By Jay Hansen
I don’t know if they’re coming out more often or if they just happened to all pop up at the right time in the right order, but in the past week or two I’ve been seeing more and more perfect examples of how and why FOX “news” isn’t news at all. Each story was so exemplary as to why, and so condensed within one or two weeks, I felt it was high time I finally shed some light on the more subversive tactics employed by FOX to promote propaganda and manipulate their audience rather than promote truth and inform as a true news outlet should. Some of this may seem painfully obvious to most of my readers, but I live in a very red state where FOX News and other NewsCorp controlled media outlets dominate every aspect of communication and information. What is obvious to someone politically motivated and informed enough to read my site isn’t so for the average Oklahoman that takes everything sources like FOX and The Daily Oklahoman “report” as fact, with the thought of it being wrong or challenging it never even occurring to them. But even the most politically aware amongst us may not realize the depth of FOX’s propaganda and damage to society.
For starters, before talking about more recent stories, let’s talk about some of the more basic, structural aspects of FOX when compared to other outlets. A little over a year ago, a long-time employee of FOX left the company and spoke out (anonymously) about how things work there. Every morning, all the on-air talent is part of an editorial meeting where they discuss the daily line up. There’s nothing too out of the ordinary about that; all the other stations do that as well. What FOX does differently, however, is that they all strategize about what their message that day will be. At other stations like MSNBC, each host gets to decide the line up for their own show relatively independently. At FOX, each host, be it a commentator or a “news” anchor, will make one overall message for the day and they will all hit on that one target message. This allows them to repeat the same talking point over and over again, which, as famously noted by Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propoganda for Nazi Germany, is the most important part of manipulating the masses with lies.
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” – Joseph Goebbels
More than that though, FOX sends out memos to all its on-air actors on specifically what to say. At first, they coached them to always take the conservative perspective on issues, which isn’t good precedent for a news organization anyway, but still not as bad as they are now. Over the years, they felt it more profitable or otherwise beneficial for the company to always take the Republican perspective, even when it contradicts conservative principles. Eventually, during the Bush Administration, they took it even further and became, in the words of this former employee, a “Stalin-esque mouthpiece” for the Bush Administration, because Bush would still occasionally do things that the Republican Party opposed, and totally and utterly contradicted conservative principles such as the Wall Street bailouts, or the War in Iraq. If an anchor or commentator didn’t get the memo telling them what the conservative, Republican, or Bush perspective on an issue was, they were simply expected to know it and push that talking point no matter what. Even more than that though, the memos detailed specific language station management wanted the hosts to use. For example, instead of saying the Affordable Care Act, they were specifically told by FOX management to say Obamacare because it sounded more negative. The same is true for the Public Option within the health care debate. The term “public option” polled really well, so they switched to saying “government run health insurance” because it sounded and polled worse in an attempt to manipulate people into not wanting something they actually did want had it instead been worded differently, or better yet, actually explained to them.
If all of these perspectives and even the subtle manipulations (to some extent) were exclusive to the commentary shows like O’Reilly or Hannity, FOX still wouldn’t be as detrimental to society as it is now. The problem is that they send these same bias-encouraging memos to their so called “news” anchors and “journalists” as well, whom they claim and tout as being “fair and balanced.” If you’re telling your journalists to take a specific stance on a political issue though, be it in line with an ideology, party, or a single politician, it is literally the exact opposite of fair and balanced. The President of FOX News, Roger Ailes, even acknowledges that his entire station, not just the commentators, has a conservative bias. Does it matter though? Of course not; everyone, viewers and other stations, continue to claim FOX is fair and balanced, and a legitimate news source, in one of the greatest paradoxes ever accepted by the masses. FOX is both fair and balanced, and has a conservative bias. Both are accepted as fact by nearly everyone. How? I don’t know. This only speaks to the power of propaganda, and it is even reflected in the polls with FOX rated as both the most and least trusted name in journalism.
Good God humans are stupid.
On that note, let’s take a look at a few of the tactics FOX employs while actually on the air, and not behind the scenes, to manipulate its viewer base. On April 30th, The Young Turks did a story about self-proclaimed Democrat Michael Goodwin on FOX News criticizing President Obama. Now it’s fine to criticize the president, but Goodwin’s criticizing of him sounded exactly like that of a Republican on the issue of Obama over-politicizing the killing of Osama bin Laden. Imagine that; even the “Democrats” on FOX hate Obama. This really isn’t anything new or shocking; Democrats will sellout their party base, leaders, and ideology all the time for a couple of extra bucks from big donors. Just look at Joe Liberman. That’s not what really got me about this story though; what got me was how the interviewer said President Obama “might” have an enemy list, and that the last President to have one was Nixon.
