Thursday, March 22, 2018


Political Mayhem Thursday: The two sides of Fox News

A news channel is not really a political story, until it is. And that's what is happening with Fox News, which turns out to be pretty much the only way to get something into President Trump's head. Yesterday, once again, he was actually live-tweeting "Fox and Friends," commenting on things that happened on the show a few minutes after they occurred. It's troubling, sure, that what the President of the United States is doing at 8:45 on a weekday is sitting in front of his favorite TV show for an hour or so, but it seems pretty clear that he does exactly that nearly every day he is in the White House.

Even in my own field, the President's Fox News obsession has had an impact. The last clemency grant by the president went to Kristian Saucier, who had pled his case on Fox. Meanwhile, over 10,000 petitions languish in the system, unconsidered by the President.

A recent dust-up related to the departure from Fox of one of its commentators made headlines. Lt. Col. Ralph Peters was a Fox News military analyst for ten years-- and a very conservative one.  When he quit, he went on quite a tear, saying: 

“In my view, Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration...”

The Peters departure had an interesting twist, too-- he praised the reporters for Fox News, while castigating the news anchors and the commentators. I watch Fox now and then, but not enough to see this dichotomy. Does anyone out there have an insight on this?

I watch a fair amount of Fox News and yes, there is a big difference between the commentary and straight news shows. There's also some mixed commentary/news shows, and those fall somewhere in between.

With some exceptions, the reporters play it pretty straight. As for "anchors," Peters didn't use that word in his letter (which is at the Buzzfeed link in the Times piece), the Times did. Peters referred to "hosts," and in context it's not entirely clear who he is referring to apart from the prime time commentary hosts (Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham). What I would think of as anchors are the in-studio people who present the news shows by reading prompter, throwing it to the reporters for their packages, and so forth. The anchors vary. Some are pretty clearly playing towards the pro-Trump element of the Fox audience (although nothing like the commentary shows), and that has shifted since Trump's election and the post-O'Reilly shakeup. Other anchors are more down the middle.

There are also a couple of sober, serious news shows that are very good: Evening News with Bret Baier, Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.

All that said, Peters isn't the only one claiming (and decrying) a post-Trump shift at Fox News. I've noticed it. Jonah Goldberg, a libertarian-leaning conservative who writes for National Review and is a Fox News contributor, has talked about how the never-Trumpers at the channel have really been pushed aside. He and others have lamented the direction Fox has taken in the Trump era and expressed sympathy for the news people who have to deal with the shift in the channel's editorial viewpoint. I also recently listed to a podcast that Bari Weiss was on. She said that part of the reason she moved from the WSJ to the Times was because the Journal is suffering a similar (albeit milder) Trump corruption, if you will.
Brad-- pretty interesting! That is an important distinction between anchors and hosts-- good catch.
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