Recently, Glenn Beck sat on the comfy couch of Fox's morning show Fox & Friends and declared that President Obama is a racist who hates white culture. Of the three hosts who convened this broadcast gem, the one who disagreed with Beck -- Brian Kilmeade -- had recently declared on air that the white race in America had been weakened through interbreeding with non-whites, a statement for which he apologized after it sparked wide-scale outrage. So on this particular morning, viewers who tuned into Fox & Friends watched a host who espouses white Aryan eugenics mix it up with a guest inciting white anger at blacks, followed by some tips on summertime grilling.
The fact that brand management rules broadcast media -- particularly at Fox -- leads me to question whether the segregationist flavor of Fox's morning could possibly be accidental. Is it possible that nobody at Fox had an inkling about Kilmeade's belief in racial purity prior to his blurting it out on air? They had to know. A man who gleefully turns to the camera and bemoans racial mixing is also a guy who spouts off eugenic theories at parties and office meetings. Fox knew about Kilmeade's views and they kept him on air anyway.
The same is true of Beck's foolish idea that President Obama hates white culture. The only way the bookers and marketing folks at Fox & Friends could not know Beck plays to segregationist fears of blacks when talking about the president is if they have all been in a coma for the past year. And yet they booked him anyway, putting him on set for a chat with a guy who thinks that white blood in America has been contaminated by miscegenation.
A morning show that positions itself to appeal to whites uncomfortable with the idea of racial integration in America? So long as the numbers are solid, the media brand experts would say, why the heck not?
When media marketing and segregation mix, the result is not segments about burning crosses, but something that might be described as: segregated content. Imagine what media content would look like if the broad social efforts to rid American society of persistent racism never happened and the result would be segregated content.
But there is no need to imagine. Just take a look at Fox & Friends' homepage and you will see segregated content in action.
The Fox & Friends homepage this morning included 41 photographs of faces. Of those 41, 37 are of people who are racially white, three are African-American, one is Asian. Of the 41 faces, 11 are women, all are white. 10 out of 11 women have blond or light hair (the only dark-haired woman was in an ad). Of the three black males pictured on the Fox & Friends homepage, two were criminals: a boy accused of stealing and a football player jailed for dogfighting (Michael Vick). The third black male depicted was a "Grill Sergeant"--a soldier offering tips on barbecue.
To call this kind of content "racist" and leave it at that would be to miss the key point. The Fox & Friends homepage on this day was not merely offensive or callous towards African-Americans in a thoughtless way on the order of "Whoops! I didn't mean to say that." Rather, it was a consciously structured media product: an Internet platform populated with segregated content, tailored to meet the expectations of an audience that enjoys seeing a segregated vision of America as white men and blond women, with a few black criminals, athletes, and short-order cooks thrown in for color.
Apologizing for a few comments on air did not change Fox & Friends' brand identity. And it will not change. In the media business, the only time a brand changes is when it stops earning.
In this brand context it was inevitable that the political ideas which give rise to white segregation would occasionally find their way onto the Fox & Friends set. As offensive as Kilmeade's and Beck's comments were to hundreds of millions of Americans, those kinds of segregationist comments did not offend the segment of the public that matters to Fox & Friends: the demographic the brand has been crafted to please.
In the twentieth century, when the Civil Rights movement began, segregation in America was on the streets. To confront it, anti-segregation activists used lunch counters, sit-ins, and highway protests. But what do Americans do to combat twenty-first century segregation manufactured by the branding machine that drives market differentiation in the media? Not much.
The sad fact is that while legal segregation might have ended in the streets of America, media segregation is alive, kicking, and delivering to the bottom line in the Fox boardroom. And as long as there are enough Americans who like what they see (e.g., blond woman, blond woman, blond woman ... black male criminal), enough ad revenue to be mopped up doing it, and virtually no choice as to how we get our cable content delivered -- that segregation will continue to thrive.
So, welcome to the 1950s. Segregation is alive and well on cable TV.
(cross posted from Frameshop)
Follow Jeffrey Feldman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JeffreyFeldman