The Mainstream Fox News

I was working from home on Friday and happened to have the TV turned on to CNN. Therefore I watched the defeat of the House Republican’s American Health Care Act (AHCA) in real time. But I wouldn’t have if I were tuned to Fox News Channel instead. A conservative friend of mine was watching Fox News Channel that day, and was moved by its assertion that the “mainstream media” was not covering the Maryland rape case sufficiently. Our two different experiences actually illustrated this great article from the New York Times called “One Nation, Under Fox: 18 Hours With a Network That Shapes America.” It’s an excellent reminder about media bias — right or left.

After reading the article this weekend, I came to this conclusion: There are roughly 325 million people in the United States. More than ever in my life I’ve come to understand that there are then 325 million different experiences. Each of our life experiences is different. There is no way that any media outlet can cover all those stories. But those same media outlets can impose their own worldviews onto their audiences. Those individuals in the audience will either have their own worldview reinforced, or go elsewhere for that reinforcement.

My conservative friend posted a video from Fox News on Facebook. It’s a clip of Bill O’Reilly doing his own media critique about the amount of coverage this story got, comparing Fox News’ amount to that of the mainstream media networks, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and MSNBC. According to the NY Times article, this same media critique was leveled by at least three other Fox News shows, “Fox and Friends,” “The Five,” and “America’s Newsroom.”

First of all, Fox News Channel is mainstream media, whether they’ll admit that or not. They are the most-watched news network in America. Mumford & Sons, an “alternative” music darling made $40 million last year according to Forbes. That’s almost as much as Katy Perry ($41 million). I’d argue that they’re mainstream now, no longer alternative. Likewise, in January 2017, Fox News Channel had 14 of the top 15 programs in cable news in total viewers. Therefore I’d say that the outlet is indeed “mainstream news.”

So Fox News hit this point all day long: Why isn’t mainstream news covering this horrific rape of a 14 year-old girl by two boys, one of whom is undocumented? Rapes do actually get covered. Steubenville High School (50 media links in the footnotes), Stanford (134 media links in the footnotes), Richmond High School (39 media links in the footnotes). Over 90,000 rapes were reported to the police in 2015. Unfortunately not all of them were covered in the news. If they were, we’d be learning about 246 new rape stories everyday on TV. But of course Fox wanted to give more credence to this one case by an undocumented immigrant because it fits into the conservative narrative they’re spinning — America is in danger, and the danger is being perpetrated by outsiders who are coming into this country legally or illegally. And never mind that in past coverage of high profile rape cases, Fox News actually tends to downplay the role of the assailants and will even go as far as blaming the victims. Example, Fox’s Stacey Dash said that “alcohol doesn’t get you drunk, you get yourself drunk.” Fifteen more specific examples can be found here.

Why did Fox News focus on the Maryland rape story and the London terrorist attack while almost all other outlets focused mainly on the impending vote and then pulling of the AHCA? The amount of coverage a particular story gets at any particular outlet is determined by its editors and publishers. I think we all know that media is inherently biased by those views because someone has to make the decision to dispatch reporters to cover story A or story B and then give airtime or print space to said story. Roger Ailes, who is the founder and former CEO of Fox News until July 2016 when he stepped down over allegations of sexual harassment, was formerly a Republican Party media consultant. John Moody, Executive Editor and Executive VP of Fox News, issues daily memos to the news department with instructions on exactly how to cover news stories, as well as the themes of the day. A former Fox News producer has said, “The roots of Fox News Channel’s day-to-day on-air bias are actual and direct. They come in the form of an executive memo distributed electronically each morning, addressing what stories will be covered and, often, suggesting how they should be covered.” So the agenda for the day? Cover the healthcare bill vote if it’s looking good. But run with rape and terror if it isn’t. Almost all other media outlets decided that the AHCA vote was the most important to America that day.

The amount of coverage a story gets communicates its importance. It was important to Fox News to continue their portrayal that undocumented immigrants are bad — reinforcing the right-wing worldview, but more importantly Trump’s worldview — and it was important for many other outlets to continue their criticism of Trump’s presidency (some of it more harshly than others). You could argue that it’s the job of the media to support our president and government, or you can argue that it’s their job to keep government officials honest, and the American people informed. I would agree with the latter. And so would our Founding Fathers:

The last right we shall mention regards the freedom of the press. The importance of this consists, besides the advancement of truth, science, morality, and arts in general, in its diffusion of liberal sentiments on the administration of Government, its ready communication of thoughts between subjects, and its consequential promotion of union among them, whereby oppressive officers are shamed or intimidated into more honourable and just modes of conducting affairs.
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