WOODY BASSETT: Fox, other cable news damaging to nation

Our politics are broken and public discourse has become horrendous. Cable news bears some of the blame for it.

Around-the-clock cable news is unhealthy to the human condition and even worse for the country. Viewers choose sides, cheering for their favorite team while raining down boos on the opponent. It's all about winning the game. Nothing else matters.

The business model for cable news outlets is to monetize viewership by catering to the malignant political partisanship and cultural tribalism afflicting the nation. Realizing there's an attraction to fear- and anger-based politics that has to do with class and race, many who appear on cable news networks are given license to use any means at their disposal to attack those who are different or disagree with them and to spin the news in a manner which fuels and validates the preconceived notions of their viewers. Generating fear, anger and resentment among viewers keeps them watching, thus increasing ratings for the network. Raising the temperature of the partisan base they are appealing to directly results in widening the political gulf in America by driving Republicans further to the right and Democrats further to the left, making it even more difficult to find common ground and to forge compromises.

On-air personalities who host the opinion shows that dominate cable news get rich by intentionally dividing people along class, racial and cultural lines. The more they can turn people against each other, the more money they make. It's reprehensible, but they don't care. They have no remorse nor accept any responsibility for the carnage they leave in their wake. They just laugh all the way to the bank.

If you relish Fox News and watch it religiously, you won't think what follows here is "fair and balanced" and will likely dismiss it as mere poppycock from an aging Fayetteville liberal. But when it comes to cable news, Fox is in a league of its own. Still, one can't condemn Fox unless there's a willingness to recognize that CNN and MSNBC are subject to similar criticism.

Since its inception, Fox News has had a far more crippling impact on American politics, government and culture than other cable news outlets, partly due to the fact Fox has substantially more viewers but also because it's much more susceptible to broadcasting misleading information, blatant distortions, personal attacks and outright lies. A significant portion of its viewers seemingly form their opinions and cast their votes solely based on what they see and hear on Fox News, to the exclusion of other sources of information, facts and opinions.

Fox's programming damages the Republican Party, not always electorally but in myriad ways. The GOP is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fox News, or maybe it's vice-versa. That's unfortunate because what the country really needs is an independent and strongly principled Republican Party.

Fox News has gone completely off the journalistic rails since Donald Trump was elected, evolving into something that hasn't existed before in the United States by moving us the closest we've ever come to having state TV. Fox and Trump are now one and the same. Trump has stocked his administration with former Fox personalities and some of the network's prominent figures like Sean Hannity serve as outside advisers to the president, interacting seamlessly with the White House. Fox is Trump's shield and his sword. The network is now a full-time attack machine for Trump, helping him spread baseless conspiracy theories and relentlessly serving as the president's wingman in his effort to undermine mainstream American institutions.

While all cable news networks are sometimes guilty of blurring the line between news and opinion, Fox News has taken it to a new and very troubling level. Masquerading as a news channel, Fox now knowingly and unapologetically obliterates the line between propaganda and actual journalism. Bill Kristol, a staunch conservative and former paid contributor to Fox News, said of the network: "It has changed a lot. Before it was conservative, but it wasn't crazy. Now it's just propaganda." And Joe Peyronnin, president of Fox News in the mid-'90s, offers this take on his former network: "I've never seen anything like it. It's as if the president had his own press organization. It's not healthy."

A news network, adhering to facts and practicing honest journalism, which identifies with and speaks directly to people in America who have conservative values and political beliefs, would be a good thing. But that's not Fox News anymore. Jennifer Rubin, a conservative columnist who used to appear on the network, observes: "Fox was begun as a good-faith effort to counter bias, but it has morphed into something that's not even news. It's simply a mouthpiece for the president, repeating what the president says, no matter how false or contradictory."

That's what happens when facts, evidence, truth and fundamental fairness have been rendered meaningless.

Commentary on 07/18/2019

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