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March 28th, 2012
Freethought San Marcos: Disinformation that poisons public discourse

Freethought San Marcos: A column

Sometimes education is not the answer, at least if the question is one that involves politics. A 2008 Pew report supports this proposition. What one believes about political issues is determined more by one’s view of the world than by facts. There is more emotion involved with political beliefs than reasoning says the Pew study and another study by Dan Kahan at Yale University. Researcher and author George Lakoff suggests that people with authoritarian and individualistic orientations are less likely than others are to accept facts that are contrary to their emotional state.

More education does not fix this disconnect. Other researchers from Dartmouth and George Washington University have found that better-educated Republicans are more resistant to facts that aren’t emotionally satisfying than are their less well-educated compatriots. Examples of this include the wide-spread (and false) belief among conservatives that the 2010 healthcare bill included “death panels,” the ridiculous proposition that Barack Obama is a Muslim, and the wide-spread right-wing fabrication that Obama is not a US citizen. We’ll get to global warming in a minute.

Now, we have a new book that argues that the deliberate misrepresentation of facts by Fox News strengthens the conservative views of Republicans and poisons our political discourse.

The title of the new book by Ari Rabin-Hayt, David Brock, and their colleagues at Media Matters for America explains clearly its premise:  “The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine.”  In case you were wondering whether these authors are nothing but a bunch of lefties and Democrats, the personal journey of David Brock might convince you otherwise.

Brock has worked for The Washington Times and The American Spectator, and he was one of the key people financed by Richard Mellon Scaife to look for heinous crimes committed by Bill and Hillary Clinton in Arkansas in an attempt to destroy Clinton’s presidency. He termed Clarence Thomas’s accuser during Thomas’s Supreme Court nomination hearings, Anita Hill, “a little bit nutty, a little bit slutty” in a book he wrote touching on Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment of her by Thomas.

Before Clinton’s presidency was over, Brock had his own Damascus Road experience and denounced his right-wing colleagues and himself for their sewer antics and dishonesty. Since that time, he has devoted himself to exposing conservative disinformation and misinformation.

As a founder of Media Matters for America, his and Rabin-Hayt’s new book draws from memos leaked by disaffected Fox News employees to show that Fox is not just another news organization, but a propaganda mill whose purpose is to change the Republican Party into a political institution that satisfies the basest instincts of the neoconservatives who embody Fox News.

The Fox News Channel is in a real sense the alter ego of its president, Roger Ailes, who began his political career working for Richard Nixon and George H. W. Bush, for whom he produced the misleading, but politically brilliant, Willie Horton ad that shut down any chance Michael Dukakis may have had to become President.

To understand how close Fox News and Roger Ailes are to Republican Party politics, consider that in the week leading up to the first Tea Party events, Fox ran 100 promotional spots, all free. This largess fits in with Ailes’s desire to turn the party over to anti-government, libertarian, neoconservative forces. What Fox supports and promotes influences Republicans’ political beliefs more than the facts do. A clear example of this is the debate about global warming.

A University of Maryland poll shows that Fox News viewers believe overwhelmingly that there is no scientific consensus that we are experiencing manmade climate change. Notice that this proposition is not focused on what the viewers believe about manmade climate change, but on what they believe about the scientific consensus on that matter. Their views have been so shaped by disinformation and propaganda broadcast by Fox News that they think there is no scientific consensus about climate change, a demonstrably untrue assertion. Now, the scientific consensus could be wrong, but there can be no doubt that such a consensus exists. Only dishonest reporters claim otherwise.

Fox viewers also believe that their taxes have increased under Barack Obama’s presidency, another position easily refuted, but one repeated so often on Fox that its viewers accept it as true. As Ari Rabin-Hayt says, all they need do is look at their own tax returns and they will see this proposition is false.

In a very real sense, Fox News is like the older brother of a friend of mine. When they argued as they were growing up, the older brother would make up facts so that he could win the argument. It didn’t matter to him that what he said was pure make-believe. He insisted that it was true, that he had read it somewhere, or that someone in authority provided the information so he could win the argument.

The authors of “The Fox Effect” acknowledge that Roger Ailes is brilliant as a producer of Fox News. But he has devoted his brilliance to harming the world by poisoning the arena where much public discourse occurs today–the air waves of cable television. Fox’s productions are excellent largely because Ailes insists on having high production values, such as great graphics and sets. Rabin-Hayt says that Fox News is more visually and auditorily appealing than other cable outlets. Fox was the originator of the now-ubiquitous crawl–the news ticker that appears at the bottom of television screens during shows. Ailes created the crawl in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy when the news was coming in too fast to cover in only one way.

