Defending Fox News' Right To Exist
While Tearing It Down The Right Way
Can’t we just make Fox News go away? The network is so rife with lies, bigotry, and other malign behavior, wouldn’t it be for the best if some sort of legislative remedy is made to rid the world of outlets so far over the line, like Fox? One could simply set up some sort of regulation to prevent Fox from calling itself “news,” because after all the network has itself admitted in court that it is entertainment, not news. It’s not as difficult as it sounds — we don’t need Fox News around to interfere in elections, incite violent mobs, or demonize vulnerable groups, so why not just use the law to remedy the problem?
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I have heard multiple variations on the above argument for years, and I can understand where it comes from. Most other problems that confound us can be fixed or at least contained via a legislative remedy. We can make great strides in addressing problems like health care or education with laws and regulations focused on providing more care or getting more revenue via taxation to increase care. So naturally, the thinking goes, there can also be a legislative solution for the worst of the worst press excesses.
Outlets like Fox News are a danger to democracy, incubating and inflaming the worst reactionary impulses, surfacing bigotry and directing armed mobs of brutish thugs to hurt and harass vulnerable populations. Something should be done, the cry goes.
But what liberals have to consider in this sort of thing is how such power would be quickly turned against us. On paper it seems logical to give a government led by Joe Biden or Barack Obama the power to rule against garbage masquerading as journalism on outlets like Fox. Any objective analysis of Fox-style content would easily determine that it is conservative propaganda, not “news” by any stretch of the imagination.
Yet if such power were ever granted, would we want those same kinds of determinations being made by Donald Trump or George W. Bush? Recent history has shown us, even if power is ostensibly given to nonpartisan government agencies, it is not difficult for a Republican president to put an ideological ally in charge and — well within the law — nonetheless steer government policy in a manner favorable to conservative goals. After all, Trump continued to operate programs like Obamacare within the confines of the law but was able to work within the system to discourage signups and health insurance availability anyway.
Would any sane person want Trump to be the arbiter of what is and is not news? The same ideas that would be used to undermine, through the government, Fox News, could quickly be turned against whoever Trump was upset at at the moment, be it MSNBC or The New York Times, or whoever had the nerve to tell the truth about him at the moment.
I’m the furthest thing from a libertarian. I believe more often than not that the government has a role to play in many aspects of society, to protect the most vulnerable and to ensure a level field of access and prosperity for all. But when it comes to matters of the press, I believe less government is usually for the best.
Fox News has every right to exist. They have a constitutional right to lie to their audience, to spread misinformation, falsehoods, and even bigotry. Just as organizations like the KKK have those same rights under the Constitution. These rights aren’t just for the best of us and the vast swaths of normal people in the country, but for the worst as well. That is the cost of freedom for all of us to enjoy.
Despite my decades now of work to educate the public about the perils of conservative media, I would be first in line to defend its right to exist.
But I would still like to see it destroyed. Not through legislative action and regulation, but on the battlefield of ideas. I believe liberal ideas are vastly superior to the bile that Fox and its allies regularly serves up. I believe these notions easily swamp the knuckle-dragging conservatism of the right in a true contest of ideas.
I don’t think we need to undermine the principles of the First Amendment just because Fox is such a cancer on the world.
Liberals should discard ideas of combating right-wing media through law and regulation, because in addition to being legislatively unlikely, it would ultimately prove to be a failure if implemented. The right would still find a way and use the system enacted to attack the left, as they so often do.
Liberal ideas should be loud and proud, well aware of their superiority and ability to stand up on their own. Fox can be beaten and relegated to the swamp-filled muck it deserves to live in forever, and we don’t need to fiddle with the rules to defeat it fair and square.
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