Fair & Balanced
E.D. Kain tries to write a fair and balanced post on Juan Williams and the NPR fiasco, but, as usual when the subject has anything to do with Fox or the right, it contains the very silliness he criticizes. He makes the above statement and can’t see how this comes across to people who watch Fox objectively and find nothing of the sort that he claims is the entire point of Fox. The entire point! I can hear Fox management at an employee meeting going over the mission statement — "We haven’t been getting enough people upset, angry and frightened lately, and some of you have presented facts. I need to remind you it is our mission, the entire frigging point of this network, to cut people off from analysis, facts and reason. Come on, people!"
This claim is so absolutely ridiculous it makes me wonder how someone who is so obviousy smart could write such as this, and, then, if it was written in a moment emotional stupidity, not edit it out! I just don’t get it. Turning around the Juan Williams situation to criticize Fox and conservatives is also a silly act of partisanship that amazes me. It’s as if on the subject of Tea Party, conservatives or Fox, some of these guys lose about 30 points on their IQ. They begin to sound the birthers and the people who claim all Muslims are out to get Christians.
Mike does not elaborate on what the actual point of Fox News is – I imagine the network is supposed to be providing conservative viewers an alternate analysis of facts, a balancing slant to the traditionally mainstream liberal networks – in a nutshell: fair coverage of national politics.
If this were the case, I would whole-heartedly support it. However, Fox has long since drifted away from any attempt to broadcast an intellectually honest conservative alternative to the traditional MSM. If Bill O’Reilly were the worst of the talking heads employed there I might judge things differently, as I am of the mind that O’Reilly really does believe what he says, however blusteringly he says it. But Fox employs charlatans like Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, and panders incessantly to an anti-intellectual base, far more driven by rumor and emotionalism than by any sort of fact-based reporting. And if you can’t make your case compelling without resorting to raw, unfettered emotionalism, and must so entirely skew your spin to almost entirely blot out any dissenting opinion or, for that matter, dissenting fact, then you’ve entered what some have termed epistemic closure, or managed ignorance, or just plain propaganda masquerading as news and analysis. As James Fallows* puts it, what Fox does (and does best) is provide “a unified political-cultural world view to the unfolding events of the day.”
I would love a more reasoned, measured conservative journalism to take root – a Fox 2.0 that abandoned all the antics and dishonesty and stated its case for conservatism forcefully and cogently, but I’m not at all sure there’s a market for that – or at least a large enough market for that. And therein lies the rub: the point of Fox may not be to create an emotionally driven television station, but the market has spoken, and Beckian hyperbole is what the people want. And so it’s what the people will get.
Derbyshire said it well a while back:
Much as their blind loyalty discredited the Right, perhaps the worst effect of Limbaugh et al. has been their draining away of political energy from what might have been a much more worthwhile project: the fostering of a middlebrow conservatism. There is nothing wrong with lowbrow conservatism. It’s energizing and fun. What’s wrong is the impression fixed in the minds of too many Americans that conservatism is always lowbrow, an impression our enemies gleefully reinforce when the opportunity arises. Thus a liberal like E.J. Dionne can write, “The cause of Edmund Burke, Leo Strauss, Robert Nisbet and William F. Buckley Jr. is now in the hands of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity. … Reason has been overwhelmed by propaganda, ideas by slogans.” Talk radio has contributed mightily to this development.
It does so by routinely descending into the ad hominem—Feminazis instead of feminism—and catering to reflex rather than thought. Where once conservatism had been about individualism, talk radio now rallies the mob. “Revolt against the masses?” asked Jeffrey Hart. “Limbaugh is the masses.”
In place of the permanent things, we get Happy Meal conservatism: cheap, childish, familiar. Gone are the internal tensions, the thought-provoking paradoxes, the ideological uneasiness that marked the early Right. But however much this dumbing down has damaged the conservative brand, it appeals to millions of Americans. McDonald’s profits rose 80 percent last year. […]
There is nothing wrong with lowbrow conservatism. Ideas must be marketed, and right-wing talk radio captures a big and useful market segment. However, if there is no thoughtful, rigorous presentation of conservative ideas, then conservatism by default becomes the raucous parochialism of Limbaugh, Savage, Hannity, and company. That loses us a market segment at least as useful, if perhaps not as big.
Happy Meal Conservatism is doing very well in the polls, of course, and may indeed lead to victories in Congress this November. But middlebrow conservatism is as dead as it was when Obama swept to victory in 2008. There is no room for it on Fox. And I suspect a large swath of the middle and center-right in this country – the apolitical majority – will not be a sustainable voting bloc into 2012 let alone the more distant future. Fox is as much to blame for this as talk radio, and even more so as the two become indistinguishable from one another.
I am not at all opposed to the idea of Fox News as a counterweight to the traditional MSM. I’m in favor of opinionated journalism. A Fox News grounded in middlebrow conservatism would be an undeniably good thing, would expand and add to the larger political conversation. But it would probably have worse ratings, too.
* The whole Fallows piece is well worth the read, and echoes much of what I believe are the differences between Fox and NPR, and why journalism would suffer more from the loss of the NPR model. Only Fallows has a great deal more experience actually working with NPR and other journalists, and his insights are quite valuable as a result.
Also, I think that Fallows is correct – NPR should have given Williams a choice: NPR or Fox, not both, and made the decision final and in the hands of Williams himself. However much I disagree with the interpretation of Williams’ remarks, I nonetheless think his role at Fox was at odds with his role at NPR. On the other hand, NPR could revise its longstanding ethics guidelines and allow more opinionated journalism from its employees. I would worry, however, that something important might get lost in the transformation.