The Cult Of Foxonality™ Part II

A little over two years ago I wrote an article titled, The Cult Of Foxonality™. It’s premise was that…

“Fox viewers appear to be more loyal to Fox than to Republicans or conservatism. This misdirected allegiance bestows a far more influential authority onto a media entity than ought ever to be considered. It suggests that the bombastic demagogues that Fox has shaped into celebrity anchors truly do weigh down their transfixed disciples.”

That piece employed an analysis of ratings and viewer habits at the time that confirmed that Fox News viewers were wedded to their cable hearth and would not be moved. Subsequent events reinforced the theory. For instance, prior to the election, a Rasmussen poll reported that nine out of ten Fox News viewers intended to vote for John McCain. That’s a higher percentage of McCain voters than amongst Republicans.

Recently, Fox News has been building on their ratings dominance. In an attempt to understand why Fox would be increasing their audience at a time when Republicans are reaching new lows, I revisited the cult hypothesis. No other model adequately explains the stark divergence of the fates of Fox News and the Republican Party.

Looking at the current cable news landscape, there is an obvious separation of the primary players. Fox News is far and away the leader. MSNBC is the spunky challenger that has recently overtaken the old master, CNN. It would be easy to assign labels that reflect the partisan programming philosophy of these networks. However, in truth, there is only one truly partisan network among them.

Fox News’ success is firmly rooted in its primetime lineup. With Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Greta Van Susteren all easily winning their time periods. Add to that Glenn Beck’s arrival that has put him in competition with perennial leader O’Reilly. But it doesn’t stop there.

Fox’s business anchor (and head of their business network) is Neil Cavuto, an aggressively conservative advocate for right-wing viewpoints. Fox’s Washington editor is the blatantly partisan Bill Sammon. The White House correspondent is the equally biased Major Garrett. The Fox morning program is an almost laughable cliche of wingnut dunces.

Compare that to MSNBC’s schedule that consists of only two reliable liberals. Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow. [Edit: Add Ed Schultz] Chris Matthews swings both ways and is close buddies with folks like Tom Delay and Rudy Giuliani. Their morning program is three hours hosted by the conservative Republican, former congressman, Joe Scarborough. (Can you imagine Fox News giving three daily hours of airtime to a liberal Democrat?) CNN has become devoid of any personality at all. Their leading figures are null types like Larry King and Anderson Cooper. Although Lou Dobbs does stand out a bit.

So here is the interesting part. Glenn Beck was on CNN just a few months ago with nowhere near the audience he has today on Fox. CNN’s Dobbs, and MSNBC’s Scarborough are as conservative as anyone on Fox, but they can’t duplicate those numbers. What this tells us is that cable news success has little to do with partisanship. If it did, Dobbs and Scarborough would be doing Fox-like business, and Beck would not have had to move to Fox to find an audience. But he did have to move. Because Fox viewers, despite their obvious idolization of him now, were not going to go to CNN to see him. And it wasn’t because they didn’t know who he was. He was already the third biggest star on talk radio.

Therefore, the key to the popularity of Fox is that it is Fox. Their viewers are not interested in programs that feature the same ideology if presented on other networks. CNN could hire Sarah Palin and she would flop. But not on Fox. In fact, I would wager that if Dobbs and/or Scarborough shifted to Fox, everyone would be astonished at their newfound popularity.

Fox is the home of the forlorn, conservative, tea bagging, town howler. They have found their happy place, and they have no intention of moving from it. It is what gives them solace in a time when liberals (or socialists/fascists) have taken over the House, the Senate, and even put a dark-skinned, Muslim, illegal alien in the White House. They need the camaraderie. They need the affirmation. They need the reassurance that the world isn’t crumbling beneath them (or in Beck’s case, that it is). They are even marketing the Fox Nation web site with the undisguised message of a promise of togetherness.

It’s just so sad. I think I’m gonna cry. But that would be Glenn Beck’s shtick.


10 thoughts on “The Cult Of Foxonality™ Part II

  1. If I’m not mistaken, FOX also reassures them that they’re not quite as dumb as, deep down inside, they know they are. Or that dumb is actually a virtue, an asset, a desirable quality. After all, the anchors are either charlatans playing dumb or genuinely as dumb as the audience.

    • I’d go with the latter: “dumb is actually a virtue.”

    • for them, ignorance IS a virtue

  2. i would like to see the demo’s broken down into region, and age…. who under 60 is watching greta? who with an education is watching fox. i also believe that much of the audience is not with fox, but watching to see a ‘lonesome rhodes’ momement…. human nature just makes you want to watch someone die or a car wreck…..

    also, how many tv’s is fox buying to boost ratings, i.e. airports and other places that has a deal to show only fox…

    • There was a survey done that broke TV viewing out by party and by region. It’s pretty interesting. See it here.

