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Are Roger Ailes' Fox News Freaks Inadvertently Helping Democrats?

Fox is bad for journalism and Democracy. It is bad for America. But is it also bad for the GOP?

An article just published by New York Magazine is getting attention for its revelations about what Fox CEO Roger Ailes really thinks about his on-air personalities. The article titled “The Elephant in the Green Room,” began with this colorful introduction:

“The circus Roger Ailes created at Fox News made his network $900 million last year. But it may have lost him something more important: the next election.”

Amongst the insider disclosures in the NYMag article are that Ailes thinks Sarah Palin is an idiot who hasn’t helped the conservative movement. Ailes also reportedly worried that Glenn Beck had become bigger than Fox News and was uncontrollable. Both of those assessments are obviously true, but what is unsaid is even more interesting.

Roger Ailes is directly responsible for elevating Palin and Beck to their current celebrity status. He cannot absolve himself of having inflicted those pests on America without admitting how dreadfully wrong he was in the first place by promoting them. Furthermore, he cannot pretend that they are aberrations. The Fox schedule is rife with the very same pestilence (see Why Fox News After Glenn Beck Will Still Suck). It is their trademark and extends far beyond any individual personalities.

The case was made long ago that Fox News is a blight on the media map. It is bad for journalism. It is bad for Democracy. It is bad for America. A so-called “news” network that repeatedly misinforms, even deliberately disinforms, its audience is failing any test of public service embodied by an ethical press.

However, there is a case to be made that Fox News is demonstrably harmful to the Republican Party. In fact, it may be the worst thing to happen to Republicans in decades. That may seem counter-intuitive when discussing Fox News, the acknowledged public relations division of the GOP. Fox has populated its air with right-wing mouthpieces and brazenly partisan advocates for a conservative Republican agenda. They read GOP press releases on the air verbatim as if they were the product of original research. They provide a forum where Republican politicians and pundits can peddle their views unchallenged. So how is this harmful to Republicans?

If all we were witnessing was the emergence of a mainstream conservative network that aspired to advance Republican themes and policies, there would not be much of note here. Most of the conventional media was already center-right before there was a Fox News. But Fox has corralled a stable of the most disreputable, unqualified, extremist, lunatics ever assembled, and is presenting them as experts, analysts, and leaders. These third-rate icons of idiocy are marketed by Fox like any other gag gift (i.e. pet rocks, plastic vomit, Sarah Palin, etc.). So while most Americans have never heard of actual Republican party bosses like House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, posers like Joe the Plumber and Andrew Breitbart have become household names.

Fox News has descended into depths heretofore reserved for fringe characters. They are openly promoting the wackos who believe that President Obama is ineligible to hold office because he isn’t a U.S. citizen. They feature commentaries by secessionists and even those calling for an overthrow of the government and the Constitution. This development was inadvertently addressed by one of Fox’s own:

“If crazy ideologues have infiltrated the news business, we need to know about it.” ~ Bill O’Reilly, 7/16/09

Well said. The Fox News audience is being dumbed down by a parade of paranoid know-nothings. This strategy appears to be successful for Fox in that it has attracted a loyal viewership that is eager to have their twisted preconceptions affirmed. The conflict-infused fare in which Fox specializes has been a ratings juggernaut – just like any good fiction. However, this perceived popularity is having an inordinate impact on the GOP platform. By doubling down on crazy, Fox is driving the center of the Republican Party further down the rabid hole. They are reshaping the party into a more radicalized community of conspiracy nuts. So even as this helps Rupert Murdoch’s bottom line, it is making celebrities of political bottom-feeders.

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