The Cult of Foxonality Part II
The Republican presidential primary debate threw off some interesting bones for chewing. I’m not talking about Rudy Giuliani’s exploitation of 9/11 at every turn, especially his smack down of Ron Paul’s refreshingly rational attempt to offer up a more complex explanation for terrorism than, “they hate us for our freedom.” I’m not talking about Mitt Romney’s pandering to sadists with his applause-bait on Guantanamo and torture. I’m not talking about John McCain’s ludicrous and insensitive promise to be “the last man standing” in Iraq, as if he were volunteering for active duty. And I’m not even talking about the graphics and sound effects that seem to have been lifted from broadcasts of professional wrestling.
What I find interesting is that 2.4 million people watched the GOP debate that aired on the Republican News Network (aka Fox).That is just slightly more than the 2.3 million viewers who watched the Democrats debate on MSNBC. But when Republicans debated on MSNBC, they only managed to pull in 1.7 million viewers. Maybe that was because it was on opposite the O’Reilly Factor which itself snared 2.3 million. So Fox drew the same size audience for their Republican debate as O’Reilly did when Republicans were debating elsewhere.
What this tells us is that a little less than two and half million viewers will show up to watch Fox in that timeslot whether there is a debate on or not. It also tells us that Fox viewers will turn out to get their O’Reilly fix even if there is a Republican debate on another network. [See update in comments].
What this does not tell us is why O’Reilly performs 35% better than a Republican debate on MSNBC. And we can only speculate as to why the Republican debate on Fox performs no better than their daily scheduled program. My speculation to both questions is that Fox viewers are married to the channel and couldn’t care less what’s playing down the dial. Their hypnotic attachment filters out all other sensory stimulation, even if it’s something that would ordinarily excite them.
One way of looking at this would be to acknowledge the success of Fox’s marketing strategy for having developed a powerful brand that inspires loyalty. But I prefer a more paranoid analysis. Most liberals (and objective observers) recognize the tight-knit relationship between Fox and the GOP. However, while we fret about the Murdoch/RNC cabal, we may be missing an even more frightening scenario. 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.
Are Fox viewers more attached to their tele-mentors than to the party and politics they profess? The evidence suggests that this may be so. People who might ordinarily be considered reliable party stalwarts are straying from the pack to trail behind Fox pundits who have come to criticize the administration on issues like Iraq, immigration, and the federal budget. Granted, the criticism is emanating from an even further right stance than the DC GOP has taken, but the result is the same: It’s the Foxebrities that are leading, not elected representatives of the people.
Some may take the view that the people are voting with their remotes, but you have to wonder where all of this could end. Television personalities are still built by marketing and promotion, not principle. If Paris Hilton can command the chunk of media real estate that she does, then clearly intelligence, insight, talent, and vision, are irrelevant in determining who viewers admire. And when admiration swells to idolization in the political realm, how far down the road will fans follow the flickering object of the affection? And how far will the Pundicrats ask their flock to go?
Bill O’Beale: “I’m mad as Hell!”
Paddy Chayefky’s “Network” introduced us to Howard Beale, a new model newscaster that implored his audience to cast off their docility and think for themselves. But today’s Fox version would likely produce Beale’s polar opposite who would only inspire a feverish fealty to himself and his omnipotent infallibility. That is indeed a foreboding picture of a bleak future. Do we have the time and/or will to steer away from it? Or is it already upon us?