According to the authors of “The Fox Effect,” Fox News presenters and commentators don’t present false information by accident. They do so intentionally. The head of Fox’s news division in Washington, Bill Sammon, has acknowledged that five days before the 2008 election, he went on air and called Obama a socialist even though he knew it wasn’t true. This false allegation was repeated on thirty Fox segments just before the election. If the essence of good journalism is presenting the truth, what can you say about someone who has acknowledged in writing that he lied for political purposes on a news show?

The view of the authors of “The Fox Effect” is that the fundamental problem with Fox News is that it destroys our national debate because its commentators and producers refuse to stipulate what the known facts are. For instance, we can’t debate about whether the cost of fixing climate change will be worth the expense of transforming our economy in fundamental ways, if that would be necessary to correct the problem of global warming, because Fox (and its adherents) will not stipulate the scientific consensus about the fact that we have manmade climate change. Whether we should move our economy, for instance, away from carbon-based energy can’t be discussed because Fox will not acknowledge the core facts that would lead to that discussion.

According to the authors, Fox doesn’t necessarily create lies–like the one about death panels during the health care debate–but it amplifies and gives a forum to such lies. In Rabin-Hayt’s view, Fox launders the lies.

Because Fox’s lies have been exposed, Fox now has as much credibility as a political party has; that is, it is suspect. Fox has been the key propaganda arm of the Republican Party for many years and gave the Tea Party element of the Republicans more cachet than the Tea Party would ever have mustered on its own.

As a letter-writer to the New York Times put it: “By passing off conservative jihadism as ‘fair and balanced’ reporting, Ailes and Fox have diminished the journalistic enterprise itself, contributing mightily to a communications universe in which research, facts and dialogue are seen as soft, boring and ineffectual compared with fear-mongering, Bible-thumping and race-baiting. Honest debate becomes impossible, and the entire marketplace of ideas on which a functioning democratic society depends is put at risk.” Just the point made by “The Fox Effect.”

This is why I have jokingly said that “friends don’t let friends watch Fox News,” at least not without adult supervision.

© Lamar W. Hankins, Freethought San Marcos

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29 thoughts on “Freethought San Marcos: Disinformation that poisons public discourse

  1. Another astute comment Ted, but it’s not exactly on the topic I was writing about. Do you disagree with the authors of “The Fox Effect”? If so, please explain why. That’s more productive to a discussion of policy issues than irrelevant and snide comments.

    If you will send me the name of a book about a network that shills for the Democrats as much as Fox does for the Republicans, I’ll try to review it. As you should know by now, I’m not a member of either party, and I’ve been as critical of Obama as I was of George W. Bush.

  2. I think some of you are missing Lamar’s point. It is obvious that this is a satire piece. He attacks Republicans, conservatives and Fox news by using every left wing cliché he can find. This piece exhibits total intolerance to every view point except those on the extreme left while trying to paint the right as intolerant. This is clearly a humor piece.

  3. Strange that you see it that way, Charles. It looks pretty much like every other piece Lamar ever wrote to me. So, are all of his writings satire then?

    Personally, all I can think of as I read this was something about pots and kettles…..

  4. We needed a book to tell us Fox News is biased? Furthermore, attempting serious political discourse based on ANY network news makes about as much sense as walking to the car wash. You have to read the news. From multiple sources.

  5. What Lamar has written about is clearly demonstated by several of the listed comments; in effect, these commenters are saying that if Mr. Hankins’ viewpoint does not agree with their own and dares to call into question Fox News veracity, then it is to be trashed and debased. These rebuttals more than prove his point that political discource is nearly impossible in today’s climate and that Fox News, where it would appear that the commenters obtain some of their news, has contributed to this sad state of affairs.

  6. I find Hankins’ denial of liberal media bias especially hilarious considering that if you go to the CNN website, you can click on a box that says “click here to show President Obama that you support him”.

    Hey Lamar, here are a couple of books about liberal media bias you can check out:

    “Bias” by Bernard Goldberg
    “Left Turn” by Tim Groseclose

    And it only took me about thirty seconds to find them on Google….

  7. I don’t watch Fox news, Mr. Fournier. I simply pointed out that the left is just as bad. It seems like that’s what the other comments were saying, too.

    I guess Simon and Garfunkel were right: “a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest.”

  8. That 2+2=4 is a fact, not to be argued with. Whether or not Obama is a socialist is an opinion, it can be argued either way. What Fox is guilty of is having very strong opinions, and openly allowing those opinions to color it presentation of the news. But does Lamar really beleive that MSMBC,CBS, NBC ABC, The New York Times don’t do the same things, only maybe a little more subtley. Here is the deal, when a liberal states a strongly held opinion, it is a fact, not to be argued with by any right thinking person. when a conservative states a strongly heald opinion, that is a denial or a fact. Do you all understand now.

