Fox News thrives on instilling feelings of outrage and indignation in its viewers in order to confirm, reinforce, and amplify their existing biases, whether they’re biases against women, racial minorities, socially conscious liberals, or just Democrats in general. That’s how it makes money, as vividly explained by a former Fox News anchor: by keeping viewers “hooked” and in a state of near-constant agitation through a constant barrage of vaguely threatening misinformation about supposed nefarious deeds by select groups it targets. Most of its anchors and reporters are dimwitted, giggling monkeys chosen not for their journalistic abilities, but for their willingness to act as a permanent conduit for fear-mongering and outrage-churning. They don’t traffic in facts, but innuendo and selective omission. That’s why there are so few journalists on Fox whom the rest of the profession deems reputable or trustworthy. From the very start, it’s been a network made mostly of commentators posing as journalists, but possessing no credentials or pretense to journalistic bona fides.
Since Fox has now grudgingly been forced to acknowledge Joe Biden’s victory and no longer has an opportunity to glorify Donald Trump on a daily basis, it has reverted to its normal defensive crouch, best characterized as constant, picayune whining about everything that Democrats do. Every action by Biden or Democrats is somehow indicative of betrayal, or weakness, or something.
As Matt Gertz, writing for Media Matters, notes, its coverage and fealty to the Trump administration provided record viewership for Fox News. With Trump now gone, or at least not as accessible as he once was, the network faces an inflection point as it determines how to proceed.
The network’s executives would likely prefer to move on from Trump and pivot back to its Obama-era brand, becoming the “voice of opposition” to the incoming Biden administration. The network could focus its programming on smearing Biden officials, conjuring up Biden pseudo-scandals, stalling or blocking Democratic proposals, and bolstering anti-Biden political movements and Republican challengers. That was a unifying message for the right in 2009 that garnered huge ratings for the network. And Republican leaders would doubtless appreciate new Benghazis and “death panels” as cudgels to use against the incoming Democratic administration.
At the same time, Fox’s on-air talent will come under tremendous pressure to rebuild its once-record audience. The clearest path to that goal will be to give the recalcitrant Trumpist viewers what they want: more lies that Trump actually won, more unhinged conspiracy theories about Democrats, more paranoid fantasies about the left, and more apocalyptic culture war rage. That will incentivize the rest of the right-wing media to do the same, in hopes of either snagging guest appearances on the network or pulling away some of its market share.
I suppose all this was to be expected. But now that the 24/7 hagiography of Trump has gone by the wayside, we can also, during this time of transition, see a familiar profile reemerging—that of the “average” Fox News viewer—a profile which can be painstakingly assembled by reviewing how Fox News reports certain people and events.
Unsurprisingly, the typical Fox News viewer is white and male. Based on Fox’s advertisers, he is over 60 years old and is very concerned about his Medicare supplemental insurance. He may consider trying to lose weight with Nutrisystem products, and fantasizes about going to a Sandals resort. He is thinking about transferring his old VHS tapes to a Legacybox, but only after he buys a LifeLock to protect his identity from scammers. Presumably he’ll first clear all these decisions with his Visiting Angels home health care aide.
Our Fox News viewer believes that the Black Lives Matter movement is as violent or more so than the Ku Klux Klan. He believes the only purpose of Planned Parenthood is to perform abortions, and many of these are “partial birth” abortions. He believes climate change and global warming are Democratic scams. He has a visceral fixation on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that he can’t seem to understand, because he knows from Fox News that there are millions of beautiful conservative women (many of them blonde) out there who would certainly find him attractive, if he could only meet one of them.
Our viewer believes the U.S. is under continual attack from an invasion of undocumented immigrants, and that a new caravan of Spanish-speaking drug dealers, rapists, and gang members is threatening our southern border as we speak. At the same time, he believes Democrats are plotting to outlaw the possession of firearms.
He believes the 2020 presidential election was stolen and fraudulent, even if he doesn’t know exactly how. He believes the COVID-19 pandemic is completely overblown, and is far less likely to take precautionary measures to protect himself and/or his family and others. He believes antifa is far more dangerous than the COVID-19 pandemic, and believes that the failure of mainstream media to cover “antifa riots” after Biden’s inauguration is proof of liberal bias. This, he reasons, is further proof that the riots on Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C., were provoked not by Trump’ own supporters, but by “antifa.”
The following are some more of our typical Fox News viewer’s beliefs, based on headlines from Fox’s website over the past two days:
Biden may be the new president in name, but the actual president is Susan Rice.
Biden’s campaign was bankrolled by millions in “dark money.” This is bad. Republicans would never do this.
Tulsi Gabbard holds noteworthy and important opinions about everything.
The most powerful people in the entire Democratic Party are the four “Squad” Congresswomen.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in particular wields enormous influence within the Democratic Party, such that her every utterance is noteworthy; she dictates the entire Democratic agenda.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is also a coward who is afraid of gun-carrying members of Congress.
Black people are mostly violent criminals, except for those who appear on Fox News as conservative commentators.
Antifa is … everywhere.
Hollywood stars are jumping ahead of everyone else to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone pipeline is a job-killing political disaster that spells doom for the Democratic Party.
Biden and his son Hunter committed unspecified crimes in Ukraine that involved some sort of shady corporate deal and made the Bidens millions. This information is all contained on a laptop somewhere.
Democrats abused the National Guard during the inauguration.
Biden will kowtow to everything China wants.
China is a threat to us in space warfare.
Karl Rove is a sage voice on economic policy.
Glenn Greenwald says Democrats are the true fascists. Because he was once believed to be a liberal, he must be right.
Arms treaties with Russia are bad.
Joe Biden taking questions from pre-selected reporters is bad.
QAnon believers are being persecuted.
A sheriff in Cochise County, Arizona, noticed that “illegal” border crossings “spiked” after Biden won the Democratic primary.
Neera Tanden is bad and dangerous for some reason.
Pamela Anderson believes “Big Tech” seeks to control your brain.
Anthony Fauci is the highest-paid member of the federal government, and this is bad, because Fauci is bad.
The common theme through all of these imaginary persecutions and insults contrived by Fox News is one of eternal victimhood, as former Fox anchor Tobin Smith observed in November 2019, writing in The New York Times about the network’s smear of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman after he testified during the first impeachment trial.
Weaponized and tribalized political video narratives in the hands of Fox News producers can become something like drug-abuse epidemics — keeping addicts of that conspiracy theory high and coming back for more.
Believing in conspiracy theories is a psychological construct for people to take back some semblance of control in their lives. It inflates their sense of importance. It makes them feel they have access to “special knowledge” that the rest of the world is “too blind,” “too dumb” or “too corrupt” to understand.
Fox viewers are taught, over and over, to believe they’re under constant assault and must therefore continue tuning in, for the good of themselves and the nation. It’s a cynical psychological scam that has paid huge dividends to the Murdoch family, and by warping the minds of tens of millions of Americans, very nearly wrecked our country in the process.
When history looks back at the events of Jan. 6, it will be simple to conclude that they occurred as a consequence of Donald Trump and his cult of personality. But without Fox News’ full-throated support, Trump’s entire presidency, let alone his baseless, endgame assertions of election fraud, would never have had enough oxygen to sustain itself.
Fox News, and everyone who works there, is every bit as culpable as he is.