Conservative Victories in the Battle for Cable Television
In October 1996 Rupert Murdock, a committed Neo Conservative who owns newspapers around the world, created the FOX News Channel, which set new standards for reporting with a conservative bias Murdock is a committed Neo Conservative who has boasted, “ Our reach is unattached around the world. We are reaching people from the moment they wake up until they fall asleep.” The work of creating the network was left to Roger Ailes, a veteran Republican political operative who had been president of CNBC. The Fox News Network’s strident conservative bias has attracted millions of devoted viewers who can accept no criticism of it. FOX New’s coverage was so slanted that even a few of its own people laughted about it. Scott Norvell, the networks’s London Bureau chief, admitted, “ Even we at Fox News manage to get some lefties on the air occasionally and often let them finish their sentences before we club them to death and feed the scraps to Karl Rove and Bill O’Reilly.” The University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy attitudes found that watching Fox News tended to make people more misinformed. Another study found that in 2004, 13% of Fox panelists had something good to say about John Kerry while 50% strongly backed Bush.
When the producer of the television series “Boston Legal” attempted to criticize Fox News for offering something close to “hate speech,” ABC ordered him to omit all references to Fox and its personnel from the script. Former Fox producer Charles Reina later reported that daily executive memos dictated how stories were to be covered. But he was most disturbed by the laziness of Fox personnel, who had little interest in checking facts or pursuing accuracy. In 2006, the network’s coverage of the Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, which was strongly backed by the Bush administration, was so biased that two producers in the Beirut bureau felt it was necessary to protest the propaganda by resigning. In addition to the Fox networks, Murdock owns twenty-six television stations in the United States and has major interests in seven others. Murdock also owns the New York Post, The Chicago Tribune and the Weekly Standard, all influential right-wing publications. He publishes “over-the-top” type conservative commentary through Regan Books/ HarperCollins publications. In August 2007, Murdock added the Wall Street Journal to the list of the hundred newspapers he owns.
The Fox News Network is “an ideological animal” that caters to angry white male viewers and “represents the complete reversal of a conservatism once devoted to tradition, civic ideals, stewardship of natural resources, personal tolerance, and cultural aspiration--the quest for enduring, sustaining roots .” In 2004, Fox gave 48 more minutes ( 20%) coverage to the Republican National Convention than to the Democratic confab. Although it claimed to offer “fair and balanced” news, even conservative writer Andrew Sullivan said, “Fox News is obviously biased toward the right. It’s simply loopy to pretend otherwise.” .
A feature of the network is Brit Hume’s Special Report which is “so claustrophobically right-wing that anyone who appears on the panel contracts a slow-moving case of Stockholm syndrome.” After the Democrats were soundly drubbed in the Congressional elections of 2002, a self-satisfied Brit Hume claimed much of the credit for FOX News. He told Don Imus, “It was because of our coverage that it all happened. We’ve become so influential now that people watch us and take their electoral cues from us. No one should doubt the influence of Fox News in these matters.” When liberals complained about the bias reflected on FOX and the outright false information peddled by right-wing talk radio, the mainline press rushed to the defense of the conservative media and said that the liberals were “whining.” Previously, when conservatives made similar complaints, their conduct was characterized as “courageous.” Publishing clearly biased political stories is also profitable. Matt Labash of the Weekly Standard , commenting on the conservative media, declared that “it pays to be unobjective. ...It’s a great way to have your cake and eat it too. Criticize other people for not being objective. Be as subjective as you want. It’s a great little racket. I’m glad we found it.”
FOX News began to attract more viewers than CNN in 2001, and the gap between them reached 60% in 2003. The success of FOX rests upon its strategy of imitating right-wing talk radio. It claims to offer objective news, but its coverage is really confrontational and right-biased talk about news. Its slogan is “fair and balanced,” but its comment is , consistently conservative, and most of its personnel behave as though they are embarked upon a sacred mission to convert American to conservatism. When Paula Zahn signed with CNN several months before her contract expired, Fox fired her, and Fox commentators trashed her.. By 2003, FOX was the most watched cable outlet. Sociologist Tod Gitlin has noted that its “commercial motive dovetails beautifully with a politics of muscularity and resentment.” It features a phony objectivity, while airing Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. Both offer even more distortions and simplistic reasoning than Rush Limbaugh. Hannity plays off liberal Alan Colmes, whose mild manner make him raw meat for Hannity to maul and chew up. Mark Levin, another right wing shock jock, specializes in name calling; he called Judy Miller a “rat,” Joseph Wilson and his wife “finks,” and Ted Kennedy, “a lifelong drunk.”
FOX News and the other news outlets owned by Rupert Murdock represent a purely commercial approach to news production. It denies that journalism is a particularly noble craft that has a high responsibility to the American public, in part because it enjoys special privileges under the first amendment. The Murdock ventures are purely commercial, geared to maximize profits and reflect the views of their owner. Murdock operatives still talk about offering balanced news, but it is likely that they will eventually become more forthright about what they are offering. Talk radio has already done this. Murdock is seen as a journalistic trend-setter, and it could well be that the greatest part of the press will eventually follow this lead and that American journalism will eventually mirror what it was in the early 1800s, highly partisan outlets that offered offered partial views of the news. The difference would be that the media is likely to be heavily conservative in orientation.
CNN founder Reese Schonfeld suggested that FNN’s popularity was due to the style of its personalities; “They’re fast, they’re funny, and they’re furious.” On the other hand, it could just be that cable news viewers are mostly conservative and want news that is consistent with their outlook.
