The danger Fox News poses to America is not that it is a biased or partisan arm of the Republican Party, as the Obama Administration contends. Fox is a danger because it is a cult and uses the same destabilizing psychological techniques cults use to undermine the independent functioning of minds they want to control.
Once unleashed, these cult-like techniques can ultimately take on a life of their own and become very dangerous, especially to the most important of all American freedoms, the freedom of thought. The most precise term for these techniques is mind control.
Unfortunately, by focusing on Fox News' bias, the Administration diverts attention from the true problem. Fox is a powerful system of mind control that makes a mockery of the principles of self-reliance and individual responsibility for which Fox adherents ostensibly stand.
For cults, like Fox News, their objective is total control of the victim's mind so that the viewer becomes the easily manipulated pawn of the cult. The cult leadership is not satisfied to merely convince the listener of a particular point of view. The cult wants to effectively pull the levers inside the listener's mind, and direct that mind lock, stock and barrel. The cult will measure its own success by the relative ease with which it is able to do this.
As with any successful vehicle of thought control in a democratic society, overtly coercive tools of domination are not available as they are in more traditionally authoritarian regimes. People must not only join the cult voluntarily, they must also join without any awareness they have joined a cult.
Fox succeeds in both of these tasks in large part because they successfully penetrates their viewers' minds in such a way that the viewers do not experience Fox News as telling them what to believe, what to do or, for that matter, even as advocating for what Fox News believes.
Instead, the Fox viewer has the experience of hearing something they believe they have already known or felt before, whether they have or have not, not unlike a déjà vu experience. The difference between psychological suggestion and independent thought is lost on the person succumbing to psychological suggestion.
Similarly, on an emotional level, Fox News elicits feelings of resentment from people, feelings which may be there to some extent, but which become far more pronounced by the time the extensive Fox commentary is over. Fox cleverly mirrors and amplifies these feelings explaining why any "sane" person would have the same feelings. The most common emotions in these cases are anger, disgust, and contempt. Humanistic emotions of compassion, love, and humor are almost totally lacking.
Many of the rest of us, the "non-adherents," if you will, cannot understand how people can stand to listen to Fox News with its non-stop onslaught of what we experience as invective. What we don't allow for in our assessment, because we don't experience it, is the extraordinary relief Fox "commentary" provides to the minds of its adherents. It keeps listeners feeling certain, justified, and stimulated all day long, 24-7. This is no trivial psychological service.
Fox appears to provide a 24/7 fortification of people's "own" political beliefs. And it is presented in a manner that ostensibly justifies a badly felt need for an emotional catharsis, especially rage, generated by the confusion people feel over the complexity of modern political and cultural issues. Helping people organize a suitable target for this rage requires creativity, good organizational skills and an interest in domination.
These psychological "services" make Fox a Trojan Horse ostensibly bearing psychological gifts that give Fox free entry to the mind of its listeners and enabling it to surreptitiously exercise longstanding Orwellian techniques of thought control. Well orchestrated, repetitive talking points, limited to a very few key "loaded words," to borrow Orwell's term, take on great psychological effectiveness. The words become mental implants, not arguments or policy justifications.
In this and other ways, the mind is gradually seduced into letting Fox have its way with the subjects' psyche with remarkably little resistance. People display a robotic acquiescence to positions and attitudes that heretofore had never been of concern to them.
We have all experienced this striking transition with our own friends and acquaintances, and many of us have even experienced it with loved ones. It is as if one day they are there and reachable and the next they are shut off from us, unreachable by rational discussion. Some literally have a faraway look in their eyes. These are like the terrifying encounters that families of young people confront when their child has been "captured" by a cult. The Fox News cult is one that appeals to "children of all ages."
After a certain period of time in such a dependent state, the mind is too enfeebled to reestablish any independence. This is what is often referred to as the "dumbing-down" of America.
This is also why we are seeing in Fox News adherents increasing evidence of cult influence. The Republican conventioneers riotous laughter at the phrase "Drill, Baby, drill," the "birthers" crazily insisting that Obama was born in Kenya, and the "deathers" insisting that the government was putting a clause in the health insurance reform package that would be a "death sentence" for them all suggest that rapturous, cult-induced, vacuous thinking has increasingly replaced rational and independent thought.
The effects of the manipulations of a cult are very difficult to reverse. Cults are known for the casualties they cause. For some people, the loss of a connection to their cult is followed by acute psychiatric breakdowns. For a democratic society to have so many of its independent minds under this kind of assault is extremely dangerous as the ill-conceived ventures we have undertaken as a nation over the last decade so painfully illustrate.
Cults need to grow or they wither. They are dependent upon the vampire-like, insatiable need to bring new "blood" into the system with its invigorating impact on the group. How far Fox can go is unclear, but there is no apparent limit to its potential expansion at the present time.
Arthur Miller's 1945 novel Focus made into a 2002 movie by the same name starring William Macy and Laura Dern provides a chilling portrayal of the spread of a political cult with an unnamed prejudice, presumably anti-semitism. For readers who have not seen it, it will provide an eerie reminder to the feeling you have when your neighbor almost overnight seems to have "swallowed the kool aid" and tells you, as one of my friends did, that he listens to Fox News because it is "fair and balanced." This was not an independent thought my friend had. It was a "thought" chip that had been implanted in his mind by Fox News.
Cults provide a powerful temporary balm to a troubled mind -- they provide simplicity in the form of a surrender of the struggle an independent confronts. "Give me your tired and uncertain mind, and I will keep you safe from the complexities, uncertainties and fears that afflict you." It is, of course, from the perspective of the person's mental functioning, a Faustian barter with the devil except that one surrenders the mind, not the soul.
The problem is that with each surrender of an independent mind, there is a strong likelihood that that mind will never return to independent functioning, but, instead, will be in the service of inherently repressive cult-like forces who can only function in what is really a lifeless existence where processes of destruction substitute for life and vitality,
The Obama Administration is right to be concerned about Fox News. But Fox is not just another biased news media. Fox is a cult.
Bryant Welch, J.D., Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and attorney. He is the author of State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind (St Martin's Press, 2008.)