A Newsletter With An Eye On Political Media from The American Prospect
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MSM Discovers Fox ‘News’ Isn’t News
Only 25 years after it became obvious
On the PBS NewsHour Tuesday night, anchor Judy Woodruff and NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik discussed the recent text messages sent by Fox News hosts to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows during the January 6 violent insurrection. Woodruff wondered whether “in terms of what we knew about—we have known in the past they have spoken favorably of a former President Trump for years. But does this take it to a different level, do you think?” Folkenflik added, “And so I think that what you have here is a question of Fox News having that word ‘news’ appended to its name, but not operating like a news operation.”

I’ve been writing about Fox News since it first began broadcasting 25 years ago. The first story I remember had to do with the fact that New York’s then-mayor Rudy Giuliani, at the behest of Roger Ailes, used the power of his office to force Time Warner Cable to carry Fox in New York. It had originally been left off the dial and could not likely have survived without that market. That gives you a clue that maybe it was not a typical “news” station from moment one.

Those clues have been mounting on a daily basis ever since. I can’t count the number of times I’ve felt compelled, in different fora, to argue that what Fox does is not and has never been “news.” I think my clearest statement of this fact, and of the problem that everybody pretended that this was not case, came in a “Think Again” column I wrote in 2010 on the website of the Center for American Progress. The piece, headlined “Just What Exactly Is Fox News?” began with this:

Fox News Channel is often described as a cable news station. On occasion, the words “conservative” or “biased” are attached to that description. But few dispute the journalistic orientation of the overall enterprise.

This is a mistake. Fox is something new—something for which we do not yet have a word. It provides almost no actual journalism. Instead, it gives ideological guidance to the Republican Party and millions of its supporters, attacking its opponents and keeping its supporters in line. And it does so at a hefty profit, thereby turning itself into the political equivalent of a perpetual motion machine.

In the same column, I offered this (incomplete) thesis:

I’m not exactly sure what to call Fox. It has more in common with the integrated political/judicial/business/media empire that is making a mockery of Italian democracy under the rule of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi than any American political or media machine of the past. And yet for a whole host of reasons, both financial and psychological, many in the media cannot admit this, thereby allowing Fox to benefit from the protections of journalism offered up by the First Amendment while simultaneously subverting their purpose.

I therefore have to chuckle quite a bit when someone like Jonah Goldberg writes that a reason he left Fox News after 13 years “was that I didn’t want to be complicit in so many lies.” How many lies was the right number, Jonah? A thousand? A million?

I can’t bear at this point to list all the times I’ve tried to make the point that “‘real’ journalists debase themselves and their profession by participating in the destructive and debilitating charade” of treating Fox “journalists” as their colleagues. Readers might recall that, at one point, the Obama administration tried to address Fox’s dishonesty by barring its officials from appearing on Fox’s Sunday shows. The administration was attacked—and Fox defended—by the likes of CNN’s Jake Tapper, and The Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik, with assists from Maggie Haberman, the Times’ White House correspondent, NBC’s Jonathan Allen, the Associated Press’s Zeke Miller, and Politico’s Jack Shafer, and sadly, many, many others; thereby helping to enable Fox’s lies, and with them the systematic destruction of our democracy and our planet.

Now the curtain has been pulled back, and the wizard is naked before the world. Thanks to Liz Cheney’s dramatic reading of the text messages sent to Trump’s White House chief of staff by Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, and Brian Kilmeade, we have airtight evidence that not only are these Fox News hosts deliberately lying to their audience, they are acting as backstage players on the basis of what they know to be the truth.

What will now change? My guess is nothing. Fox will continue to make its owners, shareholders, and lying hosts richer and richer. Our democracy will continue to disintegrate, and our political reporters will forget all this and go back to focusing on the reporting that belongs on Page Six and The Sporting News.

And, oh yes, Chris Wallace will no longer be the “whataboutist” go-to for those who wish to pretend that Fox does any news at all. (I wonder what Fox pays out in nondisclosure agreements, given the fact that Wallace, Shepard Smith, and Juan Williams have all left so quietly.) Eric Boehlert has more on Wallace’s well-timed exit, so that I don’t have to think about it anymore.

