Analysis of media issues, politics and current events.
The GOP finds itself losing a winning presidential election, losing party members in both the House and Senate, woefully out of line with national polling and groups of voters across demographics that it desperately needs to maintain credible status as a national party. The GOP is looking at itself trying to figure out the problem.
Is this all Mitt Romney’s fault? He was a flawed candidate, but no. He was a flawed candidate in a flawed party. A party we need to function to make our system work. If you want to find the ultimate source of GOP problems and its dysfunction, you’ll find it’s headquartered in New York: Fox News.
Fox News. The cable news outlet that has successfully frustrated liberals for years, is now reaping some of what it has sowed. Not financially, as a business model, it’s still doing well. But that success has created political karma. A comeuppance now working against the goals Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes laid out in his prototype proposal for Fox News (forged back in the Nixon Administration): “A Plan for Putting the GOP on TV News.” To promote GOP candidates to office and fanning issues that anger voters for viewership and political mobilization.
Fox News works on a business model that thrives on maintaining a media environment of frightened, reactionary, low information news viewers (who are simultaneously convinced by the same network, they’re brave, have all the facts they need) and giving those viewers a target to express their anger. Instead of Goldstein in 1984, it’s liberals, ACLU, Muslims, etc. Fox News has fostered an unwelcoming and irrational information environment that makes it increasingly difficult for more mainstream or coalition-building candidates to thrive within the GOP. I would argue its powered a lot of the RINO (Republicans In Name Only) hunting to oust moderate members of its own party. This even though Roger Ailes himself is a dedicated moderate and sees his creation ultimately helping establishment Republicans more than fringe elements.
Fox News and a bubbled sphere of talk radio and books have successfully created and outlined a distorted world filled with invisible existential threats and conspiracies. Sharia law. Anchor babies. Agenda 21, The War on Christmas, Benghazi. While any real policy issue of any intricacy is treated cynically and its apparent lack of overt danger or foul play analyzed as a sign of a greater conspiracy. A vicious swirl of paranoia that reminds you of the GOP in the 1950 John Birch Society days.
As a business model, this works great for Fox News and its shock and scare media brothers. The end-of-the-world rhetoric sells seats and fixes eyeballs. It’s an infotainment business model that’s created an audience, profits, political celebrities and, unfortunately, an alternative reality that over the years has made many of its viewers (Rich, poor middle-class, educated or not) politically autistic; unable to function and respond appropriately to political issues in the world of empirical facts.
Fox News has created a class of viewers and voters who respond more to what they viscerally abhor more than the working the real problem faced. All their intellectual energy is spent solving the pettier sliver of an issue than the big issue. We’ve seen this group more concerned getting a gay solider out of the Army than if soldiers are getting treatment they need. Where people don’t flinch when politicians are asking you to look on the bright side of a rape…or if a rape is real.
Fox News has exposed its audience to a constant stream of anger-producing stories. So much, that its audience and the GOP have come to define themselves by what they are against. Not what they are for. So the party and its people have lost the ability to think big, promote big policies – to lead, not just react.
The growth and influence of Fox News and its brethren made Fox News a player in the political ring by giving politicians what they want: an audience that can be easily influenced and motivated to act on any issue for the GOP with a predictable Pavlovian response. I stopped watching Fox News regularly when I realized, I merely only have to check my friends’ Facebook feed or see my conservative-leaning friends at Starbucks to learn the latest Fox News talking points – nearly in real time, parroted by users word for word. I only go to Fox News to see the actual source. A marketing achievement most Fortune 500 companies would orgasm over if they achieved that level of consumer message retention and adoption. Fox News achieves it consistently.
Its messaging success has cemented Fox News role as near (but not complete) marketing arm for GOP and conservative issues rather than an information center. Positioned as giving viewers “the other side” of the story, Fox delivers stories that express the point of view/conspiracy/outrageous angle that makes a clear or emotionally-driven argument for a desired policy than actually explaining it. On numerous occasion Fox News has been so in lock step with GOP policy positions, on-air talent have been caught red-handed reading stories directly and word-for-word from GOP press releases.
