In a good example of a broken clock being right two times a day, right-wing writer/radio host/filmmaker John Ziegler argues that it is conservatives who perhaps should be the most ticked off about the power of Fox News, the Beast that Rupert and Roger Built:
[I]t is my belief that Fox News has, on balance, been horrible for the cause of conservatism in nearly every way.
Since Fox News began in 1996, Republican presidential candidates have won the popular vote exactly one time, and that was in the first election after 9/11 with an incumbent running for reelection against a terrible candidate. Even that win was by a small margin. That’s a popular vote record of 1-5. Conversely, in the six presidential elections before Fox News existed, Republican candidates went 4-2 with every victory being, by today’s standards, a complete blowout…
[Fox] not only created a dangerous bubble for conservatives, but it also facilitated a “star system” for conservative leaders which dramatically valued entertainment value over substance. When the goal of someone is to be popular, this inherently means that principles are arbitrary and, as we saw in 2016, at best, a nuisance.
Effectively, the Republican Party and the conservative movement outsourced its communication arm to an entity whose goal was to create a small, cult-like following for their economic benefit rather than a governing majority.
It’s obvious why Republican popular-vote numbers declined while Fox’s ratings rose. Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush also trafficked in race-baiting and the promotion of dubious policies, but these men had to pitch their message to people outside of the right-wing bubble that existed in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Once Fox News got going, Republican presidential aspirants like George W. Bush and Donald Trump realized that all they had to do was appeal to a highly motivated, Fox-fueled segment of the electorate and they’d slide right into the White House, even if most Americans rejected their policies. Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch clearly wanted Fox to change the fundamental dynamics of American politics–and unfortunately, they succeeded beyond their wildest fantasies.
Fox was a subset of the larger right-wing media mission to drag American politics as far to the right as possible. Trump in the White House is Mission Accomplished. Ignorance in power and in servitude to right-wing special interests was the goal, and the creators of this mission achieved their goal bigly.
Ziegler suggests that the right’s triumph is a Pyrrhic victory:
[T]he recent sexual harassment mess at Fox News has further [cemented] the public perception of conservatives as white male misogynists. This obviously doesn’t help with the long-term demographic problems Republicans still face despite Trump’s miracle win having temporarily masked them.
Personally, even though I have benefitted financially from appearances on the network in the distant past, I wish Fox News never existed. Media fragmentation in general has been one of the worst and most underrated developments in this dangerously divided country. While the news media of the pre-cable 1980s was very biased towards liberals, at least it was somewhat substantive and conservatives had a legitimate seat at the mainstream table.
Set aside for the moment Ziegler’s embrace of alternative facts when he claims the pre-Fox mainstream media was tilted left (sorry, conservatives, but Walter Cronkite saying we couldn’t win the Vietnam War was a statement of fact, not “liberal bias.”) “Conservatives had a legitimate seat at the mainstream table” back in the day because their arguments, while wrong on the merits, were at the very least stated in a manner that was not completely incoherent gibberish. Fox has made completely incoherent gibberish the official language of the right, which is why progressives find it difficult to carry on a conversation with conservative acquaintances. (Here’s a good way to demonstrate my point: if you have a conservative friend who thinks human-caused climate change is a liberal hoax, ask them why a conservative icon like Margaret Thatcher took the science seriously and called for action to curb carbon emissions. I guarantee you they’ll sound just like a groggy Sarah Palin as they struggle to formulate a response.)
As Ziegler suggests, Fox News is largely responsible for the dumbing down of the right. Before Fox, your average conservative was an ideologue who believed any number of flawed ideas, but was nonetheless someone you could at least have a semi-civil conversation with. After Fox, your average conservative thinks Donald Trump deserves to be on Mount Rushmore–and will scream at you if you disagree. That’s the legacy of Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes. That’s really something to be proud of, right?
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