Fox News: The Unmaking of the Myth

Michael Tomasky has an op-ed in The Guardian describing Fox News. Most readers will not find anything unexpected, but with Fox still pretending to be a news organization it is enjoyable to see this shot down once again. Tomasky begins:

Britons may be familiar with Rupert Murdoch, but I don’t think the UK has a beast quite like the American Fox News Channel. Celebrating its 11th year on the air, Fox is a breathtaking institution. It is a lock, stock and barrel servant of the Republican party, devoted first and foremost to electing Republicans and defeating Democrats; it’s even run by a man, Roger Ailes, who helped elect Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George Bush senior to the presidency. And yet, because it minimally adheres to certain superficial conventions, it can masquerade as a “news” outfit and enjoy all the rights that accrue to that.

Journalism with a point of view is a fine thing. It’s what I do. The difference is that I say I’m a liberal journalist while Fox executives and “reporters” insist they play it straight. But everyone in the US knows that my description is true. This is precisely why its fans watch it. Walk into any bar, hair salon, gym or motel lobby in the country; if the TV is tuned to Fox rather than CNN, you know that the owner or clientele or both are Republican. It’s a secret – although not actually secret any more – sign of fraternity among conservatives, the way a solid red tie worn by a single urban man used to signal to other urban men that the wearer was indeed “that way”.

So everyone knows, but, because of the conventions of journalistic propriety, Fox can’t admit that it’s a Republican outfit. It would have no credibility with politicians if it did and would be too easily dismissed as “ideological media”. To get around this problem, its marketers devised what must be the most deviously ingenious pair of advertising slogans of all time: “We report, you decide” and “Fair and balanced”.

Tomasky moves on from a general description of Fox to a discussion of Judith Regan’s wrongful dismissal case against Fox News. Not only does Regan have dirt on Fox, she has also had an affair with Bernard Kerik, which could also mean more embarrassing stories for Rudy Giuliani, who Roger Ailes is trying to help become the next president:

Regan, naturally enough given her special knowledge of the man, was questioned about Kerik by federal investigators. And she now alleges that two executives of Fox News instructed her to “lie to, and withhold information from” the investigators about Kerik. Regan charges that Fox executives did this because they feared the inquiry into Kerik might singe Giuliani, whose presidential ambitions, her complaint charges, Fox has long been intent on “protecting”.

Let’s linger over that for a moment. Two executives of a major news organisation may have told a citizen to lie to federal investigators to protect a presidential candidate. It’s a stunning charge. If proven someday, Fox will no longer be able to hide behind the fiction that it’s a neutral news outfit.

Tomasky has some advice for the Democrats:

In the meantime, Democrats should ratchet up their refusal to pretend that Fox bears any relationship to news. I’ve always felt they should just boycott the network en bloc. One can be pretty confident that if the situation were reversed – imagine a cable channel that was known as a Democratic house organ and run by, say, Bill Clinton adviser James Carville – Republicans would have done something like that long ago. I asked Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic speaker, about this last Friday, and she just replied wanly: “I think we have to reach out to all the viewers out there.”

Paul Supporters Receiving Increasingly Negative Press

Last Thursday I presented a somewhat tongue in cheek report on a bipartisan effort to go to war to rid the blogosphere of the problem of the Ron Paul supporters. While the war effort was intended to be humorous, the disdain for many of the Paul supporters among both conservative and liberal bloggers is quite real and the Paul supports are receiving an increasing amount of negative coverage of their actions.

Conservatives have the most problem since Paul is running as a Republican and his supporters have more reason at present to attack other Republicans than Democrats. Shortly after my post on the topic, conservative columnist Mona Charen posted a Memo to Ron Paul Supporters. Charen made the following complaints, with further elaboration in her column: Paul is inconsistent, historically challenged, unserious, and too cozy with kooks and conspiracy theorists. While the bulk of the post is centered around criticism of Paul, it is clear that she is influence by the annoyances of his followers as she writes, “Like every other journalist in America, and who knows, maybe the world or even the universe, I’ve been deluged with your letters and e-mails.”

CQ Politics has a story specifically on the problems of Paul supporters, primarily for the conservative blogs:

Indeed, things have gotten so bad that a growing number of political blogs and discussion boards — not exactly prime outlets of delicacy in public-spirited discourse — have taken the drastic step of barring especially vocal backers of the Texas congressman from their ranks. Two high-profile conservative blogs, and, have issued selective bans on the more disruptive Paul supporters trolling the sites. And this month, Bobby Eberle, who runs the site, addressed an open letter to Paul backers urging civility.