Despite this, Fox News, and many of its on-air talent, are considered part of the most respected “news” organization in America. Even though, like most cable outlets, it does very little news gathering. For Fox News, its ability to gain that level of respect and public trust is its true power and political currency. It’s like having a pit bull (the public) that listens to your commands. A pit bull so fierce, the command politicians and other media outlets become afraid of is if Fox News yells, “attack!” To have Fox News or its brethren sic its audience against you is a risk you don’t take.
As Fox News used its power to frame the issues and motivate those people to vote. Viewers seeing Fox News as “the truth” reflexively listen to Fox like a dog looks to its master (while Fox gives them the illusion they are coming to the same decision independently). And as the source of truth, viewers started looking to the people on Fox (hosts, pundits) for national leadership and direction. It’s on-air talent preferred over active politicians.
It’s not a confidence four of the seven GOP candidates that got in the 2012 GOP presidential nomination race came fresh off the Fox News exposure circuit. Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann were frequent guests. Political celebrities, now ridiculed for many of their ideas, yet Fox News spent countless hours of airtime holding them all up as thought leaders. The public saw them and agreed, pushing each to the top as the GOP frontrunner in the presidential nomination race before each burned out in a flame of incompetence and crazy.
That event was the first indication that Karma for Fox’s previous sins was kicking in. That, against a weakened president and a bad economy, the GOP could only produce a candidate pool where the smartest, biggest thinking and most idea-driven candidates (Jon Huntsman, Tim Pawlenty and until seen as a last resort Mitt Romney) were the first dismissed. Then, instead turned to the candidates with the most jaw-dropping statements or small-minded issues and said, “Wow, please, go on…”
That should have been the “uh oh” moment for Fox News. And it likely was. But first and foremost, Fox News is a business. Its huge profitability is what funds Rupert Murdoch’s other media ventures globally. And he wants to keep it that way. So the business side, successful from all the eyeballs glued to this growing train wreck and seduced by the red meat of the candidates blaming Obama for just about anything, said “keep going.”
Fox News created this distortion field of world events and issues. That in turn has created distorted candidates, who in order to be accepted by conservatives, only spoke those distorted issues. This created candidates that can’t come to the political center for mass public appeal without losing their base. Instead, they are forced to spend a debate fighting over alternative universe issues in the same disturbing way you might be alarmed watch your grandfather having a full on argument about gun control with a sofa.
Though Fox News head Roger Ailes has expressed regret a giving a forum to Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement, Fox News officially won’t take responsibility for what it’s created. What company open disparages its profitable product? Officially, Fox News would likely say that it doesn’t tell it audience to anything. It’s fair and balanced. Besides “fair and balanced” being the standard for a trial and not truth gathering, Fox News’ framing of issues created a world of threats and dangers that have driven some of their viewers beyond reason and smart judgment. What’s worse is that viewers gladly surrender those tools the network itself because it’s the network they trust.
The bigger effect of Fox News is really no different than scaring someone so much that they jump out a window. You didn’t tell them to jump out of the window. You allowed them to perceive or believe an environment exists that makes jumping out window look like it’s the best option. So for people who believe Muslims are taking over. Frantically buying guns because Obama is going to take their guns. Hoisting upside down flags. And believing funding sidewalks on our streets are part of a UN conspiracy (Agenda 21) consider violent action or contemplating the end of America is not really an illogical leap.
Mitt Romney has gone away. That doesn’t solve anything because ideas and beliefs don’t go away as quickly. And Fox News viewers have a lot of them. That’s the problem. The environment that Fox News has created is making it very hard to the GOP to change and adapt to a world that has clearly changed. Right now, Fox News must now spend its energy hand-holding those viewers who wanted to “take America back” now in shock in the clear realization that America that isn’t theirs anymore lock, stock and barrel. And issues like Global Warming and Immigration can’t be dismissed as Democratic talking points as many of those issues are stubbornly asserting themselves as real-look-outside-your-window events.
Fox News’ success created the environment where the GOP and conservative voters are now intimately tied at the hip. Because Fox has the audience that supports the GOP, the politicians can’t move too far away from the Fox media bubble too fast and lose the constituency they have left. That, in turn, keeps them from any chance to seize the winnable political center anytime soon.
Fox News. What was once wings for the GOP, is for the moment, a political ball and chain.