In the United States, the right-wing news-entertainment complex has constructed an alternate reality for conservatives that functions like a political version of the Upside-Down from the hit Netflix show “Stranger Things.”
Fox News sits at its center. New Suffolk University polling data shows how Fox News viewers (and those respondents who identify as “conservative” and “very conservative”) are much more critical of President Barack Obama, are afraid of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and have a much more negative attitude about the future of the United States than the general public. Fox News viewers are also much more likely to believe that the presidential election will somehow be manipulated or subjected to fraud and that the American news media is conspiring against Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
In a recent story, the 24/7 cable news outlet CNN also analyzed and commented upon the new Suffolk University poll. It offered the following important qualifier:
Fox allies might say the poll findings show that other channels have a liberal bent. Fox critics might say that the results illustrate the echo chamber of conservative media.
With one small comment, CNN has unintentionally (and ironically) provided an example of how the "liberal news media" has aided and abetted the rise of Trump.
CNN alluded to differences in opinion about Fox News, partisanship, as well as how other news channels may have a “liberal bias." CNN then chose, however, to ignore research, which has repeatedly shown that Fox News is not “fair or balanced” but rather extremely biased and partisan. Other work has demonstrated that Fox News is a source of disinformation whereby viewers are repeatedly fed lies on a broad range of topics including science, the economy, health care policy, terrorism, immigration and religion.
Perhaps most damning of all, is the finding that people who watch Fox News actually know less about factual news matters than those who do not watch any news program at all.
In all, Fox News is extremely dangerous to the public discourse and consensus politics in America because it creates a feedback loop among conservatives, one that is almost impossible to break. Chris Mooney explained this in his book, “The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science and Reality”:
Fox News is both deceiver and enabler simultaneously. First, its existence creates the opportunity for conservatives to exercise their biases, by selecting into the Fox information stream, and also by imbibing Fox-style arguments and claims that can then fuel biased reasoning about politics, science, and whatever else comes up.
But at the same time, it’s also likely that conservatives, tending to be more closed-minded and more authoritarian, have a stronger emotional need for an outlet like Fox, where they can find affirmation and escape from the belief challenges constantly presented by the “liberal media.” Their psychological need for something affirmative is probably stronger than what’s encountered on the opposite side of the aisle — as is their revulsion towards allegedly liberal (but really centrist) media outlets.
This has a deleterious impact on the ability of Republicans to legislate and govern in a responsible manner. Writing at the New Republic, Danny Vinik examined findings from a 2014 Brookings and Public Religion Research Institute poll came up with the following conclusion:
Those hardened views are at odds not only with the rest of America, but also with the remaining 47 percent of the Republican Party who trust other news sources. In turn, Fox News viewers receive a warped view of the political landscape. . . . This makes the Fox News echo chamber a hazard for the party.
While Fox News is making cosmetic changes to its lineup, on-air talent and management in the wake of its former CEO Roger Ailes' sexual harassment scandal, this will have little to no impact on the underlying product: a news outlet that (very profitably) mainstreams right-wing talking points to a pliant and receptive audience.
CNN and other outlets in the American corporate news media are complicit in perpetuating this alternate reality; they are reluctant to speak plainly about Fox News and its role in disseminating right-wing lies and disinformation because they have been bullied into submission by the myth of the “liberal media."
The sum effect of this is that CNN and other major American news outlets elevate right-wing talking points and falsehoods to the level of factual “news." This legitimizes them as now being worthy of inclusion as an “alternative point of view” that should be spoken to in serious discussions of politics. CNN and the so-called liberal media then circulate right-wing propaganda to a broader public outside of the Fox News echo chamber.
In the long term, this dynamic both contributes to and reflects America’s extreme political polarization because without an agreement on basic facts, it becomes extremely difficult if not impossible to have effective government. In the immediate present, this dynamic enabled the ascendance of the fascist Donald Trump because the mainstream American corporate news media was unwilling to accurately describe his political agenda, serious shortcomings in temperament, ethics and behavior or the racist motivations of his supporters.
The relationship between Fox News, CNN and other parts of the American corporate news media is symbiotic and adversarial. Fox News claims to be “fair and balanced” while actually serving as the de facto mouthpiece for the Republican Party. Fox News also used the false narrative that competitors such as CNN are “biased” against conservatives to become the most watched news network in America.
While conservatives would like to believe that CNN is somehow biased against Republicans, it has lavished coverage of Donald Trump, earning a reported $100 million in advertising revenue by featuring him. This is a small part of the estimated $3 billion in free coverage that Trump has been given by American media outlets during the 2016 presidential season.
It is clear that Trump is good for ratings. This is most certainly true in the fantastical world created by Fox News and the right-wing media. This is also true at CNN and for too many other outlets in the news media as well. Unfortunately, the Fourth Estate should be functioning as a watchdog for American democracy but is instead more beholden to money and profit than it is to civic virtue and truth telling.