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How To Beat Fox News
Fox News is a problem in America. It is the central hub for demagoguery, bigotry, dishonesty, hyper-partisanship, and a host of other ills. But the question is: What to do about it? In light of President Biden’s win, despite Fox News, liberals are grasping for answers.
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Just to clarify, I have a good amount of experience with this topic. I have been writing about and reporting on Fox News (and the rest of the media, especially conservative media) for over 20 years now. I was one of the first employees at Media Matters for America, where I worked from 2004-2017.
Fox News Is Not Journalism
The biggest mistake that mainstream journalism makes when discussing Fox News, is to refer to it as journalism. This is especially prevalent among reporters and pundits on the media beats at major outlets like CNN, the Washington Post, and the New York Times.
In this narrative, there are journalistic forces at Fox News in constant dismay about the right-wing tilt of the purported “opinion side” at Fox, while the supposed “news side” is interested in real journalism, with perhaps a slight conservative tinge to it (think of the Wall Street Journal).
This is absolute fantasy. Wishcasting. A fiction.
Fox News was created by former Richard Nixon media aide and serial woman abuser Roger Ailes with one thing in mind: To be a propaganda organ for the conservative movement and the Republican Party. Ailes was angered by truthful reporting on Nixon’s misdeeds in Watergate and wanted something that would counteract the purported “liberal” bias of factually reporting on Nixon’s corrupt activities.
That is the entire point of Fox News, and it has been the point of Fox News since the network launched in 1996. The point of Fox News is to promote conservatism and the GOP while attacking Democrats and liberalism. Fox is unconcerned with the facts, and it is devoted to injecting animus and poison into the bloodstream of America and the wider world.
Fox does not give a damn about journalism, the news, or reporting.
The Fairness Doctrine Is A Non-Starter
The most frequent solution I have seen is a repeated reference to the Fairness Doctrine. While it can be argued that the Fairness Doctrine worked well as a guard against keeping extremism from the public airwaves, it was always going to fall by the wayside even if Ronald Reagan hadn’t gotten rid of it.
The Fairness Doctrine, which mandated some form of balance on political topics, only applied to radio and television broadcasts because they used the publicly-owned airwaves licensed by the FCC.
If the Fairness Doctrine had never been repealed it would not have applied to broadcasting or media sent to consumers via cable or satellite networks, including the internet.
Perhaps in theory a new Fairness Doctrine could be passed by Congress, but there is almost no legislative momentum behind such a move. I do not believe it would have popular support even among Democrats, and a sweeping attempt to consider private networks part of the public airwaves, in a way that would in some ways legislate speech, would also be subject to numerous legal challenges. And again, I think such challenges would have a receptive ear from liberal judges, let alone the conservatives in the federal judiciary and on the Supreme Court.
Aside from my personal opposition to such an idea, I just don’t think it’s practical.
Pressure Is Good
One key way to go after Fox News is to exert outside pressure on the organization. It should be toxic for respectable businesses to work alongside Fox News. A network that repeatedly engages in white supremacy, misogyny, blatantly racist anti-immigrant sentiment, and a host of other abhorrent practices, should not be propped up by corporate America.
Whatever its own capitalistic values happen to be, multiculturalism is good business. The last few years have shown that corporate America can be pushed to flex its considerable muscles through peaceful action on issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation. Corporate America shies away from open support of racists, misogynists, and anti-LGBT bigots. It’s just bad for business.
When they work with Fox News, that is who they are working with and that needs to be made clearer.
It isn’t just companies who advertise on Fox, but also the cable companies who include Fox News in their bundling. When Fox News is included in a cable package, the network is paid a fee. When Comcast (owned by NBC Universal) carries Fox, the same company that frequently touts its diversity credentials is bankrolling an outlet that attacks Blacks, Latino, women, and the LGBTQ+ communities.
Activists and individuals should make this explicitly clear. To work with Fox News is the modern equivalent of having an open, supportive relationship with the Ku Klux Klan or modern Nazism. No rhetorical wiggle room should be allowed.
Democrats And Progressives Should Not Appear On Fox
Too often Democrats and progressives believe appearing on Fox News is accomplishing something. They believe a segment on the network is a way to “reach those voters” or to “counteract” the open pipes of societal sewage the network sprays into the public square.
This is delusional. A single Fox News segment from a figure like Mayor Pete Buttigieg or even an entire town hall with someone like Sen. Bernie Sanders does nothing.
Well, rather, it does nothing positive. Those short moments help to validate Fox. They tell Fox’s viewers that Fox is a serious force, because “even Democrats” appear on Fox. Those isolated moments from Democrats and progressives are surrounded by hundreds of thousands of hours of propaganda, which undermine everything those well-intentioned people stand for.
Fox is thus empowered to shout down Black Lives Matter and excuse the latest police shooting of an innocent Black person because “even Mayor Pete comes to Fox.”
The right way to deal with this is complete shunning. Democrats and progressives need to appeal to persuadable conservative-leaning Americans and there are hundreds of ways to do this without feeding the Fox News beast. Those voters, while they don’t show the same loyalty to other non-Fox outlets, do watch non-Fox news and they read and absorb news from outlets like the Associated Press and others.
Those voters can be reached without giving aid and comfort to Fox.
And frankly, the bulk of Fox News viewers are unmovable. They view Democrats and liberals as fundamentally evil. Appearing on Fox is not going to move them or have them question their beliefs. The net effect of reinforcing their core belief in Fox will easily negate the (highly unlikely) reflection a Fox appearance might provoke.
Use A Bigger Megaphone
I think the best way to overwhelm Fox is to fight fire with fire. Liberals and Democrats should help to amplify progressive outlets and mainstream stories that back up progressive ideas.
Conservatives have never been against pointing to the hated New York Times when it “proves” a Democrat is bad. When Steve Bannon sought to smear Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election cycle, in addition to publishing material through Breitbart, he fed disinformation to the New York Times and Washington Post, then conservatives loudly pointed to those stories as validation.
Liberals should fight fire with fire. Holding up stories from progressive outlets and the mainstream press, loudly amplifying them across the board – from an individual Twitter account to the President of the United States – will do yeoman’s work to counteract the destructive effect of Fox News. And it has the benefit of being a much more realistic lift than passing another Fairness Doctrine or magically hoping Fox gets better or assuming a blip of an appearance by a Democrat has any effect.
Conservatives invested billions in making their noise machine. Liberals have shown that they collectively have more muscle than the right in sending money into political campaigns, at both the national and state level. That kind of funding and effort should be directed into progressive media, rather than fantastical efforts to regulate the media.
Fox Can Be Defeated
When I started at Media Matters in 2004, Fox was held in much higher esteem than it is now. Many more people believed in it’s slogan of “Fair and Balanced” and saw it as a legitimate right-leaning media outlet.
Through the work we did there, in conjunction with other liberal and Democratic activists, that isn’t how Fox News is viewed in 2021. Despite their view of Fox still being too charitable, even the mainstream media no longer views the network this way.
What was true in 2004 is no longer true in 2021, despite Fox’s best efforts, both on-air and through public relations.
They have lost perception battles. While ideas and candidates they support have unfortunately won fights, at the same time three Democratic presidential candidates received more votes than the Republican nominee in the last 20 years, with two becoming president. Despite Fox News.
Fox News can lose. Fox News should lose. There is a path to defeat for Fox News.
Follow me, Oliver Willis, on Twitter @owillis