Is Fox News really news?
Over the past three weeks or so, the progressive movement – bloggers, Moveon.org, grassroots activists, filmmakers – pressured the Nevada Democratic Party to drop Fox News as the host of a presidential debate in August. In pursuing this short campaign, we made two basic arguments that were eventually accepted by party leaders.
First, we argued that Fox News is not a news channel, but a propaganda outlet that regularly distorts, spins, and falsifies information. Second, Fox News is heavily influenced or even controlled by the Republican Party itself. As such, we believe that Fox News on the whole functions as a surrogate operation for the GOP. Treating Fox as a legitimate news channel extends the Republican Party’s ability to swift-boat and discredit our candidates. In other words, Fox News is a direct pipeline of misinformation from the GOP leadership into the traditional press.
Thankfully, Fox News immediately proved our point with a press release after the debate cancellation that made the following remarkable claim: "News organizations will want to think twice before getting involved in the Nevada Democratic caucus which appears to be controlled by radical, fringe, out-of-state interest groups, not the Nevada Democratic Party."
This statement has all the hallmarks of a Fox News-style Republican talking point. First of all, it is falsified. The pressure campaign included out-of-state Democrats, but it was anchored by local party members, including Nevada Democratic Party executive board member Mike Zahara. And many Democratic activists in Nevada cheered at the decision to drop Fox.
After vigorous debate, the Nevada Democratic Party itself made the decision to cancel the debate, which directly contradicts Fox's claims. In addition, the release is partisan; calling bloggers and Moveon.org “radical” and “fringe” is a recognized Republican strategy, certainly not what one would expect from a legitimate news source.
Falsifying information that is favorable to Republicans and problematic for Democrats is a regular tactic of Fox News. Specific examples are breathtakingly dishonest, including the Obama Madrassa smear, Carl Cameron's false claims that John Kerry referred to himself as a “metrosexual” and “news anchor” Brit Hume repeating the false canard that the public does not trust the Democratic Party on national defense.
But it's the sweep of the disinformation campaign that suggests a genuine pattern of propagandistic manipulation of the public. The Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland conducted a study in October 2003 of public knowledge and attitudes about current events, focusing on media consumption habits. The study examined three generic misconceptions about the march to war in Iraq – alleged WMDs, purported Iraqi involvement in 9/11, and supported international support for a U.S. invasion of Iraq. While three-fifths of Americans held at least one of these misconceptions at the time, speaking to the poor quality of American punditry, Fox News viewers stood out – their viewers were "three times more likely than the next nearest network to hold all three misperceptions."
More than 80 percent of Fox News viewers had a basic factual misconception about the war in Iraq, which were coincidentally used by the Bush administration to justify their policies at the time.
This should not be a surprise, as the leadership of Fox News is heavily tied into the Republican Party apparatus. Let's start with the top. Roger Ailes learned his trade in 1968 at the feet of the granddaddy of GOP disinformation, Richard Nixon, continuing his career as a high level aide to Ronald Reagan's 1984 campaign, and crafting George H.W. Bush's media strategy in 1988, including the infamous Willie Horton ads.
Ailes isn't the only high level Republican operative in a position of authority at the network. Former “Fox News Sunday” host Tony Snow worked for President George H.W. Bush as a speechwriter, moved to the network, and then became White House press secretary for President George W. Bush.
Fox News, aside from its Republican leadership, supports the Republican Party overtly. As Robert Greenwald of Foxattacks.com and OutFoxed discovered, Fox News executive John Moody hands down a memo with Republican messaging themes each day to guide editorial content. Sometimes the support is more direct – just last month, Fox News personality Sean Hannity was the headline speaker at the South Carolina Republican Party's Annual Silver Elephant Dinner.
Falsification of information is bad enough for an outlet channel that calls itself a news organization, but the overt ties to the Republican Party are deeply disturbing for our democracy as a whole. This is not an ideological argument about diversity – Fox News is not really a conservative news channel, it is a Republican propaganda and surrogate operation, as Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch seem to have baked into their business model a wholesale allegiance to the Republican Party.
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