The Fox Effect: Gas Prices Are A Perfect Example


[h/t VideoCafe]

This is not a post about rising gas prices, despite the title of the video. No, this post is about something else entirely. Rising gas prices just happens to be the convenient topic.

I've just finished reading "The Fox Effect" by David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt. For those of us who have lived every painful minute of the past three years, reading this book is no less painful, nor will it offer many revelations. What it does offer, however, is a strong, well-argued case for the anti-American techniques they use to indoctrinate and hypnotize their audience into believing the lies they spew. Beginning with the history of Fox News and Roger Ailes' vision for "conservative television," the book takes the reader through how Fox News is structured, what their goals are, and how they've changed since Barack Obama was elected President.

For those people smart enough to keep Fox News out of their living room, it is an instructive and safe walk through their process. For those of us who have actually watched it over the past three years, it feels like having a root canal six times over.

Still, the book really should be shared with as many people as possible, if for no other reason than to save them from the consequence of too much Fox viewing; namely, being a misinformed citizen, which harms our democracy. On page 168, the authors describe "The Fox Effect," as it relates to fake controversies like Shirley Sherrod and ACORN. But it's far more than that. They also use the same techniques and distorted facts to create fear and discontent for fun and profit. The gas price rise is a shining example.

  1. Conservative activists introduce the lie, or in this case, assign blame for something that happens every year with regularity. For purposes of this illustration, we look to the February 14th front page of The Drudge Report, which ran this zillion-point headline: Gas Price [sic] Up 83% Under Obama.
  2. Fox News devotes massive coverage to the story. The video at the top illustrates this better than anything I could write. Just watch Ed walk through the breathless Fox News reports about how gas prices are up, and domestic oil production would fix everything. Everything!
  3. Fox attacks other outlets for ignoring the controversy. Steve Doocy, on February 16th, snarked his way through this accusation on Fox and Friends:

    "As you look at the price of oil going through the roof, and nobody's talking about it, this has the opportunity to disrupt what some are saying, 'oh look, good news for President Obama. The economy is getting better.' Not if gas prices mess it up."

    Stu Varney on Fox Business Network, Varney & Co:

    "[Obama is] benefitting from the drop in the unemployment rate to 8.3%, and the growing perception in the polls that things are getting better and ultimately, with the Republican party divided, there needs to be some force outside the system to question that narrative for him to be hurt. Gas prices could be it."

    So in this case, they didn't call out other networks by name and complain that they were ignoring it. That would be what they've done with the ridiculous Fast and Furious nontroversy. Still, what they told viewers was that Fox, and Fox alone, had the real key to destroying Obama's chances for re-election due to a Very Real Crisis That Would Doom Us All. Just for good measure Brent Bozell, founder of Media Research Center, chimed in on February 23rd criticizing the media, who he claims continue to downplay the story to help Obama.

  4. Mainstream outlets begin reporting on the story Dutifully, CNN picked up the story on February 17th. Brian Williams reports with furrowed brows on February 20th that high gas prices could have serious political ramifications. He had also reported on February 14th that gas prices were pinching the middle class, but not with the lede that there might be political ramifications. That came six days later. Jake Tapper and George Stephanopoulis discuss "Rising Gas Prices as a Political Football" on February 21st.
  5. Media critics, pundits praise Fox News' coverage. Alex Alvarez, writing for Mediaite, asks "Is the Media Fearful of Taking On Rising Gas Prices Under Barack Obama?" on February 20th. Former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino complains that the media is giving Obama a pass but blamed Bush for rising gas prices, also on February 20th, also reported by Mediaite. I fully expect to have all Sunday shows address it with the assistance of John McCain, John Bolton, and a few other notable Republican repeaters.
  6. The story falls apart once the damage is done. This is an ongoing story, but there are already cracks in the armor. President Obama, for example, came out today with the strongest criticism of Republicans', and by extension, Fox News' message around gas prices. Here's what he said, and it's in the video at the top just before the Fox echo chamber to get the full visual effect:

    Now, some politicians they see this as a political opportunity. I know you’re shocked by that. (Laughter.) Last week, the lead story in one newspaper said, “Gasoline prices are on the rise and Republicans are licking their chops.” (Laughter.) That’s a quote. That was the lead. "Licking their chops." Only in politics do people root for bad news, do they greet bad news so enthusiastically. You pay more; they’re licking their chops.

    You can bet that since it’s an election year, they’re already dusting off their 3-point plan for $2 gas. And I’ll save you the suspense. Step one is to drill and step two is to drill. And then step three is to keep drilling. (Laughter.) We heard the same line in 2007 when I was running for President. We hear the same thing every year. We’ve heard the same thing for 30 years.

    Well, the American people aren’t stupid. They know that’s not a plan, especially since we’re already drilling. That’s a bumper sticker. It’s not a strategy to solve our energy challenge. (Applause.) That’s a strategy to get politicians through an election.

    Toward the end, this:

    Now, none of the steps that I’ve talked about today is going to be a silver bullet. It’s not going to bring down gas prices tomorrow. Remember, if anybody says they got a plan for that -- what?

    AUDIENCE: They're lying.

    THE PRESIDENT: I’m just saying. (Applause.) We’re not going to, overnight, solve the problem of world oil markets. There is no silver bullet. There never has been.

    Which, of course, squares with what economists and other political analysts are echoing throughout the current spate of articles about rising gas prices. And Jared Bernstein has a little note in his post Thursday about his concern about oil prices, with this caveat included:

    [Note: re: the current Republican efforts to ding the president on rising prices at the pump, I'm with Brad Plumer. I'd probably go further and point out that domestic production, including nat gas, is way up, petroleum imports, including crude, are down, and in fact, 2011 was the first year in decades that we were actually a net exporter of petroleum products -- see figure here. So the dude's got good street cred on the production side; it's just that he doesn't control the global supply... (not to mention seasonal effects).]

    That post references Ezra Klein's post which also points out that Nate Silver could not find a direct correlation between gas prices and electoral outcomes.

So what could we possibly conclude from all of this? Well, gas prices are rising. People can see that with their own eyes at the gas pump. The reasons for the rise relate to tighter supplies and not any cutbacks in domestic production. Strike one, Fox News. The Keystone XL pipeline would not change the prices; in fact, there is very little a president or policymakers can do to control the volatility of oil prices. Finally, it may not have any impact on the outcome of the November 2012 election if historical trends are an indicator.

All of these conclusions contradict the Fox News conclusions, which are as follows: President Obama actually wants gas prices to go up to $5.00 in an election year, he intentionally slowed production in order to cause diminished supply, and hammering him with the fact of higher gas prices is a sure-fire way for Republicans to win in November.

Hence, the Fox Effect. Just for fun, go hang out in a hotel bar where Fox News is on and ask a few people what they think about how expensive gas is, and whose fault it is. You'll be able to pick out the hardcore Fox Watchers from the casual ones right away.

As for "The Fox Effect", the book? Highly recommend it both as a reference source, a memory refresher, and something to suggest to friends and family who really, really miss Glenn Beck. There's lots of pages devoted to his madness in the book. By the time you're done reading it, you'll be able to identify the Fox Effect too, and point it out before the lie magically becomes fact.


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