  3. In trying to reason out the apparent contradiction of Fox News Channel’s popularity at a time when Republicans are about as popular with the American People as tooth decay, poison ivy, and snake bites, don’t neglect to consider the source of this supposed measure of Fox’s popularity:

    Nielson ratings.

    Are Nielson ratings above reproach? Are they beyond being influenced and corrupted by money? Do the people who oversee the sampling of television viewers at Nielson (and sampling is all they do in this regard), do they have politics and political opinions?

    Recall how Walden O’Dell at Diebold had his own political opinions, and how while he had no power to influence what the American People actually thought or felt about George W. Bush (whom O’Dell supported strongly), he did have the power to skew our perceptions of American political opinion, by way of (perhaps) skewing electronic vote counts.

    No one at Nielson would do any such thing, would they? I mean, they can’t skew vote counts (because they’re not in that loop), but they are the single collector and reporter of their own narrowly sampled television ratings, and they wouldn’t exercise that power for any financial (corrupt) gain or for any quasi-political purpose would they?

    Didn’t News Corp sue Nielson a few years back, over a proposed change in Nielson’s methodology, and didn’t Nielson settle that suit (and save their dominance in that industry), by compromising with News Corp?

    Again, consider the source of the information that you believe tells you how popular Fox News Channel is with the American People (in direct contradiction with the crashing and burning of the Republican Party nationally).

    I have no more reason to trust whoever collects and reports Nielson’s narrow sampling of the American People’s television viewing habits, than I have to trust Diebold’s counting of electronic votes… while neither of them can actually influence and manipulate the political opinions of the American People (as Fox News Channel does daily), they can both electronically skew the appearance of those opinions.

    And again, remember that News Corp sued Nielson, and settled into bed with them.

    • First of all, the suit you are referring to actually had a positive effect on ratings accuracy. Fox Entertainment (not News) identified some real problems with under-representation of minorities in Nielsen’s sample. This was of concern to Fox because they were programming a bunch of black-themed shows at the time, like In Living Color. So Fox’s interest in this was self-serving, but it was also correct.

      That said, I have long suspected that the cable news ratings were simply wrong. It doesn’t make sense to me that there would be such huge divergences between Fox and their competition (and public opinion). My inner conspiracy theorist suspects dastardly individuals embedded in the system who are purposefully distorting the ratings data. But I have not seen any actual evidence supporting that.

      Of course, Nielsen has been criticized for years for outdated and inaccurate methodologies. So I don’t fully trust their product. But right now, it’s all we have. And the producers and advertisers are still relying on them to decide where to direct billions of their dollars.

      • A ‘cult hypothesis’ requires believing that millions of Americans are being charmed by unseen or occult forces, whereas the corruption of Nielson’s ratings requires the efforts of only a few people, whose interests are either financial or political, and who have great sums of money at stake, not only now but for years to come.

        Your graph above shows a remarkable rise in FNC viewers (not Fox Entertainment viewers), all of it measured by Nielson, and despite the fact that the political opinions that FNC broadcasts, are less popular right now than are House and Senate Republicans (whose dwindling ranks are the certifiable register of that fall in popularity).

        And that same mysterious rise in FNC viewers (mysterious for how out of sync it is with the certifiably registered electoral political opinions of the American People), happens to coincide with the time frame following News Corp’s settlement of their very threatening lawsuit against Nielson.

        As a theory, it may be more conspiratorial than the ‘cult hypothesis’, but it’s also less peculiar and ethereal, and certainly fits into how I think American politics (and business too) is played.

    • I think you miss the point being proposed.

      Fox gets the ratings it does because, and only becuase, its followers, those who watch religiously dare I say?…
      are cultists, primarily fundamentalists, even if they aren’t practicing fundamentalists.
      they always act the same. they find something to agree with, and so long as there is nothing abhorrent to them (unless its also shot down by their narrow viewpoint) they are loyal, and far worse, they are believers.
      there really IS a fox nation, and it hovers between 18 to 30 percent of our tv viewership, and yes I just pulled those numbers out of thin air. Which is exactly how this stuff works. welcome to the reality of an idiocracy, and why town hall corporate paid shenanigans work at all. there are more of us willing to believe, than there are of us willing to cry shenanigans… my apologies to the right wing trey parker and matt stone..though I’m equally certain they stole it from someone else.

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