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Eric Alterman Headshot

Think Again: What, Exactly, Is Fox?

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Fox News Channel is often described as a cable news station. On occasion, the words "conservative" or "biased" are attached to that description. But few dispute the journalistic orientation of the overall enterprise.

This is a mistake. Fox is something new--something for which we do not yet have a word. It provides almost no actual journalism. Instead it gives ideological guidance to the Republican Party and millions of its supporters, attacking its opponents and keeping its supporters in line. And it does so at a hefty profit, thereby turning itself into the political equivalent of a perpetual motion machine.

Recall that last spring, David Frum lost his appointment at the conservative American Enterprise Institute before observing, "Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we are discovering we work for Fox." This is literally true in the case of at least four likely Republican candidates for president in 2012: Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum. In fact, as two Politico writers observe, "With the exception of Mitt Romney, Fox now has deals with every major potential Republican presidential candidate not currently in elected office."

In the first place, one must note the oddity of this situation. After all, what are political candidates doing working for a "news" station? Isn't that inconsistent with very idea of journalism? Can these candidates be trusted to tell the truth about themselves, their supporters, and their opponents? What's more, what is it about Fox that would entice these candidates to give the station exclusive access to their appearances?

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