Is Fox News full of BS?

With the departure of Jon Stewart from The Daily Show there’ll be one less voice calling out Fox News for its bullshit. Was Stewart really justified in his constant criticism? I came across How Fox News Changed American Media and Political Dynamics, a paper on the Social Science Research Network by Bruce Bartlett discussing the impact of Fox.

Bartlett starts by discussing the liberal domination of media in the sixties and into the nineties, and how the abolition in 1987 of the Fairness Doctrine by the FCC increased the scope for partisan broadcasting exemplified by Rush Limbaugh who was an early arrival:

There are many reasons why conservative talk radio worked so well. One is that conservatives finally had a news source that fed their philosophy. Another is Fumingthat conservatives viewed themselves as outsiders and were attracted not only to the philosophy of conservative talk radio, but its tone and articulation of outrage toward liberals that many listeners themselves had long felt.

Then Roger Ailes convinced Rupert Murdoch to let him build Fox News.

It should be noted that Murdoch has long been a conservative ideologue and Fox News fit into a larger conservative empire he built over the years that includes the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal. Although the Journal has long had a conservative editorial page, prior to Murdoch gaining control in 2007, its news pages were free of bias. But soon after, a conservative tilt began creeping into the news coverage.

Ailes began to build a cadre of conservative journalists, including the King of Bullshit Mountain, Bill O’Reilly.Cashpile bullshit

In its early years, Fox only needed to be in the objective center to be to the right of the other major networks, because they tilted to the left. But Fox viewers were very right-wing from the start. Numerous surveys show that Republicans and conservatives overwhelmingly favor Fox in their news viewing. A 2010 Pew survey found that Republicans and conservatives favored Fox over all other news sources except Rush Limbaugh. The survey also revealed that Fox had fewer well-educated (college graduate) and well-to-do ($75,000+/year income) viewers than other news sources. A 2015 PPP poll found that for 56 percent of Republicans, Fox was their most trusted news source. A 2015 Quinnipiac poll found that 35 percent of Republicans have “a great deal of trust” in Fox versus just 11 percent of Democrats.

Fox viewers are also old—very old—with a median age of 68 years

To maintain the chimera of being “fair and balanced,” Fox has always employed a few token Democrats and interviewed the occasional progressive. However, the way issues are framed on shows such as “The O’Reilly Factor,” Fox’s flagship program, always leads to predetermined conclusions, affording only the appearance of reasonable consideration of alternative points of view.

FDoomedox viewers are not just conservative, they are anti-liberal: “… it’s about having a chip on your shoulder; it’s about us versus them, insiders versus outsiders…”. Post 9/11 Fox’s position moved even further right, and “right-wing bias, including inaccurate reporting, became Aimcommonplace on Fox”. Bartlett quotes several examples, including the claim of death panels in Obamacare, repeated misleading references to Global Warming and their consistent downplaying of gun violence.

And Fox’s slipshod handling of facts was even acknowledged by Newt Gingrich during the 2012 campaign. “One of the real changes that comes when you start running for President – as opposed to being an analyst on Fox – is I have to actually know what I’m talking about,” he said. “It’s a severe limitation,” Gingrich added.

Apparently, Fox has an “enemies list” of people not to be interviewed, and all guests are vetted by senior executives to make sure they’re going to say the right things.

Bartlett quotes several studies that have showed Fox viewers are less well-informed than those who receive their news from other sources. On whether US forces found WMD in Iraq a majority, 52% thought WMD had definitely or probably been found. This compared to 31% of Daily Show viewers. On whether President Obama is a US citizen, 30% of Fox viewers said not or probably not (Daily Show 16%).

Bartlett then argues that Fox has become a propaganda machine of the Republican Party citing multiple instances of such behaviour including an assessment from Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. of the Miami Herald:

In America, it has come to seem normal that a major news organization functions as the propaganda arm of an extremist political ideology, that it spews a constant stream of racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, paranoia and manufactured outrage, and that it does so with brazen disregard for what is Glasses rose-tintedfactual, what is right, what is fair, what is balanced—virtues that are supposed to be the sine qua non of anything calling itself a newsroom.

Fox’s stance has become a problem for Republicans. A constant diet of misleading, conservative propaganda keeps its far right base “mobilized and angry, making it hard for the party to move to the center or increase its appeal”. There is a conservative bubble that insulates and reinforces “marginally held views until they become doctrinaire”. Bartlett calls it self-brainwashing.

All in all, it seems Jon Stewart had the right idea.




  1. […] Although this post is almost six years old, it is still interesting reading. It’s certainly consistent with my recent post about Fox News. […]

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