Crazy like a Fox

Culture | The Fox News Channel has discovered the recipe for attracting viewers

Issue: "Interview with Larry King," July 28, 2001

Entering the "green room" at the Fox News Channel (where I occasionally appear), there are former National Organization for Women President, Eleanor Smeal; radio talk show host, Ellen Rattner; and Alexis Herman, secretary of labor during the Clinton administration. All are political liberals and each can be expected to oppose virtually all of the Bush administration's policies. In spite of such guests, the "big media" regularly criticize Fox for being "right-wing," manned by toadies for the Bush administration. You could have fooled me. Recently, Fox News, the upstart network founded by Rupert Murdoch and run by Roger Ailes, has been getting a considerable amount of attention from the big media. The New York Times Sunday magazine did a pretty fair cover story on Mr. Ailes. The August issue of Vanity Fair has a lengthy article titled "Fox Populi," which says "angry white males" have flocked to Fox and are responsible for its sizable ratings boost. FNN now regularly beats CNN in some time slots, although Fox reaches fewer homes. (See cover story on CNN's Larry King, page 18.) The Vanity Fair piece is typical of the liberal response to any success by those perceived as conservative. That's because liberals regard the media as their property and verbally prosecute and persecute any trespassers. They have denounced Rush Limbaugh for years but have failed to acknowledge the true reason for his appeal, which is that he presents a point of view rarely heard on other networks. It is the same with radio talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger, whom critics lambaste as "mean" simply because she won't play the political correctness game. Compared to other networks, Fox looks conservative only because the rest are so far to the left. Big network anchors and reporters cheer stories and public figures they like and skewer stories and public figures they dislike. Typical of this approach was Bob Schieffer's comment on the June 21 CBS Evening News. Speaking of the "patients' bill of rights," Mr. Schieffer said: "Reformers want to give patients who are denied coverage the right to sue their HMO in state courts, and that's the hang-up. Most Republicans believe that would just drive up costs. They want to cap damages and try the cases in federal court. Reformers say that would take too long since federal dockets are already so crowded." Reformers (good people) vs. Republicans (bad people). Get it? The examples are legion. NBC's Andrea Mitchell goes to Cuba for an "exclusive" report on how Elián Gonzalez is doing, one year after his forcible return to Havana. Ms. Mitchell reports that Elián, "according to his father, is a normal 7-year-old." She says that Juan Miguel Gonzalez, who works two miles from Havana, where Elián goes to "school," says his son is "doing well at school and at home." There's nothing about how often Elián gets to see his father, since the last time we saw him he lived at the school, where he is indoctrinated in the supposed virtues of communism and the evils of America. There is left-wing cheerleading, most notably from CNBC's Geraldo Rivera, all over cable channels, but let Fox give a "fair and balanced" report or even suggest that a Republican idea has merit, and the media elites condemn the network as GOP-TV. The other networks are nervous because they know Fox has discovered the key to winning viewers they are losing. Once, conservatives had to endure the news from a single perspective because that was all that was offered. Now, with the availability of talk radio, the Internet, and Fox News Channel, they and others interested in balance can find it. Most businesses, when they start to lose customers, want to know why. For the big networks, maintaining ideological purity is more important than ratings. They bash Fox instead of coming to their senses. Meanwhile, Fox's "we report, you decide" approach is catching on. CNN has hired Time magazine's No. 2 executive, Walter Isaacson, to resuscitate the network. Will he simply rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, or will he bring in different thinkers? If he changes only faces and does nothing about ideological diversity, CNN will continue to decline as Fox surges.

-© 2001 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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Cal Thomas
Cal Thomas

Cal, whose syndicated column appears on WORLD's website and in more than 500 newspapers, is a frequent contributor to WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Cal on Twitter @CalThomas.


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