Tag Archives: Fox News

Fox News and the permanent election

28 Dec

It is not enough to rail against Trump’s America. It is better to understand it, or to try to understand it. As an analytical tool, I cannot recommend highly enough a daily look at Fox News. Three tropes shine through from my daily browsing and they tell us a lot about what brought Trump to power – and his prospects for re-election.

The first trope is that there is a sense of a permanent campaign by Trump, Republicans and the American Right. Rather than portraying Trump as a governing incumbent, he is depicted as an outsider, with his back to the wall. Central to this permanent electioneering (a campaign mightily endorsed by Fox) is a strategy to keep former President Obama and former Secretary of State Clinton in the news. On many days, Obama and Clinton are the top news story on Fox, and they are rarely out of the top three news stories. They are never portrayed in a flattering way and the photo editors must work hard to find such poor pictures of their subjects. The strategy, one presumes, is to give the impression that Obama and Clinton are still in power and Trump is an outsider fighting the good fight from beyond Washington. The sense of a permanent campaign is aided by the US political system in which there are multiple elections (primaries and multi-party elections). Yet even local elections receive national prominence.

A second trope that is a permanent fixture on the Fox News website can be described as ‘culture war’. In particular this takes the form of “outrage” at a perceived chipping away at mainstream American values (for mainstream American values read: “white nominally Christian values”). Much of the outrage is, presumably, manufactured by editors and sub-editors as it would seem difficult to maintain such a level of outrage over the longer term. One of the bogeymen (and women) of the culture war are academics – usually those in the humanities who are portrayed as being disrespectful and un-American. In UK terms, US academics are guilty of “political correctness gone mad”. Thus, we have stories like ‘Professor claims “jingle bells” is rooted in racism’ or opinion pieces (by a “Conservative Patriot” columnist ) decrying a college course on “Queering God”.

The third trope in the Fox news cycle is unwavering support for the US military and ‘law enforcement’. Indeed, a number of tricky news issues (most notably structural racism in the US as manifested police killings and victimisation of African Americans) are often reported through a national security/law and order lens. So, for example, rather than reporting an issue in terms of race and racism, it might be reported in terms of endangering police officers.

The effect of this management (indeed manufacture) of the news is that it does much to set the tone for political debates. Opponents are classified and categorised. This terms such as ‘liberals’, ‘the left’, and ‘Dems’ are used in relation to a very wide range of individuals and groups – many of which would not necessarily identify with those labels.

Having regularly read the Fox News website for a number of years, it would seem as though the news is funneled into ready-made silos that keep alive particular narratives. It is not a case of events making the news. Rather, essentially nationalist, conservative and neo-liberal narratives use events as a cladding. A particularly worrying effect of the Fox News approach (and doubtless the approaches of other news outlets that are stridently ideological) is that there is very little room for dissent and debate. A real world of equivocation and ambivalence is morphed into a world of black and white and straight lines. A perusal of the comments on Fox News stories is often a frightening experience given the level of invective used against perceived opponents. Many of the comments are overtly racist and sectarian and apparently un-moderated by the news site.

These comments on Fox News hardly amount to a scientific analysis. It is worth noting that all media contains bias and that fox News is not alone on the right. But it is by far the most popular US news channel. It is also very profitable.

So Trump for 2020? Yep.

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Handing victory to IS

24 Feb

I have been in the US for a few days. When there, I was exposed to quite a few hours of Fox News, CNN and other news channels as I was in airport lounges, hotel lobbies, restaurants and bars. Usually the sound was turned down, but it was very clear what the top story was: IS. The news channels seem obsessed with it and had the same footage on a loop as well as ‘expert’ commentary from people who, I suspect, rarely leave Washington. If an IS strategy is to gain media coverage in the homeland of their enemy then they have won that part of their war – for free.

This is not to say that IS do not deserve attention. They are capable, violent, hold territory and are engaging in despicable acts of cruelty. Although such claims can also be leveled at President Assad or Boko Haram – neither of whom command a fraction of the media attention (from what I can see).

The obsession (and it did seem to be an obsession) with IS seemed to be playing into their hands. There is no doubt that the US, its allies and proxies will use military means to degrade and possibly defeat IS. In the meantime, what is the point of massaging the IS ego? The extent and tenor of the media coverage seemed intent on inflating a regional threat into a global existential one.

So what explains this obsession? Part of it can be put down the IS releasing a new promotional video. Although why US news corporations decided to do IS the favour of running this on a loop is beyond comprehension. Part of it can be put down to timing: IS have kept up a fairly regular tempo of high profile atrocities (but then so have President Assad and Boko Haram). Part of it can be explained by the fact that the US is actually at war with IS in the form of airstrikes and several thousand military advisors. Although coverage of what the US and its allies were actually doing was slight.

But one reason worth considering for the US media obsession is structural: it is an outworking of the construction of a security state. A national security mind-set, and the infrastructure and material power that go along with it in terms of Homeland Security and massive security budgets, means that a security lens is the default setting. IS are merely the latest script fodder, but the plot is long-established. Maybe the state is securitised to such an extent that it needs ‘the other’ in order to justify its current configuration. If that is the case, then IS (and Al Qaeda before them, and the Soviet Union before them) have won.