In this installment of Politico Is Not Neutral Ever, senior media writer Jack Shafer takes liberals to task for criticizing Fox News. But he doesn't stop there. He also hammers Bruce Bartlett's study proving Fox News is bad for Republicans.
But Fox in its current incarnation is neither a help nor a hindrance. Fox News—and its Svengali Roger Ailes—aren’t the Republican kingmakers they’re made out to be. I explored this point last month, noting that the network is better at employing presidential candidates than electing them. Whatever ambitions Ailes and Fox chief Rupert Murdoch may have to elect a president—in 2012, Ailes had his heart broken by Chris Christie and David Petraeus, both of whom declined his invitation to run—their first priority has always been to make money, which Fox News does, clearing a reported $1.2 billion a year. If you think of Fox News as a news-entertainment hybrid designed to make money, its combative programming style begins to make more sense.
Oh, I see now. We're just supposed to look at Fox as entertainment wrapped in newspaper. Gosh, when you look at it that way, then of course it stands to follow that no viewer actually believes the crap Fox spews, right?
For Shafer, it's all a big joke. I'm guessing he hasn't actually had the pleasure of sitting down to a family dinner with brainwashed Foxites and crazy Uncle Liberty, to borrow a phrase from driftglass.
Like many Fox critics, Bartlett inflates the network’s power. Fox’s most popular program, The O’Reilly Factor, pulls in about 3.3 million viewers on its best nights. In a country whose voting-age population exceeds 234 million, 3.3 million ain’t squat. What’s more, the O’Reilly/Fox audiences aren’t even uniformly Republican! According to a Pew survey from 2012, 45 percent of O’Reilly viewers (and 55 percent of Fox viewers) self-identify as independent or Democrat, which means many of the eyes and ears absorbing the Fox message are only tangentially connected to Republican politics. It’s comic to think of Democratic and independent Fox viewers pushing the Republican Party further to the right.
Well, then. Since they self-identify as Independent or Democrat, there isn't a damn thing to worry about, am I right? Shafer missed the part in that survey where they broke down the Indie/Dem split. 30 percent Independents, which we can reasonably translate to the Tea Party/Libertarian side of the Independent grouping, and 15 percent Democrat, which likely translates to the last few remaining Southern Democrats who haven't re-registered. Or the LaRouche contingent, though I doubt they number in the double digits on any scale. Hardly your mainstream definition of those two groups.
That same Pew survey shows that 60 percent of Fox viewers self-identify as conservatives, which blows the rest of Shafer's statistics right out of the water.
In a much quoted television interview five years ago, conservative Republican David Frum said, “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we’re discovering we work for Fox.” Bartlett repeats Frum's quip as his paper’s kicker. But catchy as the Frum line remains, it’s just not true. The Fox tail does not wag the Republican dog.
Sure, it doesn't. That's why the crowded Republican primary field is elbowing each other in the teeth while saying more and more outlandish things for attention in order to land that coveted spot in the first Fox News debate in August. Any candidate facing the prospect of being bumped after one lousy poll knocks their average down to 11th spot isn't going to agree with that statement.
And that's all before we get to the nonstop hate pouring out of that place, the unending echo chamber Fox News has spawned to churn out right-wing hate memes faster than the mashed potato bowl can be refilled at said family dinner, and the outright lies they've spread about policy.
Does anyone think Mike Huckabee would have a prayer in the primaries without that six-year gig at Fox News? Would Sarah Palin have been as influential as she was during the health care debate without Fox News? How about Betsy "Death Panel" McCaughey?
Fox News serves up hate and propaganda on a daily basis, for one purpose only: To keep conservatives angry and hateful so they'll support policies that actively work against their own interests. I don't care if the average Fox News viewer is age 68, because that 68-year old votes. Ailes and Murdoch know it too.
"Many conservatives live in a bubble where they watch only Fox News on television, they listen only to conservative talk radio -- Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, many of the same people," Bartlett told CNN's Brian Stelter on Sunday. "When they go onto the Internet, they look at conservative websites like National Review, Newsmax, World Net Daily."
"And so, they are completely in a universe in which they are hearing the same exact ideas, the same arguments, the same limited amount of data repeated over and over and over again. And that's brainwashing."
Mr. Shafer is arguing that brainwashing is a good thing, as long as you remember that it's just entertainment wrapped in newsprint. What sane human being argues that point seriously?
On a more serious note, Fox News is responsible for far too many interventions into our policies and politics, going all the way back to the 2000 election when they called Florida before California polls had closed. That wasn't entertainment. It was intervention.
Fox News wasn't the only cable station to sell the Iraq War hard to Americans, but they're certainly the top cable station pounding the drums for more war now. That's not entertainment. It's warmongering.
Fox News has done more to promote billionaire-funded think tanks as legitimate than any other media outlet online or on air. That's not entertainment. It's propagandizing.
Apparently Politico doesn't require its media writers to actually watch that thing they're defending, or Shafer would have backed away from his keyboard slowly before writing that kind of apologist tripe.