As sly and dangerous as Fox News

The US conservative channel Fox News is echoing the fear and anger of anti-Obama America. By any means necessary.

(article datant de mars 2010)

When Barack Obama won the US presidential election in November 2008, hardcore conservatives and dyed-in-the-wool Republicans were overflowed by a wave of enthusiastic optimism. All over the world, and especially in Europe, people celebrated the election of the first US black president and gleefully welcomed a Democrat after eight years with unpopular George W. Bush. For a time, notorious conservative figureheads like Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly were overshadowed by the success and silver tongue of the new president. Even the famous radio host Limbaugh, saying “I hope Obama fails”, sounded bitter and powerless.

But now that Obama’s honeymoon is over, one year after he was sworn in, the ultra conservatives are back on track, alive and kicking. The fears of white middle class America have been more and more recurrent in the news cycle. Sarah Palin has reappeared thanks to a promotional tour for her new-released book. The Tea-Party Movement has federated discontent and given a high media profile to anti-Obama America. But it could not have had such visibility without US conservative channel Fox News, which has provided blanket coverage for the comeback of right-wing Americans. Fox has been the most watched cable news network for a decade and is proposing an editorial line which is very hostile to Obama. The fighting with the Obama administration, blatant in the daily news coverage, has taken a more concrete turn these last months.

Not covering the news but making it
The feud between Barack Obama and Fox News has intensified throughout Obama’s first year in office. Fox News had already smeared and personally attacked the President on every possible issue during the political campaign (Jeremiah Wright, ACORN affair, etc.). Then, last July, Glenn Beck, a very popular Fox News commentator, said that Obama had “a deep-seated hatred of white people” and was “racist”, after the president declared that the police (white officers) had “acted stupidly” by arresting a prominent black Harvard scholar in his own house. Tired of being lambasted by Fox, Obama decided to fire back and waged war on the channel in October. White House communication director Anita Dunn said Fox News was “opinion journalism masquerading as news” and thus considered it as a wing of the Republican Party and a political enemy.

Obama has stepped into a dangerous game. He is challenging Fox News on its favorite field: direct confrontation and controversy. Last October, he boycotted a Fox News Sunday morning show while he had appeared on many other channels. A few days later, an attempt from the White House to exclude Fox News from a pooled interview with one of its top officials aroused criticism from the other networks, including liberal ones. Obama was accused of handling the media too aggressively. Fox News commentators relished the controversy and pounced on the opportunity to self-describe as victims of the White House’s relentless effort to shut the network down.

Fox News also attracted attention these last few weeks by hiring former VP candidate Sarah Palin as a political commentator, despite the mockery of other networks and newspapers. Palin, who embodies religious and conservative right-wing America, is not usually praised for her expertise. But she is back on the political scene, and that is what matters most for Fox. On February 6, Palin spoke at the Tea-Party Convention in Nashville, accusing Obama of “immorality” on his massive public spending. As a matter of fact, Fox News has acted as a sort of megaphone for the Tea Party movement. In an in-depth analysis, Media Matters, which describe itself as a non-profit progressive research and information center, showed that Fox News has promoted the Tea-Party protests in the majority of its programs and presented them as a response to Obama’s fiscal policies. It also pointed at the frequent banners, in the lower third of Fox screen, giving information about the protests. The Huffington Post broadcast a video which caught a Fox News producer revving up the crowd at a Tea-Party protest in order to make it look more impressive on TV. Such evidence indicates that Fox News is flouting journalistic values to drift into partisan support. This is not rare, nor new.

A history of conservatism… and controversy
Fox News is owned by Rupert Murdoch, the notoriously right-wing media mogul. Roger Ailes, the president of the channel, is a former media strategist for Republican presidents Nixon, Reagan and George Bush senior. When Ailes took over the new network in the mid-90s, he promised to “restore objectivity” and do “fine, balanced journalism”! “Fair and balanced” is actually the slogan of the channel, as well as “We report, you decide”.

In 2004, the documentary Outfoxed by Robert Greenwald aimed at showing that Fox News was in fact a biased channel promoting right-wing views under the cover of objective journalism. The documentary was based upon Fox internal memos giving marching orders to the journalists. It also stated some of the channel’s wrongdoings: no separation between facts and commentaries, not enough plurality of opinion, grossly biased “political experts”, smear campaigns, conflict of interests, disinformation, distortions of fact, selective news coverage… The “Fair and balanced” journalism appeared to be a sham.

The danger with Fox News is precisely that it is pretending to be real journalism, and therefore has more power on people’s mind. Outfoxed‘s point was that Fox had tremendously helped electing George W. Bush in 2000, by prematurely announcing his victory, and in 2004, by bashing the Democratic candidate John Kerry and brainwashing viewers with a “Bush will win” tune. The documentary also reported a study which showed that Fox viewers had a distorted vision of reality. It has probably not changed today as the Huffington Post published last week its “Top Ten most egregious Fox News distortions”.

Behind very prominent conservative and traditionalist figures such as Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and now Glenn Beck, Fox News have dominated the cable television market. People identify it as an “ideological channel” (last October, a Pew Research Poll showed that 47% people see Fox as “mostly conservative”) but still watch it because of its attracting way of simplifying issues. The conservative channel plays on people fears and portrays the world in black and white to attack Obama and impose right-wing ideas. From George W. Bush to Barack Obama, they have turned from biased supporters into zealous watchdogs, not to say fierce opponents.

More than surfing on Obama’s slumping popularity, Fox News is leading the protesters and providing them a medium to get their message across. There are obviously some reasons for voters to be angry at Barack Obama at the moment. But Fox News is not the best opposition representative, because it cannot possibly help having a sound political debate.

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