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Christopher Nolan had it wrong, inception is pretty easy

Fox News BillboardLets face it. Fox News isn’t a news source, per se. It’s a network that is, by design, set up to propagate a specific political view point, that of the American political right wing. Fox is neither fair nor balanced, and oftentimes “facts” conveyed on the network are demonstrably false. Yet fans of the network swear by it as the only source for news that they trust. The following is an analysis of Fox’s tactics of manipulation and the defenses employed by their viewers.

First, it is important to assume that the average Fox News viewer is intelligent, capable of reasoning, and is rational. Many are well educated and successful in their respective comminutes. So, what is it that allows them to be blinded from the obvious reality that Fox News manipulates them, and in some cases out and out lies to them?

Us vs. Them

There are many levels of conditioning involved. The most prominent one employed by Fox is the “us vs. them” mentality. Although Fox News is very much a part of the mainstream media, being owned and operated by News Corp. and having the largest market share of cable news, Fox positions itself as an outsider and paints the rest of the mainstream media is evil and biased.

Cleverly, this position insulates Fox from and criticism in the mind of their viewers. If, for example, CNN runs a story that refutes all or part of a Fox News report, it’s irrelevant because that’s the “Communist News Network.” If NPR, The New York Times, Washington Post, or any other reputable news agency contradicts a story run by Fox, it’s incredulous because they’re liberal and socialist. The “other” news outlets have a supposed agenda which instantly makes them illegitimate.

In some cases, as with MSNBC or The Nation there is a clear, and often acknowledged, liberal slant. However the vast majority of reporting by mainstream news outlets is not biased.

As evidence of bias Fox News will often ask rhetorical questions, such as, “If the mainstream media isn’t biased, why didn’t they break the John Edwards affair scandal?” Well, why didn’t the conservative members of the mainstream media break it, such as The Wall Street Journal, or Fox News themselves? Quite simply, they all got scooped, which is by no means evidence of a vast liberal conspiracy in the media.

Another example of such rhetoric is, “Why isn’t the mainstream media covering 'such and such' story? Clearly they’re biased.” In fact, when Fox News makes these claims it’s really an exemplification of their own bias. The story that they’re highlighting has usually been covered in the rest of the media, but just not given the prominence that Fox as elevated it to. As a recent example, Fox devoted days of coverage to criticizing President Obama for appearing on the daytime talk show, The View. NBC, ABC, CNN, and print media all gave the event appropriate coverage. Fox News, however, exposes their own bias against the President by using the issue to attack him personally and tie it into a grand theory of a vast socialist conspiracy, which it’s not. Really, it’s just the President going on a TV show.

In yet other cases, the story that Fox is promoting simply isn’t true. For example, the repeated assertation that the Obama tax plan gives refunds to Americans who don’t pay income taxes, or that it ends all of the Bush tax cuts, when in reality it only ends some. In these cases, the rest of the media didn’t provide coverage because the stories aren’t true, not because they are in sinister league with the Obama White House.

Unfortunately, Fox News fans don’t know that such stories are, for lack of a better word, lies. By lying to their viewers Fox enforces the world view that they’re propagating. By demonizing other forms of media Fox has conditioned its viewers not believe only what they say.

Fair and Balanced

The concept of equality is one that the United States is founded upon, and therefore the idea of fairness is one that is easily sold to, and accepted by Americans. Fox News doesn’t have to actually be fair to market this point of view. Like a magician, they only have to convince the audience that what they’re witnessing is fair, though it’s simply an elaborate illusion.

It is irrefutable that Fox News’ biggest personalities, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly are partisan and have their own political agenda. A number of arguments are used to justify this fact.

Fox’s hosts bring people in from both sides of a position, so it’s fair and balanced, and they leave it for the viewer to decide.

