Fox News Shamelessly Smears Group That Exposed Network's Sordid History
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A new book from Media Matters is being released this week that chronicles the history of Fox News, explaining how a small group of wealthy, politically connected partisans conspired to build a pseudo-news network with the intent of advancing the right-wing agenda of the Republican Party.
The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine, was written by David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt (and others) of Media Matters. It begins by looking back at the early career of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes and his role as a media consultant for Republican politicians, including former president Richard Nixon. From the start, Ailes was a brash, creative proponent of the power of television to influence a mass audience. He guided the media-challenged Nixon through a treacherous new era of news and political PR, and his experiences formed the basis for what would become his life’s grand achievement: a “news” network devoted to a political party, its candidates, and its platform.
When Ailes partnered with international newspaper mogul Rupert Murdoch to launch a new 24-hour cable news channel, he was given an unprecedented measure of control to shape the network’s business and ideology. The Fox Effect examines the underpinnings of the philosophy that Ailes brought to the venture. His earliest observations exhibit an appreciation for the tabloid-style sensationalism that would become a hallmark of Fox’s reporting. Ailes summed it up in an interview in 1988 as something he called his “orchestra pit theory” of politics:
“If you have two guys on stage and one guy says ‘I have a solution to the Middle East problem,’ and the other guy falls into the orchestra pit, who do you think is going to be on the evening news?”
That’s the sort of thinking that produced Fox’s promotion of hollering town hall protesters during the healthcare debate and their focus on lurid but phony issues like death panels. It is a flavor of journalism that elevates melodrama over factual discourse.
The book exposes how Fox was more of a participant in the news than a reporter of it. Through interviews with Fox insiders and leaked internal communications, The Fox Effect documents the depths to which the network collaborated with political partisans to invent stories with the intent of manipulating public opinion. The authors reveal memos from the Washington managing editor of Fox News, Bill Sammon, directing anchors and reporters on how to present certain subjects. For instance, he ordered them never to use the term “public option” when referring to health insurance reform. Focus group testing by Fox pollster Frank Luntz had found that the phrase “government option” left a more negative impression, and they were instructed to use that instead.
There is a chapter on the Tea Party that describes how integral Fox was to its inception and development. The network literally branded the fledgling movement as FNC Tea Parties and dispatched its top anchors to host live broadcasts from rallies.
The Fox Effect also details the extensive coverage devoted to the deceitfully edited videos that brought down ACORN. Fox was instrumental in promoting the story and stirring up a public backlash that resulted in congressional investigations and loss of funding. The book followed the story from Andrew Breitbart’s new and little-known BigGovernment blog to Glenn Beck’s conspiracy factory to the wall-to-wall coverage it enjoyed on Fox’s primetime. This chapter is where the authors introduce what they call the "Six Steps” that Fox employs to create national controversies:
- STEP 1: Conservative activists introduce the lie.
- STEP 2: Fox News devotes massive coverage to the story.
- STEP 3: Fox attacks other outlets for ignoring the controversy.
- STEP 4: Mainstream outlets begin reporting on the story.
- STEP 5: Media critics, pundits praise Fox News’s coverage.
- STEP 6: The story falls apart once the damage has been done.
This is a pattern that has played out with varying degrees of success. Fox used this blueprint to engineer the career-ending slander of presidential adviser Van Jones and Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod. But the strategy was less effective when used against Attorney General Eric Holder and Planned Parenthood, although not for lack of effort.