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kottke.org posts about Fox News

Fox News: Unfair and Unbalanced Propaganda

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 04, 2019

Jane Mayer, author of the very well-reviewed Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, has a big piece in the New Yorker today on the close relationship between the Trump administration and Fox News.

Hannity was treated in Texas like a member of the Administration because he virtually is one. The same can be said of Fox’s chairman, Rupert Murdoch. Fox has long been a bane of liberals, but in the past two years many people who watch the network closely, including some Fox alumni, say that it has evolved into something that hasn’t existed before in the United States. Nicole Hemmer, an assistant professor of Presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and the author of “Messengers of the Right,” a history of the conservative media’s impact on American politics, says of Fox, “It’s the closest we’ve come to having state TV.”

Hemmer argues that Fox-which, as the most watched cable news network, generates about $2.7 billion a year for its parent company, 21st Century Fox — acts as a force multiplier for Trump, solidifying his hold over the Republican Party and intensifying his support. “Fox is not just taking the temperature of the base — it’s raising the temperature,” she says. “It’s a radicalization model.” For both Trump and Fox, “fear is a business strategy — it keeps people watching.” As the President has been beset by scandals, congressional hearings, and even talk of impeachment, Fox has been both his shield and his sword. The White House and Fox interact so seamlessly that it can be hard to determine, during a particular news cycle, which one is following the other’s lead. All day long, Trump retweets claims made on the network; his press secretary, Sarah Sanders, has largely stopped holding press conferences, but she has made some thirty appearances on such shows as “Fox & Friends” and “Hannity.” Trump, Hemmer says, has “almost become a programmer.”

The subhead of the piece is: “Fox News has always been partisan. But has it become propaganda?” If you’ve been paying attention here over the past couple of years, you know I believe the answer to that question is “yes”. See also Blame Fox News for Fake News, Not Facebook, Study: Watching Fox News Has Big Effect on Voting Patterns, Fox News Is Poisoning America. Rupert Murdoch and His Heirs Should Be Shunned., and Fox News Isn’t A Normal Media Company. We Have To Stop Treating It Like One.

Blame Fox News for Fake News, Not Facebook

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 19, 2018

In the Washington Post, Henry Farrell interviews Yochai Benkler, whose recent book with co-authors Rob Faris and Hal Robert, Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics, presents evidence that right-wing media functions in a completely different way than the rest of the media does.

On the right, audiences concentrate attention on purely right wing outlets. On the left and center audiences spread their attention broadly and focus on mainstream organizations. This asymmetric pattern holds for the linking practices of media producers. Both supply and demand on the right are insular and self-focused. On the left and center they are spread broadly and anchored by professional press.

These differences create a different dynamic for media, audiences, and politicians on the left and right.

We all like to hear news that confirms our beliefs and identity. On the left, outlets and politicians try to attract readers by telling such stories but are constrained because their readers are exposed to a range of outlets, many of which operate with strong fact-checking norms.

On the right, because audiences do not trust or pay attention to outlets outside their own ecosystem, there is no reality check to constrain competition. Outlets compete on political purity and stoking identity-confirming narratives. Outlets and politicians who resist the flow by focusing on facts are abandoned or vilified by audiences and competing outlets. This forces media and political elites to validate and legitimate the falsehoods, at least through silence, creating a propaganda feedback loop.

The authors also argue that Fox News is doing much more harm to our democracy in spreading false information than Facebook or Twitter.

The highly asymmetric pattern of media ecosystems we observe on the right and the left, despite the fact that Facebook and Twitter usage is roughly similar on both sides, requires that we look elsewhere for what is causing the difference.

Surveys make it clear that Fox News is by far the most influential outlet on the American right — more than five times as many Trump supporters reported using Fox News as their primary news outlet than those who named Facebook. And Trump support was highest among demographics whose social media use was lowest.

Our data repeatedly show Fox as the transmission vector of widespread conspiracy theories.

I’ve been beating this drum for awhile and still don’t know why this 2017 study that showed compelling evidence that Fox News moved the 2008 presidential election Republican vote share by 6.3% to the right all by itself isn’t a much bigger deal.

In other results, we estimate that removing Fox News from cable television during the 2000 election cycle would have reduced the overall Republican presidential vote share by 0.46 percentage points. The predicted effect increases in 2004 and 2008 to 3.59 and 6.34 percentage points, respectively. This increase is driven by increasing viewership on Fox News as well as an increasingly conservative slant.

In keeping with Benkler et al’s findings regarding media asymmetry, the study did not identify a similar swing to the left for MSNBC or CNN viewers.

The question is, what the heck do we do about Fox News? Shun Rupert Murdoch? Sleeping Giants and other groups have been effective in hamstringing other right-wing media sources like Breitbart (as well as some Fox News shows), but Fox News has worked hard to position itself as mainstream, so pressuring advertisers would be tough to muster support for. What about a boycott of other Fox properties? If the Disney sale goes through, those properties would include the Fox channel (home of The Simpsons, NFL games, college football, etc., The World Series), Fox Business News, and a number of sports channels (Fox Sports 1 & 2 and Fox Soccer Plus). Are people going to be willing to give up watching The World Series and The Super Bowl to put financial pressure on Fox? And my pals who do startups…are they going to refuse to go on Fox Business News promote their businesses? I have my doubts about that.

Network Propaganda is available on Amazon and also as a free PDF download here.

The constructive-destructive axis

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2018

In his biography of Apple founder Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson reports on some comments Jobs made over dinner to News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch about Fox News in 2010.