This is another classic propaganda trick; President Obama might have an enemy list. He might have death panels. President Obama might have ties to al-Qaeda. Sometimes they even word it like a question; is president Obama a Kenyan anti-colonialist? Does President Obama want to kill your grandmother? Is President Obama a communist?
Obviously, NO, to all of these points. Any sane person could tell you that. But by putting President Obama in the same sentence as words like communist, death panel, al-Qaeda, and other bad things, FOX associates him with them indirectly. Most people don’t focus or scrutinize the news with great interest; they just listen to it in the background. When we do this, we open our subconscious minds slightly more to invasion than we would if we were paying strict attention. By simply hearing someone ask if Obama is a communist, or say he might have want to kill your grandmother, you’re more likely to accept or believe these lies in the future. It lays the framework for them to build completely unfounded paranoia and fears of the President. Plus, like Goebbels said, repeat the lie. Repeat the lie repeat the lie repeat the lie; hear these words, claims, and questions enough times, especially if you’re only half-paying attention, like most of the nation does to news, and people will begin to accept it as true, even if they can’t rationally explain why, further reinforcing the significance of the entire station repeating one message throughout an entire day’s broadcast.
Later in that same episode they talked about how FOX always shows off a significant amount of leg on their female anchors. This reminded me of an older story they did where Roger Ailes admits that he (at least sometimes) hires female anchors because they’re attractive, and not based on other qualifications, saying “I hired Sarah Palin because she was hot and got good ratings.” That’s why pretty much every female anchor on FOX is blonde with great legs. Ailes even takes it a step further and says that when he watches FOX he does so with the sound off.
Now, why would he do that? If he’s running a news organization, shouldn’t he know what’s being said and how it’s being said? With their morning meetings, though, he knows exactly what they’re going to say because he and the other managers of the station already told them exactly what to say, sometimes word for word. Based on what he sees in Sarah Palin and likely the other female anchors of the station, he’s looking for physical attraction. I don’t just mean in women, but just being appealing to the eyes. Sure, it’s his job to make sure the station looks good, but if the news looks good, you’re more likely to get distracted by the scrolling news feed below the screen, or the hot blonde chick’s legs that are on camera some ridiculous 70% of the time. Just like I mentioned above, if you’re distracted by something else, it’s easier and easier for what the anchors and commentators are actually saying to slip into your mind and build a foundation upon which their propaganda can be built. So if you’re busying ogling the hot news woman, and you hear “Obama’s a communist” five or six times in one show, you’ll be much more inclined to believe it both because of this subtle form of weakened hypnosis and just because of association and conditioning. You hear Obama is a communist enough while staring at a hot woman you’ll start to believe it too. Repeat the lie, repeat the lie.
Farfetched? Not really. If it seems like I’m stretching this a bit too far, consider this. When Roger Ailes still worked in the Nixon administration running communications, it was his dream to set up a Republican television station that would allow them to broadcast their message and talking points without having to go through the media, because back then the media actually checked sources, used facts, and promoted the truth. Ailes didn’t like that model, so not only did he make his own station for just Republican talking points, but through that station he influenced the rest of the media to be weak, complicit, and neutral on all issues. I find it hard to argue, then, that Ailes is at all interested in promoting the truth if he was so opposed to the media during the time of Nixon. He wants the media to lie to people and manipulate the masses to help the powerful, which one could speculate was his entire job as Richard Nixon’s communications operator. It just so happens that the powerful now are corporations, Wall Street, the big banks, and ultimately their protectors in Washington, the Republican Party.
Sometimes, instead of feeding subversive information to you audibly, it is done visually. The biggest breech of journalistic ethics I’ve ever seen is an example of this. In November of last year, Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez attempted to assassinate the president by firing an assault rifle at the White House. The man was deeply psychologically impaired and proclaimed himself to be Jesus. Investigators decided to search the nearby Occupy D.C. camp near the White House for clues, especially after learning that Oscar was a drifter. In their investigation, they found that he had absolutely no connection to the Occupy D.C. camp, the movement, its members, or anything. Despite this, FOX News runs this footer on a picture of Ortega-Hernandez:
FOX called him the OCCUPY SHOOTER. Why? There’s literally no evidence that he had a connection to the Occupy D.C. movement, or that he was even there, yet FOX calls him the OCCUPY SHOOTER, and makes the completely baseless claim that he tried to hide amongst the protesters. They also used the previously mentioned language trick of saying he “may have tried to blend in with the Occupy protesters in D.C.”
But that’s the thing about FOX “news;” they just don’t care about facts at all. In the words of the aforementioned former employee, the content FOX airs is “just made up.” The Occupy movement opposes corporate greed, the bailouts, the policy of too big to fail, the vast and ever-growing income disparity between the wealthy and the poor, and other general forms of economic injustice; everything that the Republican Party, and therefore, FOX “news” lives to support. Therefore, FOX “news” is incentivized to smear and destroy the Occupy movement, or any opponents of the establishment, by any means possible, even if it means outright lying on national television, and worse, on a show that is supposed to inform the public about the truth.
