Does President Bush owe his controversial win in 2000 to Fox cable television news?The next bit that follows in Morin’s column is about our tendency to apply a litmus test to the news—Republicans favor Fox and Democrats favor NPR and CNN. At first, I was thinking that tends to undermine “The Fox Effect,” but then I considered that the existence of an ideologically conservative news outlet which could be selected instead of more objective sources is the important thing. Being given the choice to ignore all other perspectives leaves one in a vacuum of slanted news that never forces one to question one’s opinion on any issue. If Fox never offers information that Bush’s tax cuts actually hurt working people in the long run, the possibility never has to be considered, making it that much easier to vote for Bush, even if you’re one of those working people.
Yes, suggest data collected by two economists who found that the growth of the Fox cable news network in the late 1990s may have significantly boosted the Republican Party's share of the vote in the 2000 election and delivered Florida to Bush.
"Our estimates imply that Fox News convinced 3 to 8 percent of its audience to shift its voting behavior towards the Republican Party, a sizable media persuasion effect," said Stefano DellaVigna of the University of California at Berkely and Ethan Kaplan of Stockholm University.
In Florida alone, they estimate, the Fox effect may have produced more than 10,000 additional votes for Bush -- clearly a decisive factor in a state he carried by fewer than 600 votes.
Combined with the well-documented slant to the right of outlets like NPR and CNN as they chase Fox’s and conservative talk radio’s huge ratings, The Fox Effect is bigger than just Fox. And it all goes back to Reagan’s squashing of the Fairness Doctrine—and the modern incarnation of “fairness and balance,” which obligates equal time being given even to the most ridiculous, untenable, and mendacious positions. This is the success of the conservative movement in the media—getting rid of a legal requirement that provided for “honest, equal, and balanced” presentation of controversial issues with public importance in favor of a disingenuous “balance” that really amounts to the squeaky wheel getting the grease, bolstered by the conventional wisdom that the media suffers from a liberal bias.
All of this got me thinking about the discussion we’ve been having about the Left blogosphere, and it occurred to me that, while the Right are principally disseminators of talking points, the Left spends a lot more time breaking down the Right’s arguments, explaining why they’re wrong, fallacious, and/or dangerous, drawing cause-and-effect lines between things like tax cuts and a faltering infrastructure. This tendency is what elicits accusations that we are reactive, rather than pro-active, that we let the Right set the tone. But I think it’s more than that. It’s a lingering belief in the rightness of the Fairness Doctrine, which itself is a variation on the Socratic method, as assumptions are put forward for acceptance or rejection.
The Left debates. The Right lectures. Many versus One.
This dichotomy presents itself everywhere.
Left: Comments threads on almost all blogs.
Right: Not so much (ref. Malkin, for a start)
Left: Discussion of opponents’ positions.
Right: Dissmissal of opponents’ positions.
Left: Common good.
Right: Personal benefit.
Right: Stay the course.
Right: Conformity to majority.
Right: Unilateral action.
Left: Separation of powers.
Right: Unitary executive.
Et cetera. These divisions weren’t always so rigid, and of course I’m making broad generalizations (not every progressive is interested in debate, nor is every conservative disinterested), but they are broad generalizations about the progressive and conservative movements, based on their objectives and the methods used to achieve them. And in a very real way, we’re seeing a breakdown between the struggle to maintain a democracy and a submission to totalitarianism.
That may seem a long way to have traveled from The Fox Effect, but it really isn’t. When I write about the conservative media shills serving as the conduit to move extremist ideas into the mainstream, the ideas that they transmit—racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, supremacy of conservative Christianity, dissent as treason, social Darwinism, the benefit of corporate rule—are an ugly cocktail of the characteristics of fascist regimes.
A cocktail that doesn’t, by the way, seem to prevent other media outlets from running frantically down the trail blazed by Fox, because who cares about the collapse of democracy when there’s money to be made? If selling hate and fear means we can charge more to Burger King for running sexist ads during our broadcasts, then sell away, Wolf! Faster, pussycat—shill, shill! Sure, pandering to the lowest common denominator inevitably means dragging down all of us, but it’s all just a big game, anyway.
If it is a game, we’re losing—those of us who still care about reason and democracy and a vision of this country laid out by its Founders. Barring a sudden awakening from their apathetic stupor of Americans keen to keep their democracy intact, the real legacy of The Fox Effect will not simply be delivering Bush to the presidency, but tyranny to America.