Frank Rich has written a lengthy, important and fascinating article in which he argues that Fox News is dying and that liberals play into its hands by paying attention to it. As much as I respect and admire Rich, I think he is dead wrong in his prescription. Let's discuss!
Rich's article is called: Stop Beating a Dead Fox The conservative news channel’s only real power is in riling up liberals, who by this point should know better. The title pretty well sums up his thoughtful piece.
I certainly agree with the first part of his premise, that Fox is dying. Rich writes:
Fox News is losing younger viewers at an even faster rate than its competitors. With a median viewer age now at 68 according to Nielsen data through mid-January (compared with 60 for MSNBC and CNN, and 62 to 64 for the broadcast networks), Fox is in essence a retirement community.
The million or so viewers who remain fiercely loyal to the network are not, for the most part, and as some liberals still imagine, naïve swing voters who stumble onto Fox News under the delusion it’s a bona fide news channel and then are brainwashed by Ailes’s talking points into becoming climate-change deniers. They arrive at the channel as proud, self-selected citizens of Fox Nation and are unlikely to defect from the channel or its politics until death do them part. (As Sherman writes, “Ailes’s audience seldom watches anything” on television but Fox News.) Hard as it may be to fathom, Fox Nation is even more monochromatically white than the GOP is, let alone the American nation.
But Rich seems to think that Fox's power is as frail as its audience:
Rather than waste time bemoaning Fox’s bogus journalism, liberals should encourage it. The more that Fox News viewers are duped into believing that the misinformation they are fed by Ailes is fair and balanced, the more easily they can be ambushed by reality as they were on Election Night 2012. We are all fond of quoting the Daniel Patrick Moynihan dictum that “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” But we should start considering the possibility that it now works to the Democrats’ advantage that Fox News does manufacture its own facts. Much as it lulled its audience in 2012 into believing that Romney’s “47 percent” tape was just a passing storm, so it is now peddling similar assurances about Chris Christie’s travails.
Rich also seems to think that Fox will just self-destruct if liberals will just get out of the way and let it do its thing. Rich cites the uproar over Megyn Kelly's "white Santa" comments as a case in point:
When this supposed “national firestorm” (as Al Sharpton inflated it on his MSNBC show) finally died down, only two things had been accomplished beyond the waste of everyone’s time. Liberals had played right into Fox’s stereotype of them—as killjoy p.c. police. And Fox News could once again brag about its power to set an agenda for its adversaries even as it also played the woebegone victim. “Because they can’t defeat us on the media battlefield, the far left seeks to demonize Fox News as a right-wing propaganda machine and a racist enterprise,” said O’Reilly when sermonizing about the episode on his show. “That’s why Miss Megyn got headlines about a Santa Claus remark that was totally harmless.” Fox News is a right-wing propaganda machine and at times (if not this one) a racist enterprise (witness, among other examples, its fruitless effort to drum up a “New Black Panther Party” scandal over some 95 segments in the summer of 2010). But O’Reilly was half-right. Kelly’s inane remark was harmless and unworthy of headlines. Without the left’s overreaction, there wouldn’t have been any pseudo “national firestorm.”
Those latter two parts are where Rich and I part ways. While Rich makes a legitimate argument that Kelly's "white Santa" comment did not merit the backlash it engendered (though I disagree), the fact of the matter is that "white Santa" is an easy-to-grasp soundbite that stands in for a larger picture.
For one thing, Fox is not just some lone, Voice of Aging Conservatives niche television channel. It's part of a very large echo chamber that includes other News Corp. properties such as the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal. Fox is symbiotic with conservative talk radio giant Rush Limbaugh and his ilk and, of course, the Republican Party. The GOP may be on its way out but just look at the way that they have stymied President Obama's agenda in the meanwhile. Gun control, for example, is overwhelmingly popular with most Americans. But Congress has been unable to pass a ban on assault weapons, even in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre. Guess which side Fox News has hyped?
In my view, the most dangerous aspect of Fox is its 24/7 regimen of hate mongering. Hate doesn't just sell to Fox's select believers, it has pernicious side effects for society and for those who may not have a cadre of followers to back them up. Just ask Ward Churchill (fired from his job after being targeted by Fox). Or Van Jones (he resigned from the Obama administration after being targeted by Fox). Or Dr. George Tiller's family (he was murdered after being targeted by Fox).
The sad truth is that Fox has power disproportionate to its small audience. I'd argue that the solution is for liberals to respond in an educated, forceful and strategic way, as opposed to getting "riled up." But whatever the answer, I think the worst thing for liberals to do is to turn their backs and tell themselves not to worry because it will all be over soon.
But propaganda is propaganda- If I found out a local school had “Mein Kampf” or “The Turner Diaries” on their AR lists, I would be livid. I know that both of them were written by authors who are largely discredited and almost universally reviled, but it’s the fact that they’re manifestos for an agenda that has been proven to be dangerous. A kid has the right to read it, but it’s criminally irresponsible of a school to provide that kind of material in their cirriculum.
