There has been some buzz lately about how the country would benefit more if former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg bought Fox News rather than throwing away his money on a futile chase for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 2020. Never minding that Fox News is not for sale, the suggestion ignores that the popularity of Fox News is bolstered by its viewers, and not imposed on them against their will. Take away the right wing slant of Fox News and its viewers will simply migrate elsewhere, perhaps to One America News (OAN).
It’s condescending to say Fox News viewers are passive recipients of brainwashing. They are being brainwashed, certainly, but they are hardly passive about it. People believe what they want to believe. The same applies to listeners of right wing hate radio programming like The Rush Limbaugh Show. In the case of radio programming, repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 helped clear the way for right wing radio shows, and it turned out there was an enthusiastic audience ready to embrace them. The Fairness Doctrine applied only to broadcast outlets, however, and not to cable television networks. Fox News did not need repeal of the Fairness Doctrine to clear the way for the debut of its “Fair and Balanced” brand of news coverage mixed with right wing opinions nine years later, in 1996.
There is little doubt that the constant drumbeat of liberal baiting and demonization coming from the right wing media on radio and television over the past 30 years has contributed to the current state of political dysfunction and social polarization in this country. It is doubtful no dysfunction and polarization would exist had there been no such drumbeat. “Give the people what they want” has long been a truism held by media companies, one that they also perceive conveniently absolves them of responsibility for highlighting sex, violence, and outrageous behavior, shifting it onto consumers instead. CNN and other media companies gave the current president millions of dollars worth of free publicity during his 2016 election campaign, and they continue to do so today, because his outrageous behavior and pronouncements, viewed by some as coarsening public discourse and by others as “telling it like it is”, have been worth even more millions to them in increased advertising revenue from higher ratings.
Who’s rubbernecking at the dumpster fire of our current presidential administration and all the fires it has sparked downwind in the political and social life of the country? Most of us are, or at least enough of us are watching and listening to make media executives like Rupert Murdoch and Michael Bloomberg billionaires many times over. So what if Michael Bloomberg buys Fox News from Rupert Murdoch and turns it into a version of CNN, the centrist cable news outlet? We already have CNN, and it already covers dumpster fires. For right wing opinions and conspiracy theories on dumpster fires, viewers inclined to find that sort of thing entertaining, if not informative in any sense other than they themselves imagine, will seek out another dealer for their daily fix. If no dealer is available at the moment, one will soon pop up to fill the void, because there are billions of dollars at stake.
“Lover’s Return”, a song meditating on regrets, was written and first performed in 1934 by Sara Carter, Maybelle Carter, and A.P. Carter. It is sung here by the Trio of Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, and Dolly Parton on their 1999 album Trio II.
As in the so-called War on Drugs, our society seems always more inclined to attack the symptoms of a problem rather than the cause. We attack supply, when we should really address demand. It’s not far fetched to claim that mainlining much of right wing radio and television programming is an unhealthy addiction, one that can lead to dangerous consequences for the greater society. Some people want that junk, and as long as they do, other people will give it to them. Fox News junkies are not passive receptacles then, and while they may deserve some amount of sympathy, the best recourse for the rest of society in abating the destructive consequences of the Fox News junkies’ addiction is not to relocate their pusher, but to address the root causes of their jonesing for that junk in the first place. No one’s born that way, after all.