It is true that on several shows guests are invited to speak on behalf of both sides of an argument, but that is irrelevant. When the host spends the lead-in advocating one position, spends the discussion criticizing one party, and then follows it with mockery, there is nothing fair or balanced about the media presentation. The audience is being led to the conclusion that the network has preordained.

Fox’s hosts aren’t partisan; they criticize republicans too.

Fox News, like many other conservative advocacy groups, the GOP included, doesn’t one hundred percent support every position that every republican makes. Fox advocates ideology, their own version of America, their own sense of morality, and their own portrayal of history. When any person stands in the way of the perception of reality they’re trying to sell, then Fox will aim their sights on them as well.

But MSNBC is worse!

I don’t know that that’s true, and it doesn’t matter. It is, for certain, that MSNBC does have several left-leaning partisan shows with an obvious liberal bias. However, the sins of MSNBC don’t counteract the sins of Fox News any more than the sins of the murder’s brother are counteracted because he’s just a burglar.

You have to know the hosts personally by watching them every night to know what they really mean.

For example: “When Glenn Beck railed against formal education and bragged that he was self educated at CPAC*, he really didn’t mean that. You see, if you watched his show every night you would know that he really meant something totally different!”

In this way Fox News can serve multiple types of people within the segment of the population that they’re targeting. In the given example, Fox appeals to conservatives to look down upon people who’ve graduated from “the liberal elite Ivy League,” while at the same time appealing to conservatives who do place value in higher education. The trick is to just say that’s not what they really meant. Those who want to believe the original sentiment see this as a wink (after all, even Fox has to appeal to the liberals or else face their wrath), and those who don’t take it at face value.

[*CPAC, by the way, stands for the Conservative Political Action Conference. Imagine if Brian Williams gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. He’d be forced to resign.]

A Message of Concealed Hate

Perhaps to some the hate that Fox News wraps around some of its stories isn’t all that concealed. But, unfortunately, it is the vast majority of its viewers. Since the time that Barack Obama was elected as the 44th President of the United States hardly a night has passed where Fox News hasn’t somehow compared him, democrats, or prominent members of the Democratic Party to some of the greatest monsters that history has to offer.

The government is getting involved in health care, that’s how Adolph Hitler and the NAZI’s started their takeover of Germany. That statement, though preposterous, is the very message that Fox News’ Glenn Beck has been echoing night after night; comparing the current administration in the United States to Nazis. Painting the President and democrats in the color of hated leads viewers to looking at them all, Nazis and democrats alike, in the same light, to have the same feelings about Obama as they have about Hitler.

What follows these segments of what I call “distortionist history” is the blatant suggestion of armed revolt. “What’s coming in this country is revolution… maybe,” declares Glenn Beck on national cable television. These segments often include hysterical portrayals of a not-so-distant future where increased taxes due to socialist policies will lead to violence against the government; armed revolution. The show soon more closely resembles an assembly of neo-Nazis or anarchists than journalism of any kind.

Fox News is so biased against the President that they allow talk of actual violence to be a part of their broadcast. They’re biased against the President of the United States of America. Think about that for a moment.

The Victim Viewers

The same First Amendment that protects all media, of course, applies to Fox News. Until Fox begins to outright advocate overthrowing the government, they’ll carry on with their same rhetoric, and no one would dare try to stop them. That alone would embolden their viewers, who are religious in their zeal.

The best hope for them is that they have friends like us to bring that back to reality. Don’t take it on your own to tell them that they’re being lied to. They’ll find it offensive that they’re not smart enough to tell the difference between when they’re being told the truth and when they’re not.

Fox’s viewers are, in large part thanks to Fox, highly skeptical of media and most authority. But you they know personally. Select a few irrefutable facts. Start small, and then go bigger. There are several media outlets that exhibit very little bias to any particular point of view. Exposure to some can be helpful. Sometimes it only takes the slightest crack in the darkest dungeon for sunlight to shine through. Unfortunately, many of them may simply be lost in the imaginary dream world designed Fox News, unable or unwilling to escape.