Monday, March 04, 2019


There's a lot of good reporting in that Jane Mayer story about Fox News, but I disagree with the main premise:
Fox has long been a bane of liberals, but in the past two years many people who watch the network closely, including some Fox alumni, say that it has evolved into something that hasn’t existed before in the United States. Nicole Hemmer, an assistant professor of Presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and the author of “Messengers of the Right,” a history of the conservative media’s impact on American politics, says of Fox, “It’s the closest we’ve come to having state TV.”
Mayer continues:
Hemmer argues that Fox ... acts as a force multiplier for Trump, solidifying his hold over the Republican Party and intensifying his support. “Fox is not just taking the temperature of the base—it’s raising the temperature,” she says. “It’s a radicalization model.” For both Trump and Fox, “fear is a business strategy—it keeps people watching.” ... The White House and Fox interact so seamlessly that it can be hard to determine, during a particular news cycle, which one is following the other’s lead. All day long, Trump retweets claims made on the network; his press secretary, Sarah Sanders, has largely stopped holding press conferences, but she has made some thirty appearances on such shows as “Fox & Friends” and “Hannity.”
Mayer strongly suggests that Fox has changed in the years since Trump was elected and Roger Ailes was fired. She approvingly quotes Paul Manafort and Roger Stone's ex-lobbying partner ...
“I know Roger Ailes was reviled,” Charlie Black, the lobbyist, said. “But he did produce debates of both sides. Now Fox is just Trump, Trump, Trump.”
... and former Fox host Greta Van Susteren:
Greta Van Susteren believes that Ailes’s departure posed a huge challenge for his successors: “It’s like what happens when a dictator falls. If you look historically, when you get rid of a Saddam in Iraq, or a Qaddafi in Libya, the place falls apart.” The celebrity opinion-show hosts who drive the ratings became unbridled and unopposed. Hannity, as the network’s highest-rated and highest-paid star, was especially empowered—and, with him, so was Trump.
Obviously, Fox was never going to be state TV during the Obama years. But it was Tea Party TV starting in Obama's first year. Mayer gets this part of the story wrong:
At the height of the Tea Party rebellion, Ailes reprimanded Hannity for violating the line between journalism and politics. Hannity had arranged to tape his evening Fox show at a Tea Party fund-raiser in Ohio. When Ailes learned of the plan, only hours before the event, he demanded that Hannity cancel his appearance. According to a former Fox executive, Ailes then blew up at Bill Shine, who had authorized Hannity’s trip. “Roger was livid, and ripped the shit out of Shine,” the former executive says, recalling that Ailes yelled, “No one at Fox is shilling for the Tea Party!” Afterward, Shine released a statement criticizing Hannity’s actions. And Murdoch, at a panel about the news, expressed a similar view, saying, “I don’t think we should be supporting the Tea Party or any other party.”
“No one at Fox is shilling for the Tea Party”? That would be news to Media Matters, which reported on Fox's flackery in real time:
... Fox News has in dozens of instances provided attendance and organizing information for future protests, such as protest dates, locations and website URLs. Fox News websites have also posted information and publicity material for protests. Fox News hosts have repeatedly encouraged viewers to join them at several April 15 protests that they are attending and covering; during the April 6 edition of Glenn Beck, on-screen text characterized these events as "FNC Tax Day Tea Parties." Tea-party organizers have used the planned attendance of the Fox News hosts to promote their protests. Fox News has also aired numerous interviews with protest organizers. Moreover, Fox News contributors are listed as "Tea Party Sponsor[s]" on
A few screenshots from that Media Matters report:

Fox wasn't "state TV" then -- it was "government-in-exile TV." Mayer correctly notes the escalation of pro-birther coverage on Fox starting in 2011 (the most prominent birther being the newly hired Fox & Friends commentator Donald Trump). She doesn't mention this four-minute anti-Obama attack ad, which appeared unannounced in the middle of a Fox & Friends episode in the spring of 2012:

Prior to the Obama years, Fox ews was a cheerleader for the Iraq War and the principal source of publicity for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in their campaign to take down John Kerry. (And I don't think we need to go into Fox's role in the battle to unseat Bill Clinton).

I'll admit that, during the George W. Bush years, Fox wasn't "state TV" in this sense:
Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former co-host of “The Five,” left Fox in July; she is now working on Trump’s reĆ«lection campaign and dating Donald Trump, Jr. ... Pete Hegseth and Lou Dobbs, hosts on Fox Business, have each been patched into Oval Office meetings, by speakerphone, to offer policy advice. Sean Hannity has told colleagues that he speaks to the President virtually every night, after his show ends, at 10 p.m. According to the Washington Post, White House advisers have taken to calling Hannity the Shadow Chief of Staff.
But has Fox changed, or has the White House? In the Bush era, and later when Republicans lost and then regained power during the Obama years, Fox was seen as an effective tool for catapulting GOP propaganda, but the Bush team and congressional Republicans didn't turn Fox employees into advisers -- party members developed the messages and relied on Fox to retransmit them. This administration gets messages from Fox. The old guard, some of whom are still around, produced content for Fox; the Trump administration is a consumer of that content.

That's what's changed. Fox is what it always was. It always shilled for the GOP, or at least the wing of the GOP that was the least conciliatory. It always used fear to radicalize its viewers and to win viewer loyalty. The only difference is that now one of those loyal marathon viewers is president.

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