Once again, an academic study of the American electorate has found that “Fox News Republicans are the most uninformed.” This new survey was conducted by the Brookings Institution along with the Public Religion Research Institute. What’s different about this study is that it does not merely pit Republicans against Democrats and Independents. It distinguishes between Republicans who regularly watch Fox News and those who don’t. And the conclusions reveal that Fox News Republicans are even more uninformed and extreme in their views than their non-fox viewing comrades in the same party.
What this tells us is that Fox News is polluting the Republicans who tune in to the network with reporting and commentary that is biased, misleading, and downright false. The ideological corruption is evident in some basic political differences between the Foxies and the Foxless. For instance, the DREAM Act was drafted to permit undocumented residents who came to the U.S. as children, and either completed college or served in the military, to obtain temporary residency status and eventually apply for citizenship. This bill is supported by a 62% majority of Foxless Republicans, but only 42% of GOP Foxies. Likewise, the campaign to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour is supported by a majority of 56% of the Foxless, but only 33% of the Foxies. In both cases the Foxless Republicans are more closely aligned with the electorate at large. It is the Foxies who hold the extremist position on the fringes of the far right.
The study asks the question: Does Fox News cause ignorance, or do ignorant viewers prefer Fox News? The answer is not particularly clear cut and is likely a combination of the two. However, the real problems for the GOP come into the equation when the party tries to evaluate the opinions of their constituents as represented by the folks at Fox News. It’s clear that the Fox version of Republican views are far removed from reality. The study notes that party strategists may think that the Foxy…
“…represents the center of the GOP. Under that mindset, presidential candidates should adopt a policy platform that appeals to the average Fox News viewer. But that’s a mistake when the average Fox News member is an extreme conservative. […] This makes the Fox News echo chamber a hazard for the party. It creates extreme candidates under the guise that they are electable.”
The notion that Fox News is demonstrably harmful to the Republican Party is one that News Corpse examined five years ago in an article titled “Fox News Is Killing The Republican Party.” Some excerpts show that the results of the new Brookings/PRRI study somewhat belatedly affirm my own conclusions:
There is a case to be made that Fox News is demonstrably harmful to the Republican Party. In fact, it may be the worst thing to happen to Republicans in decades. That may seem counter-intuitive when discussing Fox News, the acknowledged public relations division of the Republican Party. Fox has populated its air with right-wing mouthpieces and brazenly partisan advocates for a conservative Republican agenda. They read GOP press releases on the air verbatim as if they were the product of original research. They provide a forum where Republican politicians and pundits can peddle their views unchallenged. So how is this harmful to Republicans?
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.). […] The problem is that by elevating bona fide nutcases, they are debasing honest and informed discourse. The mental cases are crowding out any reasonable voices that might exist amongst the more moderate Republicans (if there are any left). Fox appears to have made a tactical decision to permit the inmates full run of the asylum.
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.
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.
Recent events have borne out the worst of these considerations. Shortly after Fox News heralded the Deadbeat Rancher, Cliven Bundy, as a hero for confronting law enforcement officers with armed militia, three people, including two police officers, were murdered in Las Vegas, by a pair of Tea Party Terrorists. The perpetrators were the spitting image of the Fox News profile for conservative activists who virulently opposed what Fox told them was a rogue government that was devolving into a godless abyss of socialist deception and tyranny.
In addition, Fox News has stridently pursued a political agenda that seems to be intent on alienating the most critical voter demographic groups, including African-Americans, Latinos, women, and youth. And lately they even added their most loyal viewers to that list. The median age of the Fox News audience is 69 years old. That’s six years older than the median for their competition at CNN and MSNBC. And yet, Fox is embarking on an anti-Hillary Clinton crusade that is largely based on her age. That surely won’t go over well with the seniors tuning in to Fox.
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So with Fox continuing to feature the fringiest characters they can find, and academic studies certifying the damage that this strategy will cause to their purported allies in the GOP, the closing paragraph of my 2009 article is as relevant today as it was then:
The mission of Fox News from its inception was to be more than just a voice of opposition to Democrats. It was to utterly crush the left end of the political spectrum leaving only a teetering right wing with no counter balance. Yet, despite the torrid embrace between Republicans and Fox News, it is apparent that Fox is the source of a sort of friendly fire that is decimating the GOP by exalting its most outlandish and unpopular players. And since Republicans have not been particularly popular anyway lately, the anchor being thrown to them by Fox can’t be all that helpful – – – Except to Democrats.