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Time to Give Fox News the Boot

SNA (Tokyo) — When is the news media not the news media? It’s when its adherence to a political ideology comes before its responsibility to inform the public about the realities of current affairs. It’s when it becomes more comfortable lying to keep a friendly regime in power than serving as a watchdog for the public interest. In that sense, Fox News has never qualified as a news organization.

America’s premier “conservative news media” channel was born in partisanship. Created by billionaire Rupert Murdoch and Republican Party operative Roger Ailes, it was always about building a power base for the American right wing. Some of the journalists it hired were real journalists, but the overall machine they constructed was aimed at delivering propaganda, not reporting the news.

Of course, one of their very effective tactics was to immediately accuse the rest of the media of doing what they themselves specialized in. Fox News, together with their ideological allies in talk radio and elsewhere, repeatedly denounced the news media as being the “liberal media,” pretending that it was the mainstream news media that was obsessively promoting an ideological agenda, and that they were the “fair and balanced” alternative.

It was executed brilliantly, and they largely succeeded in getting the country to accept that there were two legitimate kinds of news media on offer: a “conservative media” mainly representing ordinary working class Americans and the “liberal media” mainly representing wine-and-cheese types on the two coasts.

The mainstream media stupidly fell for the trap. Mainstream news organizations, put on the defensive by the constant accusations that they were out-of-touch liberals, made an effort to put more “conservative journalists” on their payroll, and they themselves drifted rightward in their politics. While they were battered and bruised by the charges that they were suppressing conservative views, if anything it was the voices of unapologetic progressives and those further to the left who were actually being systematically marginalized in their discourse.

It needs to be acknowledged, however, that this “mistake” was not simply the intellectual error of establishment journalists, but also a product of the increasing ascendancy that corporate hatchet men have gained over those who had risen up through the ranks of journalism itself.

The real journalists do have a fair share of blame. In 2009, the new Obama administration briefly went to war with Fox News, arguing correctly that it was not an authentic news organization. Anita Dunn, White House communications director, stated, “Fox News often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party.” President Obama himself said, “If media is operating basically as a talk radio format, then that’s one thing, and if it’s operating as a news outlet, then that’s another.” When the Obama administration followed up with a momentary effort to exclude Fox News from media pool coverage, the entire mainstream news industry rose up as one and defended Fox News‘ right to have the same privileges as the rest of them.

Subsequent developments show clearly enough that the Obama administration was correct and the news media industry was wrong in this instance. Fox News is not the news media, but rather the anti-news media. It is the largest and most powerful media voice of those who aim to snuff out journalism and critical thinking. In 2009, they watched as the news media industry reacted like Pavlovian dogs, instinctively rallying to the defense of a supposed news organization against government pressure without examining the merits of the argument.

They did not grapple with the reality that the main objective of Fox News (delivering rightwing propaganda) is not the same as their main objective (reporting events to the public). Simply because a billionaire created an organization that presented itself in the format of a news channel didn’t make it worthy of the special protections and privileges of the news media industry.

Fast forward to 2018 and we have a new president, Donald Trump, who walked into power across the bridge that had been constructed by two decades of hate and propaganda spewing from Fox News and its talk radio allies. He describes all of the news media (except for Fox News of course) as “the enemy of the people.” Trump is going so far as to threaten news outlets openly, sending unmistakable signals to his followers that violence against journalists is morally justified.

And who doubts that if a left-leaning journalist or three are gunned down in the streets, that Fox News commentators like Sean Hannity won’t immediately justify and even celebrate such action?

It’s time for news organizations to make clear that the “conservative media” as it is currently constructed is not news media, but rather a dangerous propaganda technique that has led a large segment of the general public into hatred, division, and a loss of respect for verifiable facts.

Naturally, some individual journalists will lean left and others will lean right, and all of them must have the power and authority to conduct their inquiries against politicians and organizations of all ideological stripes. This diversity of opinion is essential for a functioning democracy. But it’s time to recognize that at a fundamental level Fox News is something different. It is an organization with the aim of constraining and limiting democratic debate, not empowering it. And for that reason it needs to be given the boot.

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