(Originally posted 11/14/2011)
I’m going to confront, head-on, a subject that has divided America’s newsrooms since its birth in 1996. The Fox News Channel. My statement, which you can quote, tweet and forward to social media sites, comes with a whole bunch of addendums, codicils, riders and supplements, so don’t judge me until you’ve read them all – or you’ll miss the true measure of a really right “Right Brain” network.
“Fox News is genius – a brilliant TV format.”
In all seriousness, I truly believe that. Hear me out. What Roger Ailes created from scratch is nothing short of phenomenal. Now keep in mind, Roger Ailes is the guy who took a slimy, squirrelly, non-telegenic wanna-be politician named Richard Nixon and made him over into a statesman. If he created that miracle, there’s no telling what else he’s capable of. What makes FNC so brilliant is simple – Roger came up with a vision and executed it flawlessly. Let’s dissect it, shall we?
First, everything written here is merely my opinion. I don’t have any inside knowledge or sources to back up these statements – only my observations and hunches from years of watching the network. Roger clearly set out to create a conservative network and to reflect the values and mindset of the Republican Party. I think that is pretty self-evident and not in dispute. If Roger had called his network, The Republican Right, TRR, there would be no controversy. The name of the network would state its focus and ideaology – just as we accept that the SyFy Network focuses on science fiction and EWTN, the Catholic Network focuses on the Roman Catholic faith. But instead, Roger chose to name his network the Fox News Channel. By invoking the word “news”, it’s implies that the network is fair and balanced, that this is broadcast journalism and there are ethical rules which apply. And by using a format viewers are familiar with, news anchors on news sets covering and discussing news issues, it’s assumed that FNC will follow the unwritten rules of broadcast journalism.
The problem is, no one owns the word “news”. “News” is defined as: the presentation of a report on recent or new events in a newspaper or other periodical or on radio or television. News, as you see, is not defined as “unbiased”. Technically, FNC is presenting news reports. It’s just adding that forbidden ingredient – bias – into the mix. I know that. You know that. So what’s the problem?
The problem is FNC claims to stand for one thing while apparently being another. It’s slogan “Fair And Balanced” is, in my opinion, an outright lie. There’s nothing fair or balanced about Fox & Friends in the morning. I’ve watched that show long enough to believe there’s a clear agenda there. The other newscasts, I can’t speak to. America’s Newsroom, Happening Now, America Live and Studio B w/Shepard Smith are shows I have not watched closely so I can’t say how much bias, if any, exists in those newscasts. But once we move into the evening and the personality shows, the gloves are off. Even though these shows rehash selected news stories, they are presented with an extreme bias to the right. Ailes has even said that shows like O’Reilly, Hannity and Greta are opinion shows, not news. But what seems to upset people is the apparent two-faced approach to how FNC sells its shows. “We Report, You Decide”. No, essentially, they report and then tell you how to decide. “Fair & Balanced“. Not always. O’Reilly’s “No Spin Zone” is nothing but spin.
So what do we have here? A network that, again in my opinion, has its own political agenda, that won’t admit to having an agenda, and who’s catchphrases are the exact opposite of what they represent. So what? Nothing FNC is doing is illegal (that I’m aware of). Using seemingly misleading catchphrases is not against the law. Discussing the record of a Democratic president in a negative way because he’s not a Republican is not breaking any laws that I know of. Putting a harem of knockout blonde anchor clones spouting opinions along with facts is not unlawful.
Let me approach it this way. Suppose Lifetime went back to its old slogan, “Television For Women”. But the network aired auto racing and boxing and The Man Show and Monday Night Football. And in every break in that football game, the promo “You’re watching Lifetime, Television for Women” came on. You’d think to yourself, that’s weird. They want people to think they air women’s programming when they’re airing nothing but shows of interest to men. Many men watching would turn off the game and the network because they do not want to be “perceived” as a guy who would watch a women’s network – even if it’s airing all these programs geared towards men. That’s how powerful branding is. That’s what these slogans are all about. And that’s the image TV networks want to create.
Now let’s say FNC changed its tactics by changing its slogans. Instead of “Fair & Balanced”, it aired promos touting itself as “Faux News – Biased Beyond Belief”, or “We Do The Reporting – And The Thinking For You”. And O’Reilly told you “You’re stepping into the total spin zone”. How would that change the way you view the network and the shows? Would these be the most successful promo campaigns in history or a disasterous flop? I suspect the latter. Because people don’t always want to hear the truth. So you give them what they want to hear. You give them what works. You give them what’s comfortable. And they watch – even if they’re clued in to what they’re watching.
Therein lies its genius.
How else can you explain the WWE? Or “reality” shows? People watch fiction parading around as fact all the time. And guess what? The WWE is building its own TV network. Hmmm, I think I’m spotting a trend here…
People aren’t stupid. People watching Fox News aren’t being manipulated by a man behind the curtain into believing falsehoods. They’re willing participants. Participating by the millions. And Fox is making a fortune.
Therein lies its brilliance.