Andrew McMichael: The Danger of Fox News

Roundup: Historians' Take

[McMichael is an Associate Professor of History at Western Kentucky University.]

The other day I happened to be sitting in the dentist’s office. Naturally Fox News was on the television in the waiting room, and there was no way to get it changed. The staff prefers it, as do most of the customers. So, I played a bit on the iPhone and kind of watched the circus out of one eye. Their “news” reminds me of a clown car at a circus: it’s like an endless stream of stupid piling out of the mouths of the hosts. And you can’t believe that it just doesn’t stop.

Anyway, they were reporting on the “protests” at the health-care town hall meetings organized by Democrats. Protests in Tampa and elsewhere were covered as straight news, with no mention that the protests were organized by right-wingers. It was followed by some kind of “statistic” showing that “most Americans” don’t want health care reform.

It got me to thinking . . . .

One of my favorite books is The Tyranny of Printers by Jeff Pasley. One of the most interesting points in that book, I think, is that the press has been partisan since the beginning of the Republic. And although Tyranny stops in the Early Republic, the implication is that only recently have we come to believe that the press ought to be as unbiased as possible. Fox New, then, returns us to an earlier tradition.

And to be certain, Fox News is not really a news organization. They don’t even claim to be. They are entertainment, and as they have stated in court, they are not bound by the truth, and feel free to make stories up as part of their entertainment mission (a list of links is at the bottom of this post). The problem is that a large segment of the American public watches Fox and believes everything they “report.”

The reports on the protesters, as well as Fox’s coverage of the heath care debate, of the Obama election (where report after report told viewers that McCain was doing well), of the Franken election (where Fox reported, time and again, that Norm Coleman was the rightful winner), and a whole host of other false stories got me to thinking about Abraham Lincoln.

In the election of 1860 Lincoln wasn’t even on the ballot in most southern states. And yet he won the election and in March, 1861, was sworn into the presidency. White southerners felt betrayed—as if the election and their country had been stolen from them. Violence followed. In some ways this isn’t surprising. How could a man who wasn’t even on the ballot become president? It was as if the election had been stolen out from under white southerners. It was as if they had no voice in their own government any more.

In some ways the present situation recalls the election of 1860. The Republican Party is increasingly the party of Southern whites. Fox News spins it’s version of events in order to appeal to the base of the party, and the either lie or distort the truth so badly that it has little resemblance to reality.

And it’s dangerous. The so-called “protests” at the town hall debates are organized by right-wingers, and advertised and encouraged by Fox and Rush Limbaugh, and others in the right-wing media. And those protests are turning violent. Yet Fox “reports” on these protests as if they represent grass-roots America. And they spin the polls to make it seem as if Americans don’t care for the public option or health care reform. So imagine the reaction if health care reform passes, and includes a public option? It will be as if they had no voice in their own government, as if the government did exactly the opposite of what most Americans (at least according to what they see on television) wanted.

Sure, the government doesn’t always listen to us. Sure they do things we don’t always want. But Fox News, over the past six months, has set up a steady progression of “stories” that would have its viewers believe that Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress are acting, time and again, in direct contravention to the wishes of the American people. Not much different from white Southerners thought they faced in 1860.

The parallels aren’t exact, of course. But the truth is that right-wing violence is on the upswing. Barack Obama receives more than twice as many death threats as previous presidents. His Secret Service detail is stretched to the breaking point. Fox News doesn’t help the situation. It would be one thing if they were reporting news. But they aren’t. They are making stuff up—by their own admission.

The First Amendment recognizes their right to do this. But living in a Republic carries with it responsibilities as well as rights. What Fox News is doing is dangerous. Their First Amendment rights don't make it OK.

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BB Voyeur - 8/23/2009

The author uses references from sitez like crooksandliears, mediamatters, foxnesboycott and thinkprogress. That is like asking vet the wolf guarding the hen house from the web site.

The article is a circle jerk.