Frank Rich wrote a piece in New York magazine this week about the increasing irrelevance of Fox News, arguing that it was time for liberals to stop worrying about it, already, because the conservative information bubble it creates has caused more damage to the Republican party than its relentless propaganda can counteract. He’s right, when speaking strictly about national and statewide elections, but its effect on House districts, state politics, and more importantly, the rest of the media, is as toxic as ever.
When it came into existence in 1996, and promptly dedicated itself to hobbling and/or ousting President Clinton, it was at least pretending to serve a journalistic function, that is, holding high officials up to scrutiny. Of course, that was never its intent, but it seemed plausible to the casual observer. If anything, Fox’s relentless attacks on Clinton for petty personal shortcomings ended up benefiting Clinton, making him look far more benign and less corrupt than he actually was.
Meanwhile, Clinton’s destructive neoliberal policies, from banking and media deregulation to “Welfare Reform” slid by with nary a peep from the Monica-obsessed MSM, and Al Gore’s coattails vanished, paving the way for America’s Worst President.
But once its chosen President was installed, Fox became something else entirely, especially after 9/11. Sensing the inchoate rage of the sort he’d spent his whole career stoking, Roger Ailes implored the administration to be as belligerent as possible, which was all the encouragement Karl Rove and Dick Cheney needed to plunge the country into a moral and political cesspool that still plagues us today.
What Fox and the loyal Bushies sold, with alarming success, was rage and fear, tarted up as American Exceptionalism, and this crummy product is still flying off the shelves, no matter who is in office. Rich may think that since Obama was elected twice, and by much healthier margins than his dimwitted predecessor, Fox as a political force is “dead,” but nothing could be further from the truth.
It’s possible, of course, that Obama would have pushed for a harebrained, bloody “surge” in Afghanistan, kept Gitmo open, and warmly embraced the so-called Intelligence Community without the lingering influence of Fox and its loudmouthed jingoism, just as its possible 60 minutes would have fallen head over heels for Benghazi and the NSA, but it’s unlikely.
What Fox has created isn’t so much one administration or politician, but something much more enduring and insidious, an attitude of in-your- face authoritarianism that has become the new normal in matters of national security, even for Democrats. That this attitude has backfired, repeatedly, when Republicans try to apply it to their unpopular domestic policies doesn’t diminish its significance. Indeed, except for the odd social policy here and there, most Democrats, and all of the MSM, have absorbed Fox framing on domestic policies as well.
So yes, Rich is right that Fox has helped make it more difficult for Republicans to win the Presidency, but increasingly, they don’t have to, to achieve the policy outcomes they want. A fearful, comprised Democratic party and a depleted, Fox-addled MSM can do it for them. The rumors of Fox’s demise are, well, a bit exaggerated.
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