The success of FOX’s conservative programming had the effect of moving the other cable news networks, particularly CNN, to the right in order to attract conservative viewers, who may be more inclined to be news junkies than other Americans. CNN became a distinctively conservative voice after it was acquired by AOL-Time -Warner in 2000. Prior to that, CNN focused on little but Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky for 13 months. By 2000, the network of conservative journalists, media outlets, and talk radio had become so successful that their unapologetically slanted information was leaching into the mainstream press. In 2001,CNN head Walter Isaacson tried to recruit Rush Limbaugh as the network’s political commentator, and he went to Capitol Hill to learn from New Right politicians how to attract more conservative viewer. In December he added ultra-conservative warrior Ann Coulter to its staff as a “legal commentator.” A Salon magazine report found that between the inauguration and September 10, 2002, CNN gave unprecedented coverage to the Bush administration, and another study found that the network had covered administration officials live 157 times in a three-month period in 2002, as compared to seven times for elected Democrats. There was anecdotal evidence that MSNBC and FOX coverage were similar. For whatever reason, there seemed to be many more conservative viewers of cable news than liberals. Perhaps this was why Phil Donahue, who briefly had a cable show, was told he could interview conservatives alone but could not have liberals on the air without someone to counterbalance their views.
MSNBC certainly has a better record than FOX but its token “liberal” is Chris Matthews, a registered Democrat who once questioned the patriotism of Michael Dukakis and seems to appeal to angry white men. Matthews was quite conservative when he first appeared on the air and moved close to the center when George W. Bush’s popularity seemed to wane. Initially, he expressed great admiration for Bush because he was clearly a “guy” who could throw a baseball. He also proclaimed that Bush “looks great in a military uniform.” Though he was too cool on Bush, he exhibited a consisten approval of Republicans who were self-styled machomen. He said McCain “deserved the presidency,” then decided that America’s mayor Rudy Guiliani deserved the office. He also noted that Mitt Romney has “a great chin. I’ve noticed.”
Fox-News, by openly appealing to them, became an instant success. And the other cable news channels had little choice but to woo those conservative viewers. Sometimes the effort to woo conservatives was all too obvious as in Kelly Wallace of CNN’s fawning coverage of George W. Bush. By 2001, media scholar Mark Crispin Miller claimed that a communications cartel has emerged that controls the nation’s entertainment and much of its news. Despite the persistent fiction about media bias, Miller claims the cartel has a vested interest in keeping the public half-informed and in not offending generally conservative corporate advertisers. ABC features right-wing John Stossel, whose reports have so twisted data and distorted academic study results that several of his producers have resigned in protest.
When a CNN program added very articulate liberal spokesmen, Republicans tried to bring it into line. In April 2002, CNN attempted to attract more viewers by changing the personnel on its “Crossfire,” its political debate program. Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson were to represent the Right, and James Carville and Paul Begela spoke for the Left. The leftist pair seemed to get the best of most arguments and CNN was flooded with letters and e-mail about their “unfair tactics.” The Republican National Committee and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott’s office attempted to organize a boycott that would prevent prominent Republicans from appearing on the program. The boycott was partially successful for more than a year. After the boycott received some public attention, White Hours spokesmen said that a refusal to debate was not a useful approach because those who refused to debate made Republicans look “like a bunch of wimps.”
Involved in fierce competition among the cable networks to attract conservative viewers, CNN and MSNBC signed on more far-right commentators and were less inclined to offer news that offended conservatives. Even Don Imus, the MSNBC morning host, who is usually considered non-partisan was given to racist invective, calling an African American journalist a “cleaning lady,” a black writer a “quota hire,” and said he hired a producer because he wrote good “nigger jokes.” Founded in 1996, MSNBC struck on a strategy of offering balanced, highly professional newscasts during the day and competing with Fox at night by offering a parade of right-wing commentators. MSNBC even hired Michael Savage, who thought homosexuals were plotting to destroy “the white race” and also engaged in tasteless attacks on blacks. He referred to the “Turd World Nations” and “Million Dyke March” and “ghetto slime,” demanded that “You liberals should drop dead for what you’ve done to my country,” and told a gay who called “You should get AIDS and die, you pig.” The latter comment got him fired. The network also hired former Congressman Joe Scarborough, who defined himself as “a hawk’s hawk” and who shamelessly practiced slanted bookings and one-sided presentations of background information.
A 2003 poll found that only 16% of MSNBC and CNN viewers were conservatives in comparison to 40% who identified themselves as conservatives. Forty-six percent of Fox viewers were conservative, while 44% of Fox were conservatives. Viewers of the three major nightly newscasts were 41% conservative and 17% liberal. The impact of this information on the cable operations was clear. On the other hand, the older news services were clearly aware of viewer preferences and tended to offer some news in as inoffensive way as possible and large doses of “infotainment.”
Sherman has written African American Baseball: A brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?search_forum
"Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." Orwell-- The US is probably moving toward becoming a heavily controlled Rightist state. This blog is an effort to document how that happened.
- Sherman De Brosse
- Sherm spent seven years writing an analytical chronicle of what the Republicans have been up to since the 1970s. It discusses elements in the Republican coalition, their ideologies, strategies, informational and financial resources, and election shenanigans. Abuses of power by the Reagan and G. W. Bush administration and the Republican Congresses are detailed. The New Republican Coalition : Its Rise and Impact, The Seventies to Present (Publish America) can be acquired by calling 301-695-1707. On line, go to http://www.publishamerica.com/shopping. It can also be obtained through the on-line operations of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Do not consider purchasing it if you are looking for something that mirrors the mainstream media!