They do this constantly. They use subtle tricks in language, visual distractions, and sometimes outright lies and misinformation to manipulate their viewers into agreeing with their political goals whether it’s in the best interest of the audience or not. Even their so called “business” channel does this, because they don’t talk about business. They just use this channel as yet another propaganda wing of the Republican party, pushing pieces trying to debunk global warming (against Bill Nye the Science guy nonetheless) or talk about how liberal and evil Hollywood and The Muppets are. Lord knows how much Beaker is a threat to our national security.
And just as a side note: FOX “Business” host Eric Bolling not knowing who Kermit the Frog was is without a doubt the most un-American thing I’ve ever heard come out of FOX, and that’s saying a lot.
What FOX and its viewers don’t seem to understand is that this level of harsh propaganda has real, detrimental consequences, and if they do it’s an issue of deeply unethical behavior, let alone journalistic behavior. Van Jones, one of if not the most progressive advisor in the President’s team was forced to resign after FOX ran a smear campaign against him, spear-headed by Glenn Beck. They focused on his ties to communism years and years ago, which he had long since abandoned, and, with no appreciation for the irony of the title, mockingly referred to him as a “communist czar” (the Czars having been the mortal enemies of the Communists of Russia, like calling someone a Republican Democrat in America). Who cares if it doesn’t make sense? Czar is Russian, Americans think Russian equals Communist, and it sounds spooky, despite the fact that every president since Franklin Roosevelt has had Czars as advisors. For simply picking him to be a Czar, the Obama Administration had to be punished, and Van Jones had to lose his job. Shirley Sherrod was a USDA official who was forced to resign as well by the Obama administration, and in an insulting, demeaning way, and for even worse reasons than Van Jones. The hack-journalist Andrew Breitbart did a smear job on her with one of his highly edited videos of her giving a speech about racism years ago. In the past, Breitbart’s work was so insidious it got entire government programs shut down because he presented such heavily doctored video it was borderline entirely falsified and would not hold up in any court. With Mrs. Sherrod, a video where she was originally telling a story of how and why she overcame her own personal racism was twisted to make her look like a vicious racist. FOX picked it up almost immediately, demanding her out. Within hours she was harassed with phone calls from her boss and administration officials demanding she resign immediately, telling her to pull over on the side of the road and do it over the phone instead of coming into the office. Why? Because, and I quote, she was told “you’re going to be on Glenn Beck tonight,” so of course they had to get her fired before that could happen. Most recently, EPA Administrator Al Armendariz was forced to resign as well because of footage dug up of him over two years ago saying that they should make examples of companies that break the law and pollute citizen’s drinking water, comparing it to how the Romans would crucify Turkish villagers to intimidate and control them. The fact that it was literally his job to punish such polluters and make examples out of them exactly as he was saying in his analogy was completely lost on the people at FOX. God forbid our regulators actually regulate to protect American citizens. Armendariz himself had taken on pollution companies in the past responsible for tainting a city’s drinking water with methane and benzene, poisoning the townsfolk and making children’s teeth fall out. FOX can’t allow people like that in the government. They smelled blood when they saw this video and pounced on the opportunity to eliminate another Obama regulator and put his administration in its place.
I really don’t know what’s worse; the fact that people actually believe this garbage and consider FOX credible news, or that the Obama administration is so weak they actually bend to their will out of fear of being criticized by them. Someone may want to remind Obama that FOX “news” viewers are not among his base. But this isn’t just an interpretation of the administration’s actions regarding FOX, even though that interpretation would be an apt and fair one. According to an FDA official, FOX’s criticism “scared the bejesus out of everybody,” referring to his fellow regulators and the Obama administration, and that they were in “the era of Glenn Beck, and the White House was terrified that Beck would get up and say this is all part of the nanny state.”
Roger Ailes’ dream has come true and then some. His dream of creating a “news” station that did nothing but propaganda and talking points for the Republican Party is alive and thriving in FOX “news,” but in ways he never thought possible. His station influences the rest of the media because it’s such a powerful employer for people in the journalism field, directs the tone of the political discourse in this nation or at least Washington D.C., and even controls the Presidency. No one organization, media or not, should have this level of influence on the Presidency. No Presidency should have this level of fear of any one organization. That’s not how democracy works, making FOX perhaps the truest testament to our broken system. Watching FOX, or even acknowledging them as a legitimate news source, only feeds into and empowers this system.
I could go on. Dear Lord, I could go on and on, but I must stop now lest I infuriate myself further.
FOX “news” is anything but.