Remember when Fox News Channel launched in 1996 with the slogan “Fair and balanced”? Believe it or not, early on, the channel at least pretended to follow that idealistic goal, providing straight news during the day and balancing conservative voices with liberal ones on primetime opinion shows. Hell, even Sean Hannity shared a show with Alan Colmes, at least giving the impression of equal time.
But it was always a facade, with much of that “balance” more on paper than in reality. Colmes was there, but Hannity usually got the last word. Fox News was Rupert Murdoch’s and Roger Ailes’ attempt to shift the national conversation and muddy the waters of discourse in the nation — and it has been successful beyond their wildest dreams.
Eventually, Fox News dropped the “Fair and balanced” tagline — in a rare moment of acknowledgment that it was a lie — and moved deeper into the realm of preaching with the voice of the right wing. Hannity got his own show, and right-leaning commentary crept into all hours of the day. If you weren’t on board (see Shepard Smith), you were soon on the outs. By the time of the Trump administration, the network had moved on to full-blown propaganda, and not only served as a mouthpiece for Fox News but often set Trump’s agenda. The echo chamber became a cycle of Fox News hosts planting an idea, Trump running with it, and then Fox News reporting it as a Trump idea.
But even Fox News couldn’t ignore the reality of Trump’s loss at the polls in November. And that one spark of truth was enough for Trump and his followers to turn against their beloved network. As Trumpists started flocking to even more outlandish misinformation machines like Newsmax and OAN, Fox News decided not to stand by its reporting but instead double down on the noise.
And the first few days of the Biden administration back up the fact that Fox News has sprinted even further from the last vestiges of being a news outlet. One night into Biden’s term, and Hannity was already trashing the president’s “disastrous first week.” And as has been reported, Fox News is adding another conservative opinion host at 7 p.m., which was formerly a news hour. Moreover, clips from Fox News’ opinion hosts havebeen increasingly shown throughout the day and discussed as news segments.
Just as Fox News eventually conceded that it was no longer “fair and balanced” and dropped that slogan, it’s time for the network to admit it’s not a news channel and stop claiming to be so. You don’t refer to TLC as “The Learning Channel,” now that 90-day fiancés have long since replaced documentaries on Roman architecture. AMC isn’t “American Movie Classics.” Even A&E isn’t bold enough to claim that “Hoarders,” “Parking Wars” or “The First 48” should be on a channel called “Arts & Entertainment.” So why the “Fox News” facade?
Starting now, Fox News Channel should brand itself as “FNC” — and MVPDs that carry the network should start referring to it as such. “FNC” would at least be an acknowledgment that this is a channel dominated and driven by opinion, and should be classified as such. After all, if ratings are any indication, no “news” has long been good news for Fox News.