Fox News: The Mouthpiece of the (Anti?)-Establishment

News agencies in democracies tend to ‘lean’ towards a specific ideology or school of thought on a spectrum. However, as political scientist Jonathan Bernstein points out, Fox News is unique in its functioning as an “expanded part of the Republican party”[1]. In recent years, Fox News has transformed its image from merely pro-conservative to strongly anti-establishment. The appeal of this is unmistakable. Unsurprisingly, since June of 2016, Fox News has had the highest ratings among cable TV news networks, with an estimated 1.4 million viewers tuning in daily.[2]

In this article, I will analyze their shift to an anti-establishment tone and discuss its appeal as well as its political and social consequences as a testament to the power of the network.

The Origins of Fox News: The Creation of a Household Name

Fox News started out as a project conceived by Rupert Murdoch and was executed with the help of Roger Ailes, a media consultant for the Nixon, Reagan and Bush presidencies and Rudy Guiliani’s mayoral campaign. Despite this, however, prior to the turn of the millennium, Fox News’ reporting was described as ‘lacking an ideology’ with a significant proportion of registered Democratic voters watching the channel, even more so than their Republican counterparts.[3]

In its early years, Fox News was largely overshadowed by the then-leader of the market, Cable News Network (CNN), closely followed by MSNBC. From early-1998 to mid-2001, this continued to be the trend, albeit with Fox News’ viewership steadily increasing.[4]

One of the most significant spikes in increased viewership occurred during the months of September and October 2001. As reported by the Pew Research Centre, Fox monthly viewership in August 2001, was (in millions), 604. This number jumped to 1478 and 1530 in the months to follow.[5] This was largely due to Fox News’ coverage of the September 2001 terror attacks. Notorious for its airing of a live phone call where a Fox employee alleged that he’d seen the plane crash into the tower, and was sure of the plane not being a commercial one, but rather a military cargo plane or fuel tanker, Fox News began to establish itself as the network that spoke the truth that others were unwilling to[6]. This was later reflected in their increasingly negative coverage of Democratic candidates, contradictory to their rivals, even being accused of fabricating stories, under their banner of ‘conveying the real truth’.[7]

Whether what they spoke was the truth or not is a matter of opinion. However, this divergence from being ‘establishment-friendly’ cemented their status as one of America’s largest news networks, and one that gained the trust of the people. However, what exactly about saying the opposite of what everyone else was, lead to their massive surge in popularity?

The Appeal of the Anti-Establishment

What do we mean by ‘anti-establishment’ in the context of Fox News? Fox News’ slogan is ‘Fair and balanced. Most watched. Most trusted. Real news. Real honest opinion.[8]

The understanding of the establishment by most people is that it’s the common oppressive system that  is in need of change and questioning. Fox posits itself, in its own words, as fair, balanced and most importantly, real. The establishment and its representations are farcical, making Fox the only place where you can get the ‘truth’. The way for ‘truth’ to become something distinctive to a single network is for the truth itself to be radically different, extensively supported by politicians and business leaders to lend it legitimacy, and intimately related to issues that directly affect the average individual.

Few Fox stories look at an issue without problematizing it, because their network is premised upon a ‘problem and possible, pro-conservative solution’ model. This is especially reflected in some of their headlines and statements:

“Ingraham: ‘The Caravan of Lies and Manipulation.’”[9]

“Gutfeld: ‘Ted Kennedy ‘met with the KGB in order to beat Ronald Reagan in 1984’”[10]

“Hannity: ‘The President (Obama) said he’s going to bring in 250,000 Iraqi and Syrian refugees into this country.’”[11]

Fox and the Trump White House

Prior to the run-up to the 2016 election, Fox News functioned like any other major media outlet. With the 2016 election however, Fox’s coverage of the race contributed heavily to the subsequent win of the candidate they supported, namely Donald Trump[12], and thus, it can be irrefutably argued that the network has a significant stake in the country’s policy formation. Trump himself is an avid Fox fan, appearing on the show ‘Fox and Friends’ multiple times a year, and referencing reports and statements from the network, as primary defenses for some of his more controversial policies and against criticism.[13]

It has also been noted that on several occasions Trump’s statements, ideologies and practices were referenced/enacted in an earlier segment on Fox News.[14] He has also been observed to drop themes and ideas that Fox News stopped covering themselves or expressed mild disagreement with.[15] One would be hard-pressed to find another network that is perused regularly by and strongly influences and perhaps even creates stances in the mind of a sitting President.[16] To say that American policy under this administration hasn’t been impacted by Fox would clearly be a fallacy.