Short follow-up to last week: I forgot that once upon a time, I debated what was still a semi-sane Tucker Carlson before a college audience. If you’re really bored, or you want evidence that Tucker knows better than what he says today, you can watch: “The American News Media—Liberal or Conservative Bias with Eric Alterman and Tucker Carlson.”
In yet another “Why is this happening only now?” media story, CNN fired Chris Cuomo and announced it was going to keep the $18 million he was still to be paid. (That’s roughly $25,000 a night, for you English majors.) It’s one of the many great scandals — so many that I can’t keep track of all of them — that networks pay out tens of millions to their celebrity hosts (Cuomo is a piker compared to, say, George Stephanopoulos, among others), even as those networks whittle their actual journalism budgets to the bone. CNN is obviously complicit in Cuomo’s transgressions with this brother. What in the world were they thinking when they allowed him to turn his show into a family hour/reality TV show with the governor of New York? In what universe was that “journalism”? No wonder Chris Cuomo thought he could get away with (just about) anything; CNN had already demonstrated that rules that journalists are supposed to live by did not apply to him.

By the way, I see that CNN’s ratings are apparently in the toilet. According to Nielsen, Fox News recorded an average prime-time audience of 2.6 million viewers in November, followed by MSNBC with 1.1 million, and CNN with 654,000. Maybe it’s time for Jeff Zucker to run for president and let someone who cares about journalism take over. Could the ratings be any worse? Anyway, with Chris down $18 mil and Andrew forced to return his $5 million-plus author’s advance (after having sold like a hundred books), I look forward to running into the boys at my favorite watering hole, Gray’s Papaya.

Altercation Gift-Giving Guide, Continued

I ponied up my money Monday night for a benefit for the Keswell School, which provides educational, therapeutic, and supportive services for children and young adults with autism, organized by Steve Earle, whose son, John Henry, is a student there. There have been great shows in the past, with Jackson Browne, Warren Haynes, and Derek Trucks, among others, and I was looking forward to seeing my friend Rosanne Cash sing for the first time in a long time. But like everyone else there at Town Hall, I was really there to see Bruce. Usually, when Bruce does these benefits, he shows up with an acoustic guitar, and sings between one and three songs and maybe tells a few jokes, and it’s nice to see him until the next time he tours with the world’s greatest band. This time, however, he showed up with his custom Telecaster, and right from the start, with Earle’s band, the Dukes, he—apologies for the cliché—blew the place away. It began with an intense “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” followed by “Thunder Road” and a “Glory Days” in which the crowd took the entire first verse. Earle then joined him for “Pink Cadillac,” and Bruce even stuck around till the end of the show to take a verse on “Teach Your Children” before hopping into the Range Rover and heading back to benighted New Jersey. (For more information about the Keswell School, go here.)

But this is supposed to be a gift-giving guide, not a concert report, so here’s my gift advice: Go out and buy yourself and anyone you want to make happy The Legendary 1979 No Nukes Concerts.” You will see the world’s greatest live, in-concert performer backed by the world’s greatest live, in-concert rock band at their peak. I was at these shows over 200 or 250—I’ve lost count—Springsteen shows ago. (I’ve written about them here and also, if you want to read a whole book, here, or a longish essay in a book of other essays, here.) But to be honest, I lack the words. The CDs of these two shows are fine, but everybody who wanted the music had them already from Bruce’s live-release series, and anyway, the music is only part of the experience. The DVD, with Springsteen’s shameless mugging, and imitations of Elvis and James Brown at the end, and the crowd flipping out over and over is, well … I’m afraid you’re just going to have to trust me, since, as I said, I lack the words.

See you next week.
Eric Alterman is a CUNY Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College, an award-winning journalist, and the author of 11 books, most recently Lying in State: Why Presidents Lie—and Why Trump Is Worse (Basic, 2020). Previously, he wrote The Nation’s “Liberal Media” column for 25 years. Follow him on Twitter @eric_alterman
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