Eberle’s letter took pains to note that he wasn’t singling out Paul supporters per se but rather “the aggressive network of online fans who bombard discussion boards, spam Web sites, flood online polls, and behave in a manner that puts their candidate in an extremely bad light.”

Eberle says that in seven years of running, he’s never come across users as routinely abusive as Paul backers can be. “The typical e-mail from a Ron Paul supporter often contains profanity and is filled with name-calling and attacks on the other candidates,” he says. “They throw out slurs such as ‘neo-con’ or ‘fake Republican’ or ‘sheeple’ or ‘jerks’ or worse. They say people are ‘stupid,’ ‘idiots,’ ‘traitors,’ and worse for not supporting Ron Paul.

The story also notes how Paul supporters “have spoiled the fun when the site has sponsored unscientific polls to gauge the popularity of the Republican field.” After describing action taken by other conservative blogs an isolated Paul supporter is quoted as seeing the problems which arise from their actions:

At least some Paul enthusiasts have begun arguing that their online zeal may be on the verge of becoming counterproductive. “Now that Dr. Paul has more attention from the mainstream media, we have to take extra precaution to ensure that we are being as tactful as humanly possible,” one anonymous poster wrote recently on a popular Paul discussion board about the congressman, who’s also a physician. “We cannot afford to give the mainstream media or any of Dr. Paul’s opponents ammo.”

But the Paul campaign says it’s in no position to enforce such message discipline among its supporters. “These are independent supporters that are acting on their own volition,” says campaign spokesman Jesse Benton. “The campaign doesn’t have control of or influence over that.”

The lack of control is only partially true. In 2003-4 there was similar, and probably more widespread, use of the internet by supporters of Howard Dean. Their actions varied from constructive actions (which is also seen by some Paul supporters, such as in fund raising) as well as spamming comparable to that seen by the Paul supporters. Joe Trippi and some Dean supporters realized the harm that the latter were causing and did make an effort to convince them to cease their activities. Naturally they were not 100% effective but their efforts did help reduce the harm to the campaign.

Many Paul supporters, even more than Dean supporters, fail to comprehend that their efforts are frequently counterproductive. They need to decide if their goal is to win arguments (primarily in their own minds) or to actually win friends and influence people. While the problem is greatest in the conservative blogosphere, liberal blogs are also affected. I’ve found that many liberal bloggers, including myself, who were initially sympathetic towards Paul due to his beliefs on the war and civil liberties now have a much lower opinion of Paul which is somewhat due to the conduct of his supporters.

The problems from the Paul supporters include those quoted from the CQ article above but also include many of the attitudes expressed, particularly racism, anti-Semitism, and promotion of a variety of conspiracy theories. They often repeat the same unsubstantiated revisionist history used by the religious right to defend Paul’s absurd beliefs which deny that the Founding Fathers intended to create a secular society. While Paul supporters might believe the false history they promote, along with the conspiracy theories they subscribe to, such claims only convinces others that they are a bunch of kooks. The debate tactics used by Paul supporters are also particularly counterproductive. For example, I’ve had numerous Paul supporters attempt to argue with me by claiming that I believe or that I’ve written something completely different from what I believe or have written. I know what I believe and what I’ve written, and it is ridiculous to believe that taking an except out of context is not going to make me think otherwise. Such tactics will quickly convince me that the Paul supporter is not worthy of conversing with, but is certainly not going to make me any more supportive of their candidate.

While it might not be entirely fair, the conduct of Paul’s supporters does reflect on Ron Paul. It is meaningful that Howard Dean’s campaign made an effort to get Dean’s supporters to behave responsibly but Paul’s campaign does not. Paul also encourages much of the other criticism of him based upon that of his supporters. Paul’s refusal to return the contribution from Stromfront founder Don Black, as would be expected from any serious candidate, seriously harms his credibility. When he has written that this is a Christian nation and writes about the Israeli lobby it comes as no surprise that anti-Semites such as Hutton Gibson, Holocaust denier and father of Mel Gibson, have endorsed him. Often Paul will refrain from totally endorsing the conspiracy theories of his followers, but he suggests agreement with their beliefs in his writings and letters written to contributors. He frequently appears on talk shows hosted by conspiracy theorists and has his column published by neo-Nazis. While Paul generally does refrain from appearing as irrational as his supporters, his actions do raise questions and the conduct of his supporters only makes observers wonder if deep down Paul isn’t just another one of them. While no candidate can benefit from the actions of supporters who come across as kooks, Ron Paul is particularly susceptible to harm from association with such supporters.

Update: Wall Street Journal Joins Coverage of Paul Supporters