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Anne Butterfield

Anne Butterfield

Posted: December 16, 2010 04:52 PM

The Fox (News) That Jumped the Shark

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Arguing that he was dealing with "hostage takers," President Obama agreed with leading Republicans to allow extension of the Bush tax cuts even for the richest Americans, even though our nation's debt drove the Republican wave to crest in the last election.

Pushing for legislative priorities that work in opposite directions -- both tax cuts and deficit reduction in deep measure -- the much empowered Republican flank seems to have gone bonkers.

Even worse, the Republicans are flouting the will of the voters. A Bloomberg poll says that nearly two thirds of Americans do not support extending tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and a recent Gallup poll revealed that by a 14 point margin, even Republicans prefer deficit reduction to tax cuts.

Bill O'Reilly at Fox News dismissed the polls saying, "I read polls all the time" and, "most Americans are relieved and happy" about the full set of Bush tax cuts being extended.

The disconnect may originate deep within the agenda at Fox. It's been America's number one cable news channel for over 100 months while steadily growing a reputation as a political organization, having been built by Roger Ailes, the former media man and political operative for Richard Nixon and two other Republican presidents. Ailes tracked with dirty trickster Lee Atwater in implementing the "Southern strategy" that lured whites alienated by the passage of Civil Rights into the bosom of Republicanism. Later, Atwater crafted the Willle Horton for George H. W. Bush, cementing an outlook among Republicans that Americans, our values, and our selves, are under attack.

To watch Fox is to feel the fear factor. Its headlines are often crafted with implications of threat to your family; even the advertisers get in on the act with ads that play up fearful threats more than you see at other stations.

Seeming to borrow a ploy from Karl Rove, Fox News has employed a "big lie" by giving itself the slogan "Fair and Balanced" while consistently framing issues for the conservative perspective. When liberals are present on Fox, they are in the minority and often poorly treated, then they walk the halls with paid commentators who also run for office on the Republican ticket. Fox's parent company, NewsCorp made a million dollar donation to the Republican Governors' Association and Fox is being sued for promoting a candidate's fundraising information.

Fox's coverage of health care reform engaged another big lie. Howell Raines, formerly the executive editor of the New York Times, pulled no punches in calling Fox News propaganda, specifically for engaging "the endless repetition of the uber-lie, Americans do not want this health care reform". Americans did want health care reform for decades before Obama's arrival, and startling majorities like many particulars of the completed reform bill. But Fox News would not parse such realities anymore than Bill O'Reilly would concede Americans' true feeling about tax cuts for the wealthy.

With two masters degrees, at least O'Reilly has an education. In the world of Palin we're supposed to defend the worth of education, which can be summed up as formalized work accruing to broad knowledge, skill and insight. Military experience and other intense activities that entail disciplined development of skill and insight are true rivals to formal education. Fox News seems unique in journalism for lending power to commentators who skipped college or wiffed on it. Glenn Beck skipped college, went straight to radio. Sean Hannity (like Rush Limbaugh) dropped out early to go to radio. Sarah Palin stumbled through five campuses, finished late, and has no respect for knowledge to show for it.

Can education matter that much? Glenn Beck and Fox News were overt boosters of the development of the tea party, so how well do they measure up? David Frum the former speech writer of George W. Bush, had his group FrumForum interview hundreds of tea partiers on the Washington Mall to discover how much they knew about the taxes they were protesting. It turned out, not much. They believed that taxes were much higher than they really were, and they were certain that federal taxes had risen under Obama when in fact they had dropped. Later, when Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert drew thousands to the mall for their "Sanity Rally", their fans turned out to have much closer grasp of the facts.

Do education and accuracy matter? Does it matter that the station that openly promotes all things Republican also ramped up a story about the President Obama's trip to India costing $200 million per day that was blatantly inaccurate?

Does it matter that management at Fox ordered on air personalities to cast doubt on climate change due to the so-called climategate scandal in which stolen emails were cherry picked to make the science look corrupt to the credulous and the craven? Don't ask the news station that makes big stars of college drop outs whether chemistry has consequences.

And don't ask Roger Ailes. When confronted by Arianna Huffington about Fox's journalism, he retorted that his job was to produce ratings and millions, not journalism.

A version of this column ran in the Boulder Daily Camera