The same goes with Fox News- It’s a hell of a debate whether or not they’re just practicing free speech, because they fall under all three exemptions (Defamation, hate speech and yes, they have been busted more than a few times in copyright issues.) They’re also clearly sporting an agenda, not delivering news or opinions. But until they cross into criminal consequences, they have their rights.
And trust me, the only way I see them stopping is if they cross the line enough to get the feds at their door. I think that even they realize they’re close to that, and that’s what the whole “fear the government,” and “censorship of Republicans” crap is about- They’re setting up the lash back against the law for when they get that far.
Humiliating them by throwing their own actions back into their faces is reining them in, but I have a feeling that we’re still gonna be keeping on them for years after they give up. So why even slow down?
] Just like talk radio, they would prop up right-wing TV in order to saturate the markets with right-wing drivvle just to dumb down the electorate. It’s a tried and true example of what a misinformation campaign can do for the bottom line of the wealthiest among us.
Eventually, all business’s will pay zero in taxes across the board and the rest of us will be working for whatever they decide they want to pay us.
And wait to see what hoops you and I will have to jump through just to be able to vote. Even then we won’t know if our vote will be counted.
Propaganda works…and Fox News knows it.
They’re still desperately chasing right-wing viewers as the solution to their ratings woes. Why else would they hand over an hour at 9:00 PM to S.E. Cupp to interview Glenn Beck, two utterly intellectually bankrupt and ugly right-wingers?
He’s correct that the Fox News viewership demographic is aging to the point that we can see they’re going to be in serious trouble in about 5-10 years. And we can see this anytime Mike Huckabee’s show is on, as it’s the only one where you can see a happy audience in the house.
He’s correct that Fox News, like Rush Limbaugh, greatly depends on angering non-GOP listeners who they know they can easily offend. There’s also an argument that there’s a good portion of both the AM radio audience and the Fox News audience that listens or watches specifically BECAUSE they disagree with the right wing spin. Frank Rich would have been on the money to tell left wingers to not help prop up what’s left of Fox News’ demographic in the ratings. (I note that Fox News viewers pride themselves on refusing to watch any other channels, which is why you see Fox News’ numbers up a little, and MSNBC’s numbers down.
I would argue that while Fox News doesn’t need any more publicity, and neither does Rush Limbaugh, when they say silly and desperately provocative comments, it’s still important to correct the record. Ten years or fifty years down the road, their misstatements will still be preserved in the internet. Right wingers will cite those misstatements in future publications, asserting that they are coming from a “legitimate news authority”. It is important, not just for now, but really for the future, to make sure that the Breitbarts and O’Reillys of the future cannot make their assertions without being challenged on their factual problems.
And while it’s clear that Rush is really becoming frantic with his statements these days, there’s still a long and sordid record of those statements that must be calmly and patiently debunked. Rush may be on his way out (He was taken off the primary right wing radio station in Los Angeles, KFI, and put on a much smaller range station that can only reach half the audience. And the departure of many of his advertisers has meant that it’s very strange to hear who will still put ads on his shows these days.) but he’s bound to try to make more trouble before he’s done. And when he makes vicious attacks, as he shamefully did against Iraq war veterans (who he called “phony soldiers”), Michael J. Fox (whose Parkinson’s condition he cruelly imitated on the air) and Sandra Fluke, he absolutely should be called out for his behavior. To silently ignore something that offensive is to condone it.
As for the behavior and statements of people like Megyn Kelly and Mike Huckabee, not to mention the other cast of Fox News characters, it’s important to call them out when they do something despicable. At the least, it gives them a chance to do the right thing, as on-air personalities at MSNBC have done when they have misbehaved. Strangely, the Fox News folks seem to enjoy doubling down on the hate, as we have seen. Which is probably a good thing for posterity. Twenty years from now, when unknowing students wonder about the virtues of people like Kelly and Huckabee, their misdeeds and their refusals to apologize for them will continue to be part of the historical record.
As another branch toward the future, I’ve noticed that it’s quite rare that you see anyone from Fox News that can get work at another network after they leave the Ailes/Murdoch embrace. Newt Gingrich took a check to work at CNN, but he isn’t a personality that was created at Fox News. Frankly, Gingrich was likely quite unhappy with Fox News’ pressure on him to jump out of the presidential race in 2012, and going to CNN was his way of thumbing his nose at them. But could you imagine Bill O’Reilly suddenly getting a gig at MSNBC? Or Greg Gutfeld or Eric Bolling? Not a chance. And these guys know it. They’ll enjoy their time at Fox News, and then likely need to either retire or try to get a daytime AM radio slot somewhere. A good part of the reason why is that the public is quite aware of what these people have been doing and why. Which means they no longer have journalistic credibility, and thus are practically unemployable anywhere else.