In return for speaking at the retreat, Jobs got Murdoch to hear him out on Fox News, which he believed was destructive, harmful to the nation, and a blot on Murdoch’s reputation. “You’re blowing it with Fox News,” Jobs told him over dinner. “The axis today is not liberal and conservative, the axis is constructive-destructive, and you’ve cast your lot with the destructive people. Fox has become an incredibly destructive force in our society. You can be better, and this is going to be your legacy if you’re not careful.” Jobs said he thought Murdoch did not really like how far Fox had gone. “Rupert’s a builder, not a tearer-downer,” he said. “I’ve had some meetings with James, and I think he agrees with me. I can just tell.”

Such an insightful comment by Jobs. As John Gruber notes:

This line from Jobs — “The axis today is not liberal and conservative, the axis is constructive-destructive” — is truly the best summary of Trumpism I’ve seen.

It’s been eight years since that conversation and the Republican Party & their voters have doubled down in destroying opportunities for people (particularly those with little power), driven by the likes of Fox News. This destruction will be felt for generations to come.

Trump’s Unprecedented Relationship with Fox News

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 09, 2018

Brian Stelter is known for media scoops, but sometimes, he can bring the insight too. On CNN and in his nightly newsletter, he briefly outlines what I think anyone has to agree is an unusual symbiosis of the Presidency and a single news outlet, Fox News. (Trump hiring Fox News’s Bill Shine to run his communications shop is just one symptom of the bigger entanglement.)

— No president has ever endorsed a network to this degree before: Promoting it, telling people when and where to tune in, while trashing all of its rivals…

— And no network has ever propped up a president quite like this before…

— The back-scratching benefits both sides. Trump benefits from the friendly segments and softball Q’s. Fox benefits from Trump’s preferential treatment and constant promos…

— The beating heart of this relationship is Sean Hannity, who reportedly golfed with Trump on Sunday. Hannity is an adviser, a booster, an attack dog, a friend. No TV host has ever had this kind of alliance with a US president…

— And no president has never treated a TV channel like it’s an intelligence agency the way Trump treats Fox…

My point: This is new. And weird. And we shouldn’t get used to it. There’s been almost a merger between a culture war TV station and a culture war president. In the essay, I asked, rhetorically, “What would Trump do without Fox?”

Is this the weirdest thing about the Trump presidency, or the most dangerous? Probably not. But it’s one of the legs that props up all the other legs. And it’s definitely weird, and I’d argue, dangerous.

Study: Watching Fox News Has Big Effect on Voting Patterns

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2017

A newly released study by Gregory Martin and Ali Yurukolu published in the American Economic Review shows that watching Fox News has a significant effect on the overall Republican vote share in Presidential elections. They analyzed the channel position of the three major cable networks (Fox News, MSNBC, CNN), compared it to voting patterns, and found that “Fox News increases Republican vote shares by 0.3 points among viewers induced into watching 2.5 additional minutes per week by variation in position”. Using that result, they constructed a model to estimate the overall influence.

In other results, we estimate that removing Fox News from cable television during the 2000 election cycle would have reduced the overall Republican presidential vote share by 0.46 percentage points. The predicted effect increases in 2004 and 2008 to 3.59 and 6.34 percentage points, respectively. This increase is driven by increasing viewership on Fox News as well as an increasingly conservative slant. Finally, we find that the cable news channels’ potential for influence on election outcomes would be substantially larger were ownership to become more concentrated.

6.3% is an astounding effect. Fox News appears to be uniquely persuasive when compared to the other channels, particularly in bringing people across the aisle:

Were a viewer initially at the ideology of the median Democratic voter in 2008 to watch an additional three minutes of Fox News per week, her likelihood of voting Republican would increase by 1.03 percentage points. Another pattern that emerges from the table is that Fox is substantially better at influencing Democrats than MSNBC is at influencing Republicans.

They also estimate that cable news has contributed greatly to the rise in political polarization in the US over the period studied:

Furthermore, we estimate that cable news can increase polarization and explain about two-thirds of the increase among the public in the United States, and that this increase depends on both a persuasive effect of cable news and the existence of tastes for like-minded news.

This analysis is especially interesting/relevant when you consider other recent activist media efforts with an eye toward conservative influence: the Russian ad-buying on Facebook during the last election (and related activities), billionaire Trump-backer Sheldon Adelson’s purchase of The Las Vegas Review-Journal, and conservative-leaning Sinclair Media’s proposed acquisition of Tribune Media. (via mr)

How CNN and Fox screwed up the Supreme Court Obamacare decision

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 09, 2012

You may not believe me, but this postmortem by SCOTUSblog’s Tom Goldstein of how the media covered the Supreme Court’s decision regarding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is super fascinating. It’s impeccably sourced, straighforward, and surprisingly compelling.

The Court’s own technical staff prepares to load the opinion on to the Court’s website. In years past, the Court would have emailed copies of the decision to the Solicitor General and the parties’ lawyers once it was announced. But now it relies only on its website, where opinions are released approximately two minutes later. The week before, the Court declined our request that it distribute this opinion to the press by email; it has complete faith in the exceptional effort it has made to ensure that the website will not fail.

But it does. At this moment, the website is the subject of perhaps greater demand than any other site on the Internet — ever. It is the one and only place where anyone in the country not at the building — including not just the public, but press editors and the White House — can get the ruling. And millions of people are now on the site anxiously looking for the decision. They multiply the burden of their individual visits many times over — hitting refresh again, and again, and again. In the face of the crushing demand, the Court cannot publish its own decision.

The opinion will not appear on the website for a half-hour. So everyone in the country not personally at 1 First St., NE in Washington, DC is completely dependent on the press to get the decision right.

Reading it, the thing that struck me most is that these huge media machines still operate mostly on an individual basis. One person read the ruling for CNN, told one person in the control room, and then millions and millions of people heard that (mis)information just a few seconds later on CNN, on Twitter, and even in the Oval Office.