Fox News in the GOP Doghouse

Has Fox News helped or harmed Republicans?

Within living memory, there were three TV news networks: ABC, NBC, and CBS, all of which exhibited varying degrees of left-leaning.  With cable news came the "Clinton News Network," which was even more so, joining the long-liberal major metropolitan newspapers (aside from the Wall Street Journal).

Into this vacuum strode Rush Limbaugh, followed in due time by the rest of the talk-radio pantheon.  Over the years they've taken over the AM dial.  But AM talk radio has become a conservative monoculture, ignored by the average person; the major opinion-forming action still takes place on the tube.

And for that, starting around the turn of the century, we have Fox News!  Not only does the "Fair and Balanced" network enthusiastically welcome conservatives and treat them with respect, it is often the most-watched cable news program in the country.  How can this not be good for conservatives, and even the not-so-very-conservative Republican party?

Trust National Review to find a way.

Fox has become the prime gatekeeper of conservative fame, the source of conservative book deals, and the ticket into the true pantheon of conservative influence.

It’s killing the conservative movement...

Conservatives gain fame, power, and influence mainly by talking to each other. They persuade each other of the rightness of their ideas and write Fox-fueled best-selling books making arguments that Fox viewers love. The sheer size of the audience lulls minor political celebrities into believing that they’re making a cultural and political difference. But they never get a chance to preach to the unconverted.

Much though we'd like to dismiss it, this disturbing argument has a certain ring of truth.  What's more, it's supported by some pretty damning evidence:

Fox News went on the air in October 1996. Since that time, the GOP has won the popular vote for president exactly once: in 2004, by a whopping 2.4 percent. If Hillary Clinton wins in November, as appears likely, the GOP will have lost the popular vote in five of the six presidential elections since Fox broke the liberal media monopoly.

In the six presidential elections before Fox, the GOP won four landslides.

Some years ago, in fact, it was almost assumed that, while Congress would always belong to the Democrats as it had for decades, the GOP mostly had a lock on the Oval Office.  That's no longer true today.

But it's not true in both directions: The Democrats have been highly successful in the Presidential races, but they've not done nearly so well in Congress.  Even in this odd election year with record-low approval ratings for the candidates, nobody is seriously suggesting that the Republicans will lose the House - just as, for midcentury decades on end, nobody ever seriously expected the Democrats to be turfed out.

What Doesn't Kill You, Makes You Stronger

This bidirectional change points the way to the truth: The existence of Fox News has not harmed the Republican party, per se, but it's certainly changed it.

Consider the political world prior to Fox: Virtually every major media outlet was staunchly Democrat, maybe not so openly and viciously as today, but the bias was clearly and increasingly visible from the Depression on.  Whenever possible, conservatives were kneecapped with lies, perhaps the most notorious being allowing and discussing the anti-Goldwater Daisy ad which directly accused Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater as a nut who would end the world in nuclear fire.

Only the very most accomplished and brilliant strategic thinkers could hope to rise as conservatives, so that's what we got.  Dwight Eisenhower won the war in Europe.  Richard Nixon has been described as the most intelligent modern president, and certainly was one of the craftiest - too much so for his own good as it turned out.  Ronald Reagan was not only a celebrity, he had decades of experience speaking directly to ordinary American people in speeches all over the country and was able to effectively penetrate the media fog.

As for Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, well, they both inherited the office from their top-flight predecessors but were unable to get re-elected on their own merits.

The fact is, though, there simply aren't that many people with that level of skill.  So while the fiery trial of media bias refined and honed a few brilliant or adamantine gems, it burned up most of the rest in its extreme heat.

Lesser Democratic candidates, of course, could generally cruise into Congress regardless of how visibly corrupt or immoral they were, confident that the media would never call them on it.

The coming of Fox News changed this profoundly.  Finally, conservatives had a reasonably friendly platform where they could present themselves to voters without constant fear of unjust treatment.  In states which were largely conservative anyway, this had a clear effect: conservative voters could get to know conservative politicians on a conservative TV network, vote for them in large numbers, and ultimately take over Congress and a majority of state legislatures.

When it comes to the very top, though, it's human nature to try to avoid the unpleasant.  It would take an incredibly brave or reckless conservative to dare appear on MSNBC when a friendly Fox News beckons.

