Fox News Inadvertantly Argues that America is Liberal

I had written the article below the jump for the sadly defuncting a few weeks ago (18 September, 2009). They have kindly lent me permission to republish it and my other articles here. I’m choosing this one right now because it complements this article by John Scalzi fairly well.

Scalzi writes:

[The White House’s war on Fox] is good news for Fox News, since four decades of conservative railing against “the liberal media” has given it a core of like-minded viewers, who being conservative are also loyal… But it’s also good for the White House, because at the end of the day, Fox News’ nightly audience in the third quarter of this year was 2.25 million viewers in primetime (source). For perspective this means that it has roughly the same audience as your average Dollhouse episode,which was just yanked by Fox (the broadcast network, not the cable news network), so that its ratings wouldn’t stink up November Sweeps. Even with Fox News’ ratings going through the roof because of its little war with Obama, the actual number of viewers is minuscule. Or to put it otherwise, 2.5 million Americans watch Fox News, which means that 297.5 million Americans don’t.


Hannity’s America is not the United States of America

By Ivan Goddard

And you know look we have an enormous audience that comes in every night to watch the O’Reilly Factor on the Fox News Channel. And if I were what he says I am, I couldn’t possibly succeed. Alright? People wouldn’t sit for it. Americans are fair people by and large. Um, so what this is the usual propaganda that he puts out and tries to make money by defaming. And it’s a shame, but that’s just the way it is. You know, he does it to a lot of other people. Uh and unfortunately there’s a market for that. Uh there’s a there are people who enjoy um reading and listening to people who attack other people with whom they disagree, personally. You know, not the- forget the issues. I mean, let’s try to destroy the person. And this kind of defamation is growing in the United States, and it’s uh it’s really damaging to the country.

–Bill O’Reilly on “Fresh Air”, October 8, 2003

According to Fox News, America is a liberal nation. That is, in using their own logic, it is clear that “Real America” is merely a small faction of Real + Fake America. Allow me to show you why.

People on the right in America like to claim that the Mainstream Media, or MSM, is liberal by and large. Fox News, according to itself, is by contrast “Fair and Balanced.” Fox News also likes to tout its ratings as evidence that it hears the voice of America more than the liberal MSM. It does, after all, win the cable news ratings game week after week. For instance, in the latest rankings I could find, FNC generated 3,122,000 viewers during prime time while CNN, MSNBC, Headline News, and CSPAN generated a combined 2,794,000 viewers. Fox, then, easily beat the liberal stations, generating well over 50% of total viewers. Impressive, no doubt. Now, let’s forget the fact that 3,122,000 viewers makes up roughly 1% of the population of America and assume that the general TV watching audience is the rough ideological makeup of the country as a whole

Here’s the problem with that logic, though. Fox doesn’t claim that merely the rest of cable news is liberal, but the entire MSM. So we’ll have to add the other TV news ratings. The problem with this is that not many other news programs register on ratings lists because they don’t generate as many viewers on network TV as other shows. However, Dateline NBC and 60 Minutes do. I’m sure those two shows qualify as MSM and I’m sure the average Fox host believes them to be liberal since one is on NBC and the other is historically liberal. So let’s add those to the total for the MSM numbers (noting that we don’t have the numbers for evening network news shows like Nightline) and we have FNC at 3,122,000 viewers to MSM at 16,180,000 viewers putting Fox at 16% of the total of those shows for which I could find ratings.

America’s TV system is a capitalist enterprise. There is a lot of competition, a lot of choice, and if the news programs did not feed the people what the people wanted then the people would not watch. Therefore, according to Fox, which is obviously conservative, the general populace has not asked enough for conservative programming to make conservative news a worthwhile venture so the most conservative consumers have to settle for “Balanced” programming. And even that only makes up less than 16% of the population of America.

This is according to Fox’s own logic. But also, it seems to them that because they have a large audience for cable news that they are obviously right. Note the absurd epigram by Bill O’Reilly, where he argues that because so many people watch his show he must be right. On the other hand, because Al Franken sells a lot of books critical of Bill O’Reilly doesn’t make Franken right as well, but is an unfortunate consequence of the free market.

And of all the stupid claims one can try to pass on an audience, the one that claims that popularity-makes-right competes for the top and is so self-defeating I wonder why I’m even mentioning it. If popularity-makes-right were true then The National Enquirer is a more reliable weekly than The Economist. Also, Two and a Half Men is more reliable than 60 Minutes. It is self-defeating because Barack Obama won more votes than the Republican that Fox endorsed and the Democrats have more votes in Congress than the Republicans. The Democrats are more popular according to the election, so why bother arguing against them? Because they have more followers they are obviously right, right? Well, only according to Bill O’Relly.

Well, whether the Democrats are right about the costs of health care or national security or taxes or energy is beside the point in the end since their popularity is merely indicative of their existing in a liberal country.


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