First, a caveat to the leftist readers is in order. There is nothing wrong or improper to have a television network offering a conservative perspective on the news, the "other side of the story" as Chris Wallace put it in a recent conversation on Fox with The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart. (See clip below.) The problem arises when Fox staff and guests make false claims without offering follow-up corrections. The problems continue when they engage in race-baiting and stir up racial anxieties. The problems culminate when they advertise themselves as "fair and balanced" but are in fact to the (sometimes far) right, when they falsely claim to own the "truth" and belittle other media as "biased." The problem came to a head, not when they hired Glenn Beck, but when they refused to fire him after he absurdly claimed that the post-racial, President Obama, is a racist. Even with nearly 400 American corporations refusing to run advertisements during Beck's show on Fox, his boss, Roger Ailes, claimed that Beck had to leave Fox before his contract was completed because Beck was too busy with his own, non-Fox projects. "His goals were different from our goals… I need people focused on a daily television show,” he said. Even as the left celebrated Beck's departure from Fox, another theory suggests the decision was more tactical than a matter of Beck's "focus" or there lack-of.
Fox, as everyone watching the news recently knows, is owned by Rupert Murdoch. The British side of his media empire is under fire for a scandal where staff on one or more of his papers there allegedly hacked into the phone voice mail of thousands of people and allegedly bribed police officers for information on media targets. Whether this ends up affecting the American side of Murdoch's media empire and Fox specifically or not is yet to be seen, but the most interesting point about this major news story for the point of this essay is the dearth of coverage about it on Fox. As Mediaite reported, Fox News Watch, a media criticism show on that channel, did not even mention this scandal two weekends back; and the whole network has covered this story only lately. The details of the lack of coverage by Fox about this scandal was covered on July 15th on Countdown with Keith Olbermann by guest host, David Shuster. Via Current TV:
How Fox selectively covers news is only one point of this summary, and whether or not Fox is ever affected by the ongoing scandal is moot for the purposes of this review. Another point of contention here is how Fox handles criticism from the "mainstream media." Via The Daily Show's website, Jon Stewart explains:
Fox staved off criticism of Beck's outrageous and absurdly false narratives for 30 months with their mindset that "elitists" were not happy with his extremist, reactionary opinions, but -- as we've shown here -- that is pure bunk. Beck's vitriolic, anti-Semitic, race-baiting and violent rhetoric combined with his convincing lies, distortions and other false claims are what made Beck unacceptable for a supposed news channel. Millions of Americans have been "dumbed down" because they believe what Beck has said on Fox "News." That is a point that Jon Stewart has made convincing.
honest commentator or deceitful propagandist?
However, Beck was acceptable to Fox chairman and CEO, Roger Ailes, and Fox owner, Rupert Murdoch, because Beck was useful. Beck did, indeed, help push the American electorate to the right for the 2010 elections with his support of Tea Party candidates and propaganda against their opponents. Between the ideological push from the program hosts and guests on Fox and the seven-figure contributions to the Republican Party during that election cycle from the parent corporation, NewsCorp, they managed to essentially stop the Democratic President from completing his agenda in the second half of his term. Glenn Beck had served his purpose on Fox. His lies, ignorant and false claims, violent and vitriolic rhetoric, race-baiting, fear-mongering and absurd and baseless conspiracy theories suited Ailes' (political) purposes; but Beck was too much of a wild card to keep in 5:00 slot. Ailes' explanation, that Beck wasn't focused, doesn't hold up when one considers that Beck has never been focused solely on his hour on Fox.
In service to the 2010 electoral goals of Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch, Glenn Beck was brilliant. It did not matter that Beck is an ignorant genius of reactionary, yellow propaganda because propaganda is what they do at Fox. Put another way, Beck's genius for propaganda is precisely what mattered to Ailes and Murdoch. That was hinted in the video above by Eric Boehlert, and that case has been made by others on this Review. Fox is a channel of propaganda. It is a corruption of news. It is not fair and balanced. If they were balanced, there would be several hours of opinion and commentary shows with liberal hosts to give the other side of The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity and The Five (Beck's replacement show).
This view is re-enforced by author Jonathan Schell in a piece published on Truthout entitled "The Fall of the House of Murdoch." In it he wrote:
The Murdochs call News Corporation a journalistic enterprise. In fact, it is, first, an entertainment company, with the bulk of its revenue coming from its film and television holdings. Second, and more importantly, it is a propaganda machine for right-wing causes and political figures.Writing a column entitled "In Defense of Murdoch," Roger Cohen wrote that "Fox News...has with its shrill right-wing demagoguery masquerading as news made a significant contribution to the polarization of American politics, the erosion of reasoned debate, the debunking of reason itself, and the ensuing Washington paralysis." Fox is not a conservative news network; the principles behind it use the news segments as a fig leaf to cover the true purpose of the channel, i.e., propaganda in service to the Republican Party.
This is News Corporation’s main face in the US, in the form of Fox News, whose hallmark has been relentless propagation of right-wing ideology. Whereas political propaganda had once been the domain of governments and political parties, Fox News is formally independent of both – though it overwhelmingly serves the interests of America’s Republican Party.
If Fox News survives the ongoing scandal of its owner, Murdoch, it will likely continue in this propaganda mode rather than exercising the discipline of getting facts correct, even with a conservative spin. If Republican activist Roger Ailes remains at the helm, then Fox will almost certainly continue to serve up red meat to the Republican base rather than focusing on getting the facts straight and consistently issuing corrections when they do not, the way legitimate news organizations do.
