Last week I had the pleasure of leading a book discussion hosted by the local activist group Media Reform SC. The book in question was The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network Into a Propaganda Machine by David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt, in conjunction with Media Matters for America, a media watchdog group that investigates right-wing media.
In more than 300 pages, Brock, Rabin-Havt, et. al, document the history of Fox News and Roger Ailes, the man who created it for media mogul Rupert Murdoch. They present scores of lies, distortions, and assaults on good sense and decency committed by Fox News and its talking heads, and it meticulously documents them with 32 pages of end notes.
Fox News president Roger Ailes has never worked as a journalist, has never called himself a journalist, and has, in fact, expressed considerable disdain for journalists. Like many of his on-air personalities, Ailes comes out of the entertainment business, in his case, The Mike Douglas Show.
From the creation of Fox News in 1996, Ailes used his network as a megaphone to reach the conservative faithful with the kind of flag-waving, anti-government, pro-corporate, Christian evangelical message gauged to attract the broadest possible right-wing audience. With the inauguration of Barack Obama on Jan. 20, 2008, that changed. Fox News morphed into an active arm of the Republican Party, dedicated to making Obama a one-term president. For the past three years it has made itself into a GOP forum and contracted potential presidential candidates, paying them lavish six-figure salaries as “special contributors.” It has actively organized and promoted Tea Party rallies and used its muscle to hurt and humiliate Obama any way it can.
The Fox Effect cites studies by the University of Maryland, the Program on International Policy Attitudes, and The Quarterly Journal of Economics, showing that viewers of Fox News are less informed than the average American media consumer and that their quality of information seems to affect their voting patterns. Thanks to Fox News, millions of Americans believe Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks, global warming is a hoax, and President Obama is a Kenyan, a Muslim, a socialist, and a Nazi.
One of the most insightful stories to come out of the book relates how Fox sought to destroy Media Matters for its work at exposing the fraudulent news network. Starting in June 2011, conservative pundits and Fox News contributors began a coordinated attack across several right-wing media platforms and multiple Fox programs, urging listeners and readers to contact the IRS and demand it revoke Media Matters’ 501 (c)(3) tax status. Within three weeks, Fox had run dozens of on-air segments attacking Media Matters and urging the IRS to shut them down. Prominent links on the Fox Nation website urged users to sign pre-filled complaint forms to the IRS. The existence of The Fox Effect is evidence that the campaign failed.
Our book group discussed what an average citizen can do to counter the toxic effect of Fox News on our society and democracy. Of course, it was citizens acting in concert who ended the Fox career of megalomaniac Glenn Beck after the host called President Obama a racist in 2009. The group Color of Change organized a boycott of Beck’s sponsors. Within weeks, some 70 companies had dropped Beck’s program. Sponsorship and viewership continued to decline until Beck left in June 2011. He still has his radio program and a successful web following, but this once ubiquitous charlatan has become culturally irrelevant since he disappeared from Fox News.
There are other things citizens can do to purge the stench of Fox News from the public forum. I offered this to our discussion group last week, and now I offer it to you, good reader.
In keeping with the often retrograde attitudes in this very conservative town, many restaurants and other businesses have Fox News on a television in full view of their customers. Why they would seek to politicize a benign social and business environment is a mystery to me. Requiring someone to watch Fox while they eat their lunch is akin to forcing them to watch religious programming. Religion, like Fox News, requires faith. It is not supported by fact. And it should not be supported by us, either. If a proprietor will not change the television to another station, simply take your money and go elsewhere. That’s a lesson in capitalism any Fox News fan will appreciate.
Will Moredock is a South Carolina native with degrees from the University of Georgia and the University of South Carolina. He is an award-winning journalist and short-story writer and author of Banana Republic: A Year in the Heart of Myrtle Beach.