Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Did Fox News Break the Republican Party?

This take by Media Matters for America on how Fox News helped ruin the Republican chances of capturing the White House -- or remaining a relevant party nationally -- really caught my interest.

It was always my feeling that having a popular, albeit highly slanted, news network as a propaganda machine for the Republican Party was unfair and downright un-American. It grated on me. It never occurred to me was that it was possibly self-defeating. Says Media Matters' Eric Boehlert:
Suffering an election hangover after having been told by Fox News that Mitt Romney's victory was a sure thing (a "landslide" predicted by Dick Morris), some Republicans have promised to break their addiction to the right-wing news channel in the coming year. Vowing to venture beyond the comforts of the Fox News bubble, strategists insist it's crucial that the party address its "choir-preaching problem."
Good luck.
This grand experiment of marrying a political movement around a cable TV channel was a grand failure in 2012. But there's little indication that enough Republicans will have the courage, or even the desire, to break free from Fox's firm grip on branding the party.
Are you better off listening to Fox News?
In conjunction with Rush Limbaugh and a host of greater and lesser talk radio mouths on the right, Fox News has created a bubble inside of which both conservative politicians and their core base feel very comfortable. This news bubble has perpetrated a lot of the core beliefs of the conservative base of the Republican Party.

The Left countered with a network, MSNBC, which provides some form of balance to the right-wing noise machine, in spite of having conservative ex-congressman "Morning Joe" Scarborough in the weekday mornings slot. I had always felt it was not enough, since Fox News so completely beat MSNBC at the ratings game. We had support and a voice on MSNBC, but the right-wing noise machine was so much LOUDER.

If what Media Matters is suggesting is true, that was a bug, not a feature. What good is an all-powerful propaganda machine if the result is a Republican Party that was not only completely unaware of their impending election-day doom but also helpless to stop it because it believed its own myths, that Obama was a highly unpopular black Muslim Kenyan Socialist who the people really wanted to throw out of office. Wasn't true, didn't happen.

What good is a misinformation machine if it's your own side that's misinformed by it?

No wonder Karl Rove had his meltdown on Fox News. No wonder Mitt Romney was flabbergasted that he lost. No wonder Nate Silver stuck it in and twisted it by being so bloody right in his math. No wonder Dick Morris ended up looking like a blithering idiot. He has prospered by pontificating inside the Fox News bubble. In a sense, all of the Fox personalities did, as well.

Fox News boss Roger Ailes: kingmaker or GOP wrecking ball?

This doesn't bring Fox News crashing down, but it does call into question whether one, Roger Ailes can actually lead the Republican Party from his post atop Fox News, or, two, whether Fox can actually help Republicans at all. Here's a Slate article that also blames Fox for Republican failures:
But Fox overreached. The midterm results told Sean Hannity and Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly that they were doing something right, and so they kept at it. Donald Trump phoned in from Trump HQ daily to inform Greta Van Susteren’s viewers about his heroic quest for the missing birth certificate. Glenn Beck presented his irrefutable evidence that everything is connected and all roads lead to the Jews/Kenya/Cass Sunstein. Beck finally got canned in 2011, but Hannity picked up some of his nut-job slack. The liberals on Hannity’s panel got paler and sicklier by design (my theory, at least), and the true-believer conservatives became more insufferably confident and dismissive of any potential Obama revival.
Then there's this Conor Friedersdorf article in the Atlantic that adds contours to this story:
[...]Dick Morris, George Will, and Michael Barone all predicted the GOP would break 300 electoral votes. Joe Scarborough scoffed at the notion that the election was anything other than a toss-up. Peggy Noonan insisted that those predicting an Obama victory were ignoring the world around them. Even Karl Rove, supposed political genius, missed the bulls-eye. These voices drove the coverage on Fox News, talk radio, the Drudge Report, and conservative blogs.

Those audiences were misinformed.

Outside the conservative media, the narrative was completely different. Its driving force was Nate Silver, whose performance forecasting Election '08 gave him credibility as he daily explained why his model showed that President Obama enjoyed a very good chance of being reelected. Other experts echoed his findings. Readers of The New York Times, The Atlantic, and other "mainstream media" sites besides knew the expert predictions, which have been largely borne out. The conclusions of experts are not sacrosanct. But Silver's expertise was always a better bet than relying on ideological hacks like Morris or the anecdotal impressions of Noonan.

Sure, Silver could've wound up wrong. But people who rejected the possibility of his being right? They were operating at a self-imposed information disadvantage.
A bubble world is still a bubble world, whether or not you believe you can create your own reality, as Karl Rove once famously maintained:
“[You] in what we call the reality-based community...believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality...That's not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
How'd that work out, Karl? Was that you sniveling on Fox News about the "reality" of Barack Obama's re-election? Do you think you'll study that judiciously, as you will?

For partisan Democrats, it's comforting to think that the right-wing noise machine is actually drowning out the saner folks in the Republican Party while making its ideologues think they're still in the game. They may yet be, but for now, they could use some help from MythBusters, not Fox News.

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