Will Fox News Destroy the Republican Party?
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Over the past week or so, stories about conservative hypocrisies have been popping up in mainstream media like cute kitten videos on the internets. There was the Vatican blaming the news media for the pedophilia practiced by priests; the Republicans blaming the violence against Democrats on the Democrats themselves; Sarah Palin, intoning that "violence isn't the answer," studding a map with gunsights to target the Dems who should be gotten rid of come November; and, of course, fundraisers for the family values party trying to expense-account their visit to that faux-lesbian, bondage-themed nightclub in West Hollywood. It almost made you think the conservative movement was about to collapse under the weight of its own delusions.
But then the cable ratings came out and showed that Fox News had had its best quarter ever, and that it's the second most-watched cable channel in prime time, right after USA Network.
And that made me think of another recent story, the purge of former Bush speechwriter David Frum from the American Enterprise Institute, largely for delivering quotes like this: "The Republicans originally thought that Fox works for us, and now we're discovering we work for Fox. The balance here has been completely reversed, and the thing that sustains a strong Fox network is the thing that undermines a strong Republican Party."
How is it that conservatives keep getting caught violating their supposed bedrock values, weakening and ultimately discrediting the party that carries their political hopes, yet the network that promotes their cause continues to soar above its competition?
What neocons obsessed with Israel and American foreign policy (like Frum, who coined the term "axis of evil") can't seem to grasp is the domestic failure of the Bush administration at just about every level. Frum believes his own hype, and thinks the battle can still be joined for a "muscular" foreign policy. But Roger Ailes and Fox News realize that the worm has turned. They recognize the need to wage a rear-guard fight in defense of fragile right-wing victories (from tax cuts to a packed courts system) won over the past quarter century. They also need to keep their people out of jail for war crimes. And the best way to do that is to keep American politics in a state of chaos, with tea parties and fresh social outrages at every turn.
And that's Fox's storyline, which happens to be pretty good TV. It's like an episode of Lost -it doesn't have to make sense, it just has to keep the feeling of claustrophobic, terror-induced suspense bubbling away.
So, in Fox's Sim Nation, white America feels victimized, spat upon, and ultimately vindicated by the outcome of every story. Fox allows viewers to complete each arc of moral judgment in their minds, if they keep watching long enough. For example, Republican whip Eric Cantor started last week as the hamhanded apparatchik who tried to say the Dems were attracting violence by whining about it. Someone had shot a bullet through his office window after the health care bill passed, too, he said, but you didn't hear him complaining about it--that is, until he mentioned it in a press conference, provoking local cops to announce it was only random gunfire and not a deliberate attack.
Embarrassing, isn't it, when reality mocks your spin? Fortunately, Fox viewers didn't hear all that much about the Virginia police report, but they got an earful about Philly resident Norman Leboon, who was arrested a few days later for threatening Cantor and his family in a weird YouTube rant. That Leboon had threatened people of just about every political persuasion--he was arrested last June for threatening to have the angel Gabriel kill his roommate--wasn't nearly as important to Fox as the fact that his threats, circulated when they did, seemed to vindicate Cantor's original thesis.