Conclusion

Fox News is a paradoxical and bizarre example of a media business. Its enormous, unprecedented influence extends way beyond that of even banks and other conglomerates with high stakes, politically. However, by functioning as an alternate White House channel, they have indubitably rooted themselves within the establishment they so despise. With the President, Senate and a significant proportion of the House of Representatives all mostly supporting what they stand for as a network, their notion of the  establishment is now, in all senses, the minority that they have always claimed to be. Yet their coverage remains occasionally congratulatory and largely vitriolic. It might be worth considering this paradox, as an indicator of where America, and similar networks to Fox and their countries around the world, might be headed.

[1] Bernstein, Jonathan. “Articles by Jonathan Bernstein – Bloomberg View”. Retrieved May 11, 2018.

[2] Katz, A.J. “Fox News Is Now the Most-Watched Basic Cable Network in Total Day for 28 Straight Weeks.” – Adweek, Adweek, 24 July 2018, www.adweek.com/tvnewser/fox-news-is-now-the-most-watched-basic-cable-network-in-total-day-for-28-straight-weeks/371136.

[3] Grossman, Matt; Hopkins, David A. (October 13, 2016). Asymmetric Politics: Ideological Republicans and Group Interest Democrats. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 178–179.

[4] “Cable News Prime Time Viewership.” Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project, Pew Research Center, 13 Mar. 2006, www.journalism.org/numbers/cable-news-prime-time-viewership/.

[5] “Cable News Prime Time Viewership.” Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project, Pew Research Center, 13 Mar. 2006, www.journalism.org/numbers/cable-news-prime-time-viewership/.

[6] “Debunking 9/11 Myths: About the Airplanes.” Popular Mechanics, Popular Mechanics, 11 Sept. 2018, www.popularmechanics.com/military/a5654/debunking-911-myths-planes/.

[7] Baum, Matthew A.; Groeling, Tim (2009). “Shot by the Messenger: Partisan Cues and Public Opinion regarding National Security and War”. Political Behavior. 31 (2): 157–186.

[8] Concha, Joe. “Fox News Launching New Ad Campaign: ‘Real News. Real Honest Opinion’.” TheHill, The Hill, 12 Mar. 2018, thehill.com/homenews/media/377926-fox-news-launches-new-ad-campaign-real-news-real-honest-opinion.

[9] “’A Caravan of Lies and Manipulation’: Ingraham Blasts Left & Media’s Narrative on Illegal Immigration.” Fox News, FOX News Network, 19 Oct. 2018, insider.foxnews.com/2018/10/19/laura-ingraham-lefts-caravan-lies-and-manipulation-illegal-immigration.

[10] “FOX’s File.” Politifact.com, Politifact, www.politifact.com/punditfact/tv/fox/.

[11] “FOX’s File.” Politifact.com, Politifact, www.politifact.com/punditfact/tv/fox/.

[12] J., Martin, Gregory; Ali, Yurukoglu (2017). “Bias in Cable News: Persuasion and Polarization”. American Economic Review.

[13] Gertz, Matthew, et al. “I’ve Studied the Trump-Fox Feedback Loop for Months. It’s Crazier Than You Think.” POLITICO, POLITICO, 5 Jan. 2018, www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/01/05/trump-media-feedback-loop-216248.

[14] Gertz, Matthew, et al. “I’ve Studied the Trump-Fox Feedback Loop for Months. It’s Crazier Than You Think.” POLITICO, POLITICO, 5 Jan. 2018, www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/01/05/trump-media-feedback-loop-216248.

[15] Stelter, Brian. “Stelter: The ‘Caravan’ Faded from the News. Obama Predicted This Would Happen.” CNN, Cable News Network, 16 Nov. 2018, edition.cnn.com/2018/11/15/media/obama-trump-caravan/index.html.

[16] Stelter, Brian. “Trump’s Media Bashing Is a Big Part of His Midterm Election Message.” CNN, Cable News Network, 30 Oct. 2018, edition.cnn.com/2018/10/30/media/reliable-sources-10-29-18/index.html.

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Visalakshi (Lex) is a first-year, prospective Economics and Finance major at Ashoka University. Her fields of interest include development economics, behavioural economics, cognitive neuroscience and East Asian literature. Born and raised in Bangalore, her hobbies include reading, solving jigsaw puzzles and coming up with innovative ways to get people to pronounce/spell her name right. She hopes to be able to bring to the Review her unique perspective and help make it widely accessible to individuals from all backgrounds.

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