Friday, October 06, 2006

The Media Is The Massage

Michael Wolff, media columnist at Vanity Fair, said bias was not so much linked to the ideology of the journalists or even the corporate owners as it was driven by a desire to boost ratings.

"I don't think Fox says, 'We're here to promulgate a political agenda.' I think they say, 'We're here to get ratings ... and we do that by speaking to this particular demographic, which happens to be conservative and right wing,'" he said.
Not exactly, Mr. Wolff, but you're not far off the mark.

Folks, this is chicken-and-egg stuff. Yes, putting jerk-offs like Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and John Gibson drive ratings, but it's a feeback loop: by actively promoting a regressive, fear-based and fear-mongering agenda, Fox News increases the likelihood that people will vote with their fears. And fearful people like to hear news that makes them feel good about being afraid.

You're in your house alone. You get startled by a noise. You're scared. That's an embarassing situation, and no one likes to be embarassed. What Fox would like to see happen in this scenario is for you to buy an alarm system (which, of course, is advertised on Fox), a couple of guns, and tell all your friends some made-up story about how you just had to do all this, because your neighborhood is unsafe.

Whereas a normal person would just turn on the light, see it was the cat, chuckle at themselves, and go back to bed.

I can't stress this enough: Fox likes panic. Fox thrives on panic. So Fox's political agenda is to feed the beast. And that means promoting a right wing agenda that scares people while downplaying rationality and the advice we all got growing up: Stop. Breathe. Think.

And of course, the Republicans, being a party of fearful puddles of mouse-piss, cling to Fox like a raft after the Titanic has gone down, and feed that agenda, adding their own unique perspective and fears.

Lee Meringoff of Marist sums it up best, I think:
"They're not after converts so much as getting their supporters to show up," he said.
Political persuasion used to mean taking a position, defending it, re-evaluating it, and amending it if necessary, and thus was forged public policy.

Today, it means poll-testing a sound bite for a fully-formed agenda to ram down the throats of constituents and then scare enough people into voting for it. "Contract For America," anyone?

There's also a campaign finance aspect to this trope. Candidates appear on Fox, not only to promote a fear-based agenda, but to present themselves as the bulwark to society from this particular demon. Viewers (Fox' viewers tend to skew, um, ancient, which means they have a little coin stashed away) not only see the "problem" and the "solution" but are invited to participate by, as Soupy Sales said "send(ing) in those funny green pieces of paper."

In exchange for this, Fox gets a fairly clear field to bash whomever they want with little fear of oversight from the FCC or Congres for that matter.

Thought-experiment: what would have happened if Fox had been broadcasting the Super Bowl with the Jackson nipple-slip, instead of CBS? Does anyone here honestly think Fox would have paid nearly as dearly as CBS?

No one doubts that Fox News is in it to make money, and that as the country now begins its swing towards a more liberal (actually, moderate-conservative) perspective, Fox will likely adjust accordingly, with much grudging and nattering. However, they will never abandon the money trough that conservative politicians and their own programming has created, a cash flow of both campaign contributions and advertising money that is fear-based, fear-driven, and fearfully cynical. Just look at how Fox has tried to Stalinize Mark Foley as a Democrat...