If Fox is to become a legitimate, conservative, fact-based news channel, it is going to have to go through some changes. The owner(s) will have to get rid of Roger Ailes. There will have to be a quality control program implemented to insure that facts are respected and not distorted for partisan purposes; and, if they want to retain the slogan "fair and balanced," then Fox will have to become genuinely balanced with opinion programs on the left. Otherwise, that slogan will continue to be the first lie coming from the channel of propaganda that is Fox "News." Finally, if Fox is forced to change as a result of the retirement of the 80 year old Murdoch, then the next time they latch onto someone like Beck, who uses outrageous and false claims for the purpose of increasing his viewer ratings, whose focus is on himself and his own events rather than current events, they will need to let the absurd clown go before a boycott cuts into the profits of the organization.
Glenn Beck lasted 30 months on Fox not because the channel is conveying news with conservative bias or otherwise. Beck lasted that long because he was a useful tool for Roger Ailes. Beck was shown the door before his contract expired because his usefulness was exhausted and quite possibly he became a liability to the next project that Fox president Roger Ailes has underway: the electoral defeat of President Obama. Senator McConnell's goal (defeating Obama in 2012) is also most likely Roger Ailes' primary goal in the coming year (if keeping his job has not become his highest priority due to the ongoing scandal). The question is whether independent, swing voters will figure this out about Fox and come to understand that they need to get their information about the candidates from other sources such as the more genuinely fair and balanced CNN.
Fox tells right-wing ideologues what they want to hear. The diagram below helps depict both the right and far-right version of the news stories that they tell, and the concentric circles around the truth mandala symbolize fictions, false claims, distortions, smears, whoppers, etc. that one hears on Fox, particularly on the morning show, Fox and Friends, and on the "opinion" shows listed above.
Fox often circles the truth
By operating in a largely deceitful manner, as a channel of propaganda rather than a news network, Fox has become a "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" operation. Swift Boat Veterans ran a smear campaign in 2004 about presidential candidate, Senator John Kerry's, military service in Vietnam. Not everything on Fox is that blatantly false, but there is enough coverage of non-issues, such as the New Black Panther Party election "intimidation" story, along with a long list of other smears, distortions, false claims and out-right lies to warrant that observation. On MSNBC, "the place for politics," there is bias to the left. At least they are honest about that. On Fox, which claims to be "fair and balanced," there is not only bias to the right but also intentional deceptions. Beck actually went so far as to claim that Obama aligns himself with the New Black Panther Party! It is one thing to spin the facts and tell a biased version of the truth, but far too often Fox operates on the concentric circles of deception off any version of the truth.
This presents two problems. First and foremost, Fox is a channel of propaganda. Swift Boat Fox needs to be opposed broadly and peacefully. If Beck can generate a large boycott against his show for claiming that President Obama is a racist, then why can't Fox "News" be the successful target of a boycott because owner Rupert Murdoch agreed with Beck in that instance? This is the effort undertaken by Fox News Boycott dot com and the liberal media watchdog organization, Media Matters for America. Their efforts should be supported.
The second problem presented by a news channel that echos and amplifies the version of the facts and news stories of the right-wing echo chamber is that Americans become more divided by having two different understandings of reality as suggested by Cohen (above). To a certain extent, this has always been the case since there have been conservative newspapers long before there was Fox "News." However, it is becoming more difficult to solve serious problems the country faces when a large segment of the population is completely misinformed about the problems. Climate change, and specifically anthropomorphic global warming, comes to mind. There may be no greater, long-term threat to the United States and Western Civilization than what humans are doing to modify the climate of the Earth; and Fox undermines what needs to be done by spinning the dangers out of the issue and even making it a non-issue. If a well-informed citizenry is essential to a democratic government, then a misinformed citizenry is a danger to democratic institutions.
You can help independent voters become cognizant of Fox as a channel of propaganda by sharing this essay. If you are a blogger, point to the URL for this essay on blog rolls or in posts. If you have a friend or relative, who considers Fox to be a legitimate news source, tell/e-mail/tweet them about this summary. If they are open minded in the least, they may understand what Roger Ailes' project is really about and how a race-baiting, vitriolic propagandist like Glenn Beck lasted there as long as he did. If they are hard core ideologues, do not waste your time with them. Most likely, the thrust of this argument, that Fox is more propaganda and corrupt than a legitimate news (commentary), will only cause them to dig their heels in deeper in order to avoid what is called cognitive dissonance. That is how facts backfire.
Update, 7/22/2011: In a piece on Politico entitled "The evil of Rupert Murdoch," author Roger Simon explained that he once worked for a newspaper that Murdoch bought. Simon noted: "Murdoch was well-known in the newspaper industry. He had the same formula for almost all of his newspapers: Stories were to stress sex, violence, crime and racial discord." Racial discord! Watching Fox, it's clear that Murdoch is still stressing that and perhaps explains why he agreed with Beck that Obama is a racist in that instance.
Update, 7/23/2011: At the risk of adding more time to drive home the point about the real nature of Fox, the following piece by Jon Stewart does an excellent job of showing just how the network is less a news organization and more of a political arm of Rupert Murdoch. Via The Daily Show:
For a summary about Glenn Beck, see "Becoming Paul Revere"