Thursday, August 25, 2016

What Ailes Us

My niece recently had her theatrical debut in a children’s production of “Oz.” And everything that just crossed your mind about what that production would be is absolutely true. She was, of course, brilliant and perfect and I’m proud that she’s continuing the family tradition of experiencing and thriving in the arts. The community theatre production’s tone was set when minutes into the show Toto escaped from the basket on stage and bolted for the door through the audience. It happened a couple of times much to the merriment of the cast and the audience. One of the show’s signature songs “Ding-Dong the witch is dead, the wicked witch” reminded me of what’s happened in the Summer of 2016 at Fox News.

Brian Seltzer of CNN reported: “Roger Ailes has resigned from Fox News amid sexual harassment allegations -- an ignoble end to his legendary, controversial twenty-year tenure running the country's dominant cable news channel.” He has now been replaced by a new management structure that largely keeps the editorial focus consistent. Some call is conservative, I call it anti-progressive. However you describe it – there is no doubt about its impact on the bottom line.

“The Pew Research Center's latest State of the News Media report issued in June 2016 estimated Fox News' 2015 profit at $1.5 billion, well ahead its closest rival Time Warner's (TWX) CNN, which Pew estimated to earn $381 million, and Comcast's (CMCSA) MSNBC, which Pew projected to earn $227 million.”

Fox News generates the lion’s share of profit for 21 Century Fox, the parent company. It is no surprise, then, that the company moved swiftly to isolate the allegations of sexual harassment and protect the golden egg. Equally as important in the month following the resignation Rupert Murdoch, patriarch of the Fox empire, himself “ran” the division.

Fox News has had more than a financial impact. It has changed U.S. politics and by extension America itself. The National Bureau of Economic Research (a private, non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to conducting economic research and to disseminating research findings among academics, public policy makers, and business professionals) did an analysis of Fox News. It looked at the impact from the founding of the channel in 1996 through 2000. They did so in 2006 – ten years ago.  The summary concluded: “Fox News convinced 3 to 8 percent of its viewers to vote Republican. We interpret the results in light of a simple model of voter learning about media bias and about politician quality. The Fox News effect could be a temporary learning effect for rational voters, or a permanent effect for voters subject to non-rational persuasion.”
It’s no surprise then that in its twenty years on the air that every major Republican candidate for President has some relationship with the channel. summarized another half dozen studies: “Fox News has had a significant effect on the political process and electoral outcomes in America.”

Pew Research in 2014 outlined the power the network has amassed. “It dominates the cable news ratings and wields substantial power in the world of conservative politics.”

The meshing of “news” and “opinion” is the signature achievement of the channel and what drives its popularity. Events are reported through a filter that presumes the conservative position is correct. Questions are framed to guests with that opinion integrated into them. Its so pervasive that its easy to miss it. That’s the legacy of the house that Roger built. And its what ails the country because it is far from fair and balanced.

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