Unfortunately, avoiding media bias doesn't eliminate it; instead, it makes it stronger.  The mainstream media is not merely biased against conservative politicians but conservatism in even the mildest form - particularly against "Faux News," which is subject to the same drumbeat of delegitimization that Republican presidential candidates are, only all the time instead of just in election season.

As a result, an appearance on Fox is merely preaching to the choir: Nobody watches it that doesn't already agree, at least in general terms, with conservatism.

This still provides great power: Fox is regularly the #1 ranked news source.  But that's simply because of its monopoly position: if you are a conservative, you have no other place to go, whereas if you're liberal, you can choose from many outlets to find a message to your taste.

In conservative states, that's all it takes: fire up the conservatives and ignore the liberals, and you'll win.

That doesn't work in the country as a whole anymore, thanks to the left's decades-long assault on Americanism through school propaganda and third-world immigration.  And every year, there are fewer natural conservatives and more natural liberals.  This election may well represent the last time that it will be mathematically possible for Republicans to win by driving their base to the polls.

Which is why the left is so desperately afraid of Donald Trump's attempts to reach out to the core leftist constituency of blacks.  Is Mr. Trump going to win a majority of the black vote?  Of course not, but he doesn't have to.  Even achieving 10% would break the back of the voting block and send Hillary packing.

Indeed, merely being seen to try to reach out to blacks, which Republicans almost never even attempt, will garner Mr. Trump votes from the middle.  This can't be allowed, so the media does its best to throw this specific news down the memory hole.  Thanks to the Internet, though, this doesn't work as well as it once did.

Sour Grapes and Small Favors

So - is the National Review right that Fox News is bad for the GOP?  To answer this question is simple: would conservatism be better off, more successful, more widespread, if Fox News didn't exist and the only major news was exclusively liberal?

Obviously, the answer has to be "no."  Fox News is not the complete answer to our problems, it's far from perfect, and it's profoundly changed the nature of conservative politics in unexpected and uncomfortable ways, but overall, there's no way it can rationally be described as "bad."  More Americans have been exposed to organized conservatism and conservative leadership than for almost the entire previous century, largely thanks to Fox.

The right question is one NR would never publicly ask: is Fox News good for National Review?  The answer there is equally obvious: no, it isn't.

For most of the last half of the 20th century, National Review was the only nationally recognized conservative outlet.  William F. Buckley all but controlled the very definition of conservatism.  In effect, NR occupied the spot Fox News does today: NR's stamp of approval marked that you'd arrived at the very top of conservatism.

Today, NR is merely one among many, many relatively minor conservative outlets which lack the power to even occasionally project influence into the mainstream.  There's no way NR's editors appreciate this, and the natural human reaction is to attack the "enemy" who's taken your spot, even though that "enemy" should be your natural ally in the grand scheme of things.

William F. Buckley, genius that he was, would know better than this, and would know how to turn Fox News both to his own advantage and that of conservatism as a whole.  Alas, Mr. Buckley is no longer with us.  It looks like his shoes were even more difficult to fill than we had expected.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Partisanship.
Reader Comments

Don't know why I bother... You might want to vet your Trump links:

Reuters did not "shut it down" on the pro-Trump video and they provide evidence to support it. They weren't even the ones filming.

The CBS News crew was packing their cameras in the moments before this occurred and told that camera operator to turn it off because the campaign was herding journalists into a motorcade for another upcoming event. Trump's campaign, itself, was herding them away. Motorcades often have to leave before events are over to keep their place in line - it's a procession.

Using Drudge-inspired links to places like GWPundit and InfoWars is going to drive Scragged further down the rabbit hole of predictable unreliability.

Leaving that aside, you completely mangled National Review's points. They didn't say Fox had killed or harmed the Republican Party. They said it had *changed* it and had killed/harmed conservatism, which in turn was leading to a voice that could no longer command respect across the nation. This is true. Republicanism never won anything. Conservatism did.

In your rush to make a point, your arguments became brittle. National Review's editors and writers are often - almost nightly - on Fox News themselves, so the idea that they're cut off, jealous or making an enemy of Fox is silly. The writer of the article (David French) isn't an editor and barely ever writes for them. He's a very rare contributor with well known law practice. So everything you said in the last several paragraphs is strawman.

French's point was that Fox has become an echo-chamber that is now unable to do anything than reinforce itself. Whatever gets inside that echo-chamber does very well, but only among the 20% of the country that cares. (ie. Trump)

September 8, 2016 1:18 PM
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