had been worked up into “a perfect frenzy,” as gossip columnist Dorothy Dix wrote, the film provided a way of understanding what happened when enslaved people were freed and foisted into positions far above their station. Griffith’s birth of a nation does not occur as the war-weary North and South struggle to rebuild the country after the war. Instead, the birth itself occurs once the bright promises of racial reconciliation and Reconstruction were scuttled. “The Birth of a Nation” became part of the edifice of the Jim Crow regime of legalized segregation that would last for the next forty years.

With its anti-immigrant coverage, Fox News is heading down a similar path. It is working its audience into that “perfect frenzy” Dorothy Dix wrote about — no matter the veracity of its stories — with hopes that it will pay off politically for the conservative movement.