Where Fox News Gets It Right
Why should the mainstream media take a page from Fox News and offer clearer connections between issues?
November 2, 2010
Rupert Murdoch, whose Fox News Channel is a favorite scapegoat of liberals for its transparent pro-Republican bias and often-deliberate disinformation campaigns, is a smart businessman. He knows how to seize an audience when he sees one by pleasing it (with information) and milking it (via advertising).
But none of that is to say that Mr. Murdoch’s Fox News Channel isn’t an improvement over much of the competition. A recent NPR Morning Edition feature shed light on the how — and why.
The program interviewed a couple that identified themselves as pro-Tea Party retirees living near Lynchburg, Virginia, the self-described “gold buckle” in the American Bible belt. The couple basically explained that they had been too busy during their working lives to care much about how the country was doing.
But when they awakened from their long civic slumber, they were “concerned,” very concerned, about the things they saw, such as the runaway public debt.
As they were looking around, filled with some trepidation, they found that Fox News “explained” things to them in context. And it wasn’t shy about helping them understand the connections between all those issues.
Now, even if one holds the view that the context and mental connections created by Fox News are largely shaky, if not patently false, an uncomfortable picture emerges before liberals’ collective mind.
How could it be, after all, that these Americans had gone through much of their lives in an almost benighted fashion, despite living in the most media-saturated society on earth?
It’s the competition, stupid — and no, I’m not referring to the standard oppositional fare of MSNBC, which is often over the heads of many a target audience.
The failed competition I have in mind — and which are the first and foremost enablers, if not indirect promoters, of Fox News — are all the local news programs.
If you have ever watched the local evening news, you will find one stunning thing: The formula by which these programs are produced hasn’t changed in decades. The time-tested formula goes like this: If it bleeds, it leads.
Murders, shootings and rapes apparently hold a particular spell over local news audiences, or so the local news execs seem to believe. The scary stuff is followed by segments on house fires, water main beaks, flooding, car jackings and the like.
Next is an act of local government incompetence, the weather, sports, a tear-jerking human interest story — over and out, it’s a wrap.
Mr. Murdoch smiles as he sees it. There is no context, and no connections are being made between the news stories. Never stay on a particular story for too long, local news execs believe, as it could hurt the business interests of somebody in the country club.
It is no wonder that people yearn for context — even if it is indeed misleading.
But context it is. What these Fox News Channel-watching brigades are demonstrating first and foremost is not retrograde conservatism, but a desire to be provided a consistent interpretive frame in which to understand what’s going on.
In conclusion, we shouldn’t blame Fox and Mr. Murdoch too much for being systematic misleaders. That, coincidentally, is a charge they are guilty of. They can claim dispensation from the charge by doing at least that much better than the local news (and national evening news).
The latter two — in the supposed pursuit of objectivity — often create a tapestry of meaningless news items that just tire a tired people out even further. They fail to provide them with a framework for interpreting all that they are seeing, hearing and watching.
This goes to show that the standard American news mantra of “just the facts please” has very obvious limitations. This approach plainly exhausts a people that doesn’t exactly feel it has the financial wherewithal to spend lots of time understanding complex national and global issues.
On that complex road, Mr. Murdoch, along with his many minions, has no qualms about providing just such a lens through which people can grasp modern realities.
What those Fox News Channel-watching brigades are demonstrating is a desire for context — to understand what's going on.
The standard American news mantra of "just the facts please" has very obvious limitations.
Critics would do well to adopt Fox News's methods instead of blaming its message.