Oliver Willis

There Is No Liberal Fox News. Thank God.

 

Liberal Fox News, On Earth 2

Imagine that on an alternate earth somewhere in another dimension, the Democratic Party has lost the majority of the presidential vote in three out of the last four elections. After a two-term Republican president, the party stands ready to adjust to the times and re-capture the White House.

Now imagine that the Fox News Channel on this alternate earth is the same as our Fox News, but liberal.

Though nominally an ally of the Democratic Party, Earth-2’s Fox is most interested in attracting liberal eyeballs. And the way to do that is to be as liberal as humanly possible, then add twenty. With that ideological point-of-view come eyeballs, and with those eyeballs comes the financial engine of the Democratic Party.

In order to even play ball at Earth-2 Democratic Party politics, Democrats must appeal to the viewers of Fox News. At that time, Fox News is demanding that the next Democratic presidential candidate appeal to liberalism in its most potent form. Forget the reliable center-left consensus that has been a party mainstay from Bill Clinton to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. In this alternate world, Elizabeth Warren’s brand of liberalism is at best grudgingly accepted as squishy centrism, while the very liberal politics of Bernie Sanders is viewed as acceptable if not “liberal enough.”

On Earth-2 Fox News, Democrats are no longer rewarded for the pragmatic “whatever gets the job done” ethos of our Democrats, but instead pilloried for “selling out to the right”for even momentary deviations from the hard liberal line.

As such, the Democratic candidates for President are pulled out of the mainstream and into politics more resembling the campus left, then forced to rely on Fox to buttress their lagging polls as the general election approaches. But Fox’s audience is mostly ideological. It is big in the small pond of cable news, but not enough to make waves outside of it.

The candidate is compromised. Liberal enough for Fox, finally, but too liberal for the mainstream electorate. The Democrats lose the White House again, but Fox churns on, profitable and happy, with no incentive to move from within its rigid and limited ideological safe space.

The Fox News Reality

The above-described scenario is effectively the role of Fox News today within the conservative movement.

Roger Ailes, Rupert Murdoch

As an ideological outpost, Fox is great. As an engine of profit-making for Rupert Murdoch, it’s pretty good, though a steady diet of senior-focused showers, gold pitches and reverse mortgages isn’t exactly blue chip advertising, but the money is still green.

But for the conservative movement, Fox News is no great success.

When those of us who are in the business of critiquing Fox in both a professional and personal fashion speak up, Fox backers inevitably cite the network’s ratings dominance. I have never understood this.

Fox News was launched in 1996, based on a plan from Roger Ailes hatched during his service to Richard Nixon to have a television channel dedicated to furthering the cause of the Republican Party. Since Fox’s launch, there have been two two-term Democratic presidencies, and only one out of four presidential elections where a plurality of the vote went to the Republican candidate.

Fox also saw the House and Senate swing back and forth between the two parties, hardly ensuring a permanent majority in service of the Republican cause.

Fox gets great ratings, but it isn’t particularly good for conservatives or Republicans.

The Bush Bubble

Arguably the heyday of Fox News was circa 2001-2005. In that time span, Fox worked to solidify the shaky ground President Bush’s first term had been built on, while using the 9/11 attacks to beat up on any perceived enemy of the president, while helping to shout down the opposition in the rush to war in Iraq.

The mainstream media, cowed by years of yells of “liberal bias” bent over backwards for Fox, often indulging the network’s absurdist assertions about Democrats. Too often in the Bush years, the mainstream press accepted the Fox assertions that Democrats were weak and too far to the left to ever win over the American people.

Then, reality struck.

The Iraq War was a disaster. Thousands of Americans and Iraqis were dead while there were no weapons of mass destruction and Bin Laden was still on the loose. Democrats took the House and Senate. Then the economy, neglected and mismanaged by the Bush team and cheered on from the sidelines by Fox’s prime time lineup, collapsed.

By 2008 it became clear that the world Fox had worked so hard to build and promote didn’t exist, nor was the Republican Party it had portrayed as invincible actually any tougher than a paper tiger.

But Fox was still number one.

Fox isn’t tethered to helping the Republican Party. Its goal is to make Rupert Murdoch and his cronies wealthy. I’ve often said that if Murdoch thought he could make more money as a left-wing network, he’d flip the necessary switches in a heartbeat. As long as he can get regulatory approval for expanding his media empire – and both parties can be relied on for this as long as the campaign donation is right – he doesn’t actually care.

Fox’s Ghetto

Glenn Beck on Fox News

Not only is Fox not as scary a prospect for the rest of the media as it was during the height of the Bush years, but the network has made missteps like hiring conspiratorial buffoon Glenn Beck that signaled to the world at large that Fox was a ghetto.

Fox still has “fair and balanced” as its slogan, but it doesn’t even bother to put up the token resistance to allegations that it is a right-wing network anymore. Everyone knows Fox is on the right, and that immediately ghettoizes it. Its allegations against Democrats and progressives are no longer the findings of a purportedly independent journalistic outfit, but in many cases just lazily cribbed from Republican Party research memos.

Fox is often so attached to the party that it is responsible for the themes at the party convention.

Fox is better funded and run than the Breitbarts of the world, but for those outside the right wing media bubble, effectively the same sort of trash.

We all know what Fox is going to say about the Democrats and progressives, and its such a knee-jerk reaction so much of the time that it is just boring.

Conservative Fear & What About MSNBC?

It makes conservatives feel better about themselves when a liberal has unloaded on Fox to ask “what about MSNBC?”

They do so, because in their minds, MSNBC is the liberal equivalent of Fox. This is a concept most liberals find laughable. Just on a surface level, MSNBC starts its day every weekday with a conservative Republican who was a foot soldier in the 1994 Gingrich Congress. His most frequent guests are the Beltway elite centrist contingent who have never gotten anything right about politics. People like Harold Ford Jr., Donny Deutch, Mark Halperin, and on and on.

The rest of the day is sprinkled with progressive viewpoints, leading into a liberal prime time lineup. But the difference between MSNBC and Fox News is that liberals and Democrats don’t fear MSNBC. Republicans must kiss Fox’s ring to remain viable contenders at all levels of Republican politics, whereas there are no liberals who fear the wrath of MSNBC hosts.

When an MSNBC host expresses criticism of a Democrat, it just doesn’t have the resonance of a Fox host taking a Republican to task. The network does not occupy the mindshare in the collective liberal consciousness as Fox does on the right.

Thank God There Isn’t A Liberal Fox

If someone had told me in 2002-3 that in 2015 there still wasn’t a liberal Fox News, I would have been disappointed. Because in that era it felt like that was the only way the left could break through again.

Fox was dominant with a Republican in the White House and conservatives in control of the House and Senate. When it flexed its muscles the mainstream media marched in lockstep with it, including helping to get the country involved in a bad war costing thousands of lives and destabilizing an entire region.

Over a decade later, Fox still dominates the ratings and the right, but its inflexibility on ideology and its pandering to its core audience with right wing fear and hate has produced a Republican Party that can gin up core voters in low turnout off-year elections but who has lost most of the culture war and starts behind the eight ball on presidential politics.

Fox News and its ratings success continues to fatten Rupert Murdoch’s bank accounts, but fail to be anything other than a dull, loud weapon in the right wing arsenal aimed at capturing American hearts and minds.

We don’t have a liberal Fox News Channel. Thank God.