After my election-night column — which focused largely on Fox News Channel — I received an email from someone asking why I was picking on Fox. After all, isn’t MSNBC — which doesn’t chain up its opinion hosts for election coverage — just as bad?
In some respects, yes. But the reason why Fox merits extra attention and consideration is because the channel wields such out-sized influence — a point summed up nicely by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof in his piece today. Here’s the key passage:
Part of the problem, I think, is the profusion of right-wing radio and
television programs. Democrats complain furiously that Rush Limbaugh,
Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity smear the left, but I wonder if the bigger
loser isn’t the Republican Party itself. Those shows whip up a frenzy in
their audience, torpedoing Republican moderates and instilling paranoia
on issues like immigration.
All this sound and fury enmeshes the Republican Party in an ideological
cocoon and impedes it from reaching out to swing-state centrists, or
even understanding them. The vortex spins ever faster and risks becoming
an ideological black hole.
MSNBC and other liberal-leaning outlets simply don’t possess the same clout within their sphere as the combination of Fox News (which dwarfs MSNBC’s audience) and Limbaugh (the most-listened-to radio program). Moreover, Fox’s own marketing — you can trust only us, as opposed to the rest of the “mainstream media” — magnifies and strengthens this bond with its audience.
That’s why Fox’s reaction since the election has also been notable, with hosts like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity lamenting the shift in the U.S. electorate, but not advocating any give or compromise in response to it. Hannity, in particular, has simply advocated that true conservatives dig in their ideological heels.
As I noted previously, Fox thus benefits from the election, and allows its viewers to feel victimized by the demographic tide rolling past them. And to the extent that posture influences — and in some ways, handcuffs — the Republican Party, Fox is more than just another TV network.
The disconnect is what’s good for Fox News and conservative talkradio, from a business perspective, isn’t necessarily good for the GOP.
Of course, such observations (or for the Republicans, potentially helpful advice) are easy enough to dismiss as coming from the “liberal media” — just another unfair, unbalanced attack, that has no place inside the cocoon.