For several years, I've received e-mails urging me not to sit in as a lonely progressive voice on the Fox News network. My usual response is that Roger Ailes, the brains behind Fox, doesn't care whether I show up or not. My empty chair would not change a single element of Fox's business plan.
Fox angers progressives because other than their slogan of "Fair and Balanced," there are no disguises. Unlike ABC, CBS, and NBC, they don't hide who they are. We become angry because we believe Ailes is breaking some illusory rules about objectivity. But there are no rules. Romanticizing about the days of Ed Murrow and Walter Cronkite moves us far away from the realities of political TV in 2009.
Think about this: Is it probable that Ailes doesn't recognize that his big draw, Glenn Beck, is only one conspiracy story away from Thorazine and a padded cell? Of course not. Ailes understands what other TV executives miss. He remembers that P.T. Barnum built his business around high-wire acts and circus freaks. Secondly, he understands that the bent crazy wheel is bound to get most of the grease. Like it or not, Ailes understands the cable vision business. One explanation I have heard about his Fox formula is that he built a network for people who read at least one newspaper daily but still might believe that WWF wrestling matches are unstaged and that the blood splattered in a cage match is real.
It is a formula that has enabled Ailes to body slam competitors because there is only room for one cable channel to develop that strategy. He got there first. Ailes morphed news into weird entertainment. Progressives focus their anger on Ailes while the fraud taking place with the national networks is overwhelming. Taxpayers don't own Ailes' cable infrastructure, but they do own the public airways that put billions into the banks for ABC, NBC, and CBS.
Here's cause for progressive anger. ABC allows Mark Halpern to coordinate national news broadcasts on ABC's taxpayer-owned airways. Halpern for decades has been the Goebbels go-to boy for America's fringe conservative right. On publicly owned airways, he has launched far more reactionary babble than crazy boy Beck. ABC just travels under the radar. Media watchdog Media Matters has shown that for years wildly conservative voices at places like CBS, NBC, and ABC Sunday talk shows consistently overwhelm progressive voices. To put that in perspective, those networks average 20 million daily viewers to Fox's 3 million. So who does the most damage?
We should also consider this fact before we waste too much anger on Ailes' business plan. ABC syndicates Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and almost every other right wing trash talker on the airways. Again, unlike Ailes' cable infrastructure, those are taxpayer-owned airways.
The key to being a progressive talking head on Fox is to understand that you probably won't change a single viewer's political opinion. So don't take it too seriously. Just jump in the cage. Try to splatter more of their blood than your own and recognize that the damage done to political dialogue at Fox is dwarfed by the right bent babble of the news departments of the national networks.
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