If you haven’t noticed, Glenn Beck – Fox News’ vitriolic voice of “reason” and “values” – is gone. Thursday, June 30 marked the end of Beck’s controversial career with Fox but his pandering continues on The Glenn Beck Program that is broadcast nation-wide. While talk-radio remains a favorite medium for right-wing ideology – and quite successfully at that, considering top three talk syndicates are Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck, respectively – what is more significant is what the ousting of Beck may mean for Fox News.
The 24/7 news channel has enjoyed extraordinary ratings since 9/11, promoting a concoction of unwavering patriotism, “fair and balanced” reporting, and disdain for dissent. But Beck’s departure and recent rating reports suggest that Fox News’ hold on the American psyche is loosening. The Fox News network ratings have been in a steady decline while viewership, particularly in the 25-54 demographic, of CNN and MSNBC has been on the rise. There is no disputing that Fox still dominates the cable news sphere, but the drop in its ratings, the rise in its competitors and the increased attention to its modus operandi could signal a new era of sanity for grassroots organizers seeking media reform and progressive change.
I think we need to take time to recognize the innovative and relentless boycott that set out to strip Glenn Beck of his sponsors. The boycott was amazingly effective at doing just that—ultimately convincing several hundred corporations (including major names such as Wal-Mart, GEICO, and Procter & Gamble) to agree not to advertise on his show.
Engler explicates the success of the boycott in light of other ruminations regarding Beck’s signing off. What is of importance for activists – particularly those engaged in media reform – is the point Engler makes about how the organizers framed the boycott by not going the traditional route of targeting consumers. Engler writes:
[It] wasn’t about getting the average American not to watch the show….The Beck boycott was far more strategic. Its organizers identified wary advertisers as their point of leverage, targeted specific corporations that were buying ads, and used the announcement of each new company that agreed to withdraw as a way to build momentum.
Surely the Color of Change campaign played a role in bringing increased scrutiny of Beck’s paranoia-laden “journalism.” Identifying a weak point in Beck’s armor – that his network is a for-profit venture reliant on advertisers and viewers – allowed Color of Change to employ a time-proven tactic of people-power through the use of petitions to signify widespread support of getting Beck off the air and taking it not to Fox but to the corporate advertisers it relies upon for revenue.
In addition to economic pressure being put on Fox News to moderate itself, increased scrutiny reveals that the giant behemoth – seemingly able to say and do what it pleased without consequence – can no longer hide behind its cloak of “truth in reporting.” In the case of breaking down the mysterious machinations of Fox News, solid journalism and scholarly analysis is helping to discredit the corporation as a legitimate “news” site by exposing its deeply-embedded politicking for the GOP.
A recent Rolling Stone feature, “How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Fear Factory,” details the origins of Fox News as a “giant soundstage created to mimic the look and feel of a news operation, cleverly camouflaging political propaganda as independent journalism.” Of course author Tim Dickinson’s thirteen-page spread in the lefty Rolling Stone simply adds weight to what many progressives have realized for years. But Dickinson’s in-depth journalism reveals the dark personality behind Fox News – President Roger Ailes, not News Corp. magnate Rupert Murdoch – as the mastermind who “has used Fox News to pioneer a new form of political campaign – one that enables the GOP to bypass skeptical reporters and wage an around-the-clock, partisan assault on public opinion.”
Furthermore, political scientist and Waging Nonviolence contributor Cynthia Boaz just penned an article, “14 Propaganda Techniques Fox ‘News’ Uses to Brainwash Americans,” that breaks down the subtle and not-so-subtle ways Fox News sucks its viewers in (also check out “Distort, Repeat, Attack,” an hour-by-hour slideshow of the Fox propaganda machine). Boaz’s look at the psychological manipulation used by Fox sheds greater light on how activists, independent media and community organizers can appeal to the nearly 25 million Americans loyal to Fox News. She writes:
In considering these tactics and their possible effects on American public discourse, it is important to note that historically, those who’ve genuinely accessed truth have never berated those who did not. You don’t get honored by history when you beat up your opponent: look at Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln. These men did not find the need to engage in othering, ad homeinum attacks, guilt by association or bullying. This is because when a person has accessed a truth, they are not threatened by the opposing views of others. This reality reveals the righteous indignation of people like Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity as a symptom of untruth. These individuals are hostile and angry precisely because they don’t feel confident in their own veracity. And in general, the more someone is losing their temper in a debate and the more intolerant they are of listening to others, the more you can be certain they do not know what they’re talking about.
While Boaz’s point is meant to illustrate the “untruth” of Fox News, agents of nonviolent social change must remember that belittling an opponent – or supporters of opponents, in the case of the Fox News audience – does little to build the widespread support that makes a movement successful. The forms of social and political control Fox News possess are great indeed, but the recent exposure that eschews incendiary belittling and reveals a kind of honest journalism are essential for the kind of nonviolent, democratic change we need. And slowly but surely, activists and journalists can chip away at the media empire by continuing to tell the truth in creative, movement-building ways that invite widespread support from ordinary citizens.
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