  9. While I don’t watch much of MSNBC, CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, or any cable or national mainstream news, I do read the NYTimes daily, along with many other publications. I have never known of another cable or television news outlet other than Fox to become a propaganda arm of a major political party. That is a distinction that none of the commentators who dislike this article seem to want to acknowledge. Of course, I realize sarcasm and snideness are far easier than actual informed discussion, but I keep hoping for more.

  10. If FOX is such a propaganda machine, then why did you fail to mention all the left leaning guests and staff personnel that appear on FOX. I rarely see CNN, CNBC etc. allowing a right leaning guest to speak their mind on their channels. I agree with the comment made previously that you slant your articles so far to the left, that you intend to get the right leaning view on purpose. Your articles are very well written, so I find it difficult to believe that you really do believe all the hooey you write. You’ve got to be much smarter than your opinion pieces lead us to believe.

  11. Sorry Paula B, you’re full of it. The number of spokespersons, and time spent, are far slanted to the
    GOP on all networks. Get real or leave the discussion.

  12. Winchester,

    Are you seriously trying to make the argument that ALL networks slant to the right? Sorry, but if so you’ve lost all credibility in this discussion.

    The liberal bias on CNN, MSNBC, and the news programs of the main networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) has been appallingly apparent for years now. Whether it’s subtle (referring to pro-life people as “anti-abortion”, for example – people are naturally more skeptical of any viewpoint that is listed as “anti'”) or more blatant (CNN running ads on its website for Obama or the fact that Keith Olbermann had a job for eight years at MSNBC), the liberal media bias is plain to see.

    So much so that when someone complains about the right-leaning bias of FOX News, my response is usually “Yeah, so? Shouldn’t there be ONE that leans the other way?”

  13. The guests (or talking heads, depending upon one’s mood)on news programing, are heavily skewed to the right.

    Will try and dredge up the numbers.

    And let’s not forget RL’s 3 hours a day. (And because he is on “news/talk” stations, it counts as news; certainly as media)

  14. Let’s start with the three major “news/talk” radio stations for the area, KLBJ, WOAI and KTSA. All three feature drive time personalities that are rabidly right wing (unless you’re a birther) The lineups feature as follow. On KLBJ, Limbaugh from 11AM to 2 PM, M-F, Neal Boortz 2-3 and 7-9 PM, and let’s throw in Alex Jones on Sunday. WOAI, Glenn Beck 9-11 AM, Rush again, and Sean Hannity, 2-5 PM. KTSA, is a bastion of liberalism in comparison. Dave Ramsey (not a liberal by any account, but not a rabid right winger) and Mark Levin.

    There’s not a liberal show on any of those three stations.

    As for print media, I admit I know nothing about SA’s newspaper(s) but the Austin paper is affectionately known as the Realestatesman.

    As for local TV news, it’s neither here, nor there for the most part.

    Riddle me this. Who owns ABC?

  15. Actually I find FOX to at least make some attempt to balance things by giving both sides some time. But I have to admit, any time given to Turd Blossom is a waste in my opinion. Makes me long for the Lee Atwater days, at least he could play the blues.

  16. The point of the book is that the issue is not right-wing bias versus left-wing bias. It is that Fox News is a propaganda arm of the Republican Party.

  17. Ok Lamar,

    I have found 4 wrong “facts” in your piece. I once was a CNN viewer before becoming reformed.

    1)Lets start with the “news ticker” you mentioned above. I can tell you for a fact that CNN had the news ticker during the OJ trial in 1995, and FOX did not even exist at that time.

    2)Election Wall; CNN during the 2008 early primaries they had the latest and greatest election wall. How do I know this? Because that’s where I watch the early primary season. Before switching to FOX who didn’t have much to offer their viewers.

    3) From what you stated above, FOX news has only been around 15 years as of this year. Not, “many years”. CNN has been on the air for a lot longer, I’m not sure just how old, but it should be fairly easy to Google.

    4) SMsince95, corrected the next one. Larry McCarthly produced the Willie Horton Piece.

    Just because someone writes a book does not mean it’s true. If you are going to to re-write and publish those facts you might want to do your own research so you don’t like a fool. These are real small items but it just shows that you are willing to take some Liberals word for everything without doing your own research.

    I was a huge CNN viewer until I heard Soledad O’Brian state some of her own “opinion views” on Sarah Palin. At that point I decided I wanted to watch something that did push their opinion on me. I can make up my own mind, thank you.

    One last thing to add, do you realize that as a Country, only 27% of our oil is used for gasoline and the other 73% is used for other products such as makeup, plastics, trash bags and many other items.

