Fourteen months. Fourteen long months of the most venal, histrionic, sensationalized, dishonest, and relentless crusade of disinformation, and what do they have to show for it?
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Fox News has been the official campaign headquarters for opposition to health care reform. They dispatched their top personalities to headline rallies and protests. They consigned thousands of hours of valuable air time to anti-reform politicians and pundits. They converted their studios into Republican platforms for electioneering and fundraising. They adopted the Tea Party “movement” so thoroughly that they even rode along on its bus tours and branded its events as Fox enterprises.
And they lost.
Fox News is fond of reminding everyone of their ratings dominance. Although the cable news universe is comparatively tiny (Fox News has less than half the viewers of the lowest rated broadcast news program on CBS), Fox incessantly boasts that it is the leader in the space. But the fallout from the health care debate ought to demonstrate precisely how little that victory means in the macro world of politics. If the number one cable news network cannot sufficiently move public opinion to produce a legislative victory after fourteen months of persistent propaganda, it would be folly to regard them as if they were some formidable bastion of power or influence. Yet that is exactly how they are regarded by their patrons in the Republican Party (and many in the press).
Last July I wrote an article describing how “Fox News Is Killing The Republican Party”
Fox has corralled a stable of the most disreputable, unqualified, extremist, lunatics ever assembled, and is presenting them as experts, analysts, and leaders. These third-rate icons of idiocy are marketed by Fox like any other gag gift (i.e. pet rocks, plastic vomit, Sarah Palin, etc.). […]
By doubling down on crazy, Fox is driving the center of the Republican Party further down the rabid hole. They are reshaping the party into a more radicalized community of conspiracy nuts. So even as this helps Rupert Murdoch’s bottom line, it is making celebrities of political bottom-feeders. That can’t be good for the long-term prospects of the Republican Party. […]
This is a textbook example of how the extreme rises to the top. It is also fundamentally contrary to the interests of the Republican Party. The more the population at large associates Republican ideology with the agenda of Fox News, and the fringe operators residing there, the more the party will be perceived as out of touch, or even out of their minds.
See also: As Fox News Goes Up, The GOP Goes Down
Undoubtedly, Republicans will still embrace Fox News. They are not about to abandon the media megaphone that they believe is most in tune with their agenda. Consequently, they will continue to be hampered by the association with unhinged hyperbole like this:
Glenn Beck: This is the end of prosperity in America forever if this bill passes. This is the end of America as you know it.
Hannity: If we get nationalized health care, it’s over; this is socialism.
Neil Cavuto: National Healthcare: Breeding Ground For Terror?
In an inspired fit of illogic, Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard appeared on Fox News this morning to accuse Democrats of being partisan. His evidence was that 34 Democrats voted with Republicans against the health care care bill, but no Republicans voted with the Democrats in favor. Of course, that’s actually evidence that the Democrats were NOT partisan. They demonstrated some diversity in their views while Republicans all marched in lock-step against the bill. In further support of this inane argument, Hayes may have uttered the day’s funniest, and most truthful, commentary:
“If Bart Stupak was a Republican crazy he probably would’ve stuck with his original position.”
I couldn’t agree more. Sticking with his original position against the bill, would certainly have qualified Stupak as a Republican crazy. And it is generous of Hayes to admit that holding the Republican view is tantamount to being insane.
Where do you go after you’ve argued that Armageddon will be the result if your alarms are not heeded (as GOP chair Michael Steele did today) and your argument is rejected? Do you moderate your rhetoric and attempt to restore civility to the debate? Or do you accelerate into a frenzied panic and march a phalanx of livid lemmings over a cliff? My money is on the latter, so far as Fox News is concerned. They still consider it to be in their best interests to manufacture the sort of melodrama that captures television audiences.
Here it’s important to remember that the interests of a television network are worlds apart from those of a political party. So while Fox is happy to gin up the rancor in hopes of attracting more viewers stimulated by bloody conflicts, the GOP will only be further damaged by the partnership. However, unfortunately for them, they have nowhere else to go. Fox News, and a few other rightist authors and radio talkers, have become the de facto face of the Republican Party. This is a point made by conservative strategist David Frum in his discussion of health care winners and losers:
Yes it mobilizes supporters – but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead. The real leaders are on TV and radio, and they have very different imperatives from people in government.
Frum goes on to predict that the continuing, and escalating, hysteria will be a boon to right-wing media. I’m not sure that I agree with him on that point. Certainly the hardcore disciples of Beck and company will remain glued to their sets. But we might also see audiences recede out of frustration and/or fatigue. After pouring everything they had, including their sanity, into a winner-take-all death match and losing, it would surprise no one if a significant segment of the audience decided to take a vacation from the lunacy. If an effort as determined and prolonged as the one Fox just concluded could not prevail, then what would it take?
The good news from all of this is that, as abhorrent as Fox News is, it ought not to be viewed as a Goliath that will crush any opponent. They gave it their all and came up short. They huffed and they puffed, but the House stood strong (oh wait, that was a wolf). This is the clearest evidence yet that Rupert Murdoch’s empire is a paper Fox. However, that doesn’t mean that it should be neglected. It can still bark ferociously and the other members of the media pack continue to give Fox more credence than they deserve. And for these reasons we must remain vigilant and prepared to respond to the deceitful and unethical practices of this phony pseudo-news enterprise.
In the long term I continue to believe that an informed public will reject Fox’s brand of shallow and divisive disinformation. And looking back, the health care debate may one day be perceived as a turning point. It may be that this long, sordid affair will be the battle that turns the war for responsible journalism to favor reason and truth. It may be Fox News’ Waterloo.
[Update: 3/25/10] David Frum has been dismissed from his job at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. That’s what he gets for going rogue.