    Please do some research on your articles before to you start to miss-lead and print only half truths.

  18. To J Horton:

    The claims you make about inaccuracies in the “The Fox Effect” may all be correct, but they don’t touch the central point of the book – namely, Fox News is a a propaganda machine for the Republican Party, rather than a real source of journalism. In reviewing the book, I did not try to fact-check its claims, but rather present them for consideration by the public. Every inaccuracy you claim is made by the book is irrelevant to its central thesis, which no one responding to this review has presented evidence to refute.

  19. The ganging up here is really interesting. It seems to be some form of cognitive dissonance, not unlike what the content of the piece is about.

    “The theory of cognitive dissonance in social psychology proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by altering existing cognitions or adding new ones to create a consistent belief system”

    Lamar, I have to say that if you are trying to get the folks here to think about things objectively, it’s not going to happen.
    I am a firm believer though, that Fox news purposefully couches their arguments in terms that favor a specific outcome, namely some form of neo conservatism or other form of conservatism that’s popular at the time. Such purposeful couching seems like a reasonable logic structure to base arguments from, but it is in fact a dead end thought process.

    Conservative/liberal, right/wrong, etc are all knee jerk dualisms with only two seeming outcomes inside the presented contexts. Try not to let a group of talking heads that start out with “Top News of the Day”, or psychological marketing scenarios, or radio show hosts, tell us or corral us into what to think.

    I will also say that all of the news networks, and I use that term loosely, jumped on the band wagon of going into Iraq using false accusations. Only one of the networks showed a different opinion.
    The administration at the time, used lies or shopped for convenient inaccuracies to further an their position to invade (false yellow cake purchases from Africa Valerie Plame, the undercover operative who exposed the inaccuracy was exposed by Karl Rove). FEAR of the terrorists, fear of anthrax with a recommendation to duct tape and plastic over windows and doors, fear of you and me with the implementation of the Patriot Act.It goes on and on. That administration used mostly Fox news for media releases. Still think that it is a coincidence? Ah, but I digress……

  20. I supppose there are people who might be surprised to find that Fox slants the facts to sell advertising but those folks are never going to read “The Fox Effect”. And the rest of us would be as well served reading a book that proves the sun will come up in the east tomorrow.

  21. To John L:

    I think you are correct about people being unable to look at politics objectively, which I tried to address in my opening two paragraphs, which have little to do with book I wrote about. Most of the responses to this review have fulfilled the findings of the research referred to.

  22. Lamar,

    My point was, if this book (or you) will lie (or had been miss-lead) how can we trust the main points in the book?

    In my life I have found that when someone either lies about small issues or exaggerates on small issues, you cannot trust much of anything they say.

  23. You wrote an article touting the tenets of a book that was (fairly easily) discredited but THAT’S NOT THE POINT

    You wrote an article denigrating Fox News for leaning to the right, but when it was pointed out that virtually every other national news network leans to the left, all of a sudden THAT’S NOT THE POINT.

    You wrote an article that ironically lambasted those who follow Fox News while relying on a source that has its own credibility issues, but THAT’S NOT THE POINT.

    Apparently, finding credible sources and making credible arguments isn’t the goal of this exercise so much as it is (once again) railing against those with different ideologies than you – and moving the target whenever someone discredits one of your points….

  24. Here is an informative video on Fox News via Politifact via The Daily Show:

    When Fox News lowers the standard of reporting, or as Fox has defended, commentators speaking their own points of view whenever it get too hot to handle, all media suffers. People suffer when they don’t hear hard truths. No, I think that Fox is a special case of pure propaganda over and beyond other networks.

    They repeat the lie over and over, just like we hear in the above post “all media is left leaning”. Come on, give me and people with their minds open, a break. Stop already with the left/right worn paradigm! Use different words to describe things, I challenge you. I bet you can’t!

  25. Media gives us what we want. Push the button or click to a different source if you don’t like it. Its really not that difficult, despite all our caterwauling…

    It is up to US to choose what WE want. And, the market being what it is, we would get most whatever we really wanted. If we really wanted critical and objective* coverage that is what we would get. Instead most of us chickens enjoy laying eggs that give birth to the very same chickens that will in turn produce the eggs that will produce the very same chickens that will produce the very same eggs that will produce the very same chickens that support the very same point we were already convinced was already true but it makes us feel validated to hear it from some other chicken who lays the same sorts of eggs as us…and screw those liberals/Republicans who are ruining this country who are laying THOSE eggs…meanwhile, very little of real importance changes and we slip further down the slide toward fascism and/or cultural collapse…but anyway, blah, blah, blah…

    *if this were even possible

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