When Congress failed to pass a continuing resolution and the Federal government shutdown, most laid the blame on the Republican Party. In some ways this is understandable because the fight was largely started by some Congressional Republicans wanting to defund the Affordable Care Act–also known as Obamacare–while continuing to fund the government. One poll by Public Policy Polling showed a consensus among Democrats and Republicans that if members of Congress voted to defund the Affordable Care Act, then they should give up their health care.
But, in the immediate moments after the shutdown began, Noam Scheiber at the New Republic reported that many conservative media outlets tried to avoid or re-frame the issue.. Fox News has taken to calling the shutdown a “government slimdown.” Similarly, Scheiber pointed out that Fox host Gretchen Carlson and other Fox anchors attempted to shift the focus on the opening of Obamacare’s health care marketplaces.
One possible reason for Fox wanting to reframe the debate over the government shutdown is the role of the Tea Party in pressuring House leadership to tie the defunding of Obamacare to the CR. In the article, “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism,” Williamson, Skocpol and Coggin note that Fox played a large role in promoting the Tea Party, not only covering their events, but also sometimes holding their own events. (30) In this way, they describe Fox not only as a conservative media organization but as what Debra Minkoff calls a “infrastructure for collective action (30).”
As a result, when conservatives movement finds public opinion skewed against them, Fox may find itself in a difficult position in explaining political climate. This could lead to the network attempting to focus on a different story like the exchanges, that they consider more important to those with Tea Party sympathies. Both of them are true and factual stories, but fitting into Williamson, Skocpol and Coggin’s theory, the latter story fits into the organizational agenda because Obamacare was the spark for much of the Tea Party’s action and Fox’s subsequent promotion of the movement.
In addition, while some would think this would lead to Fox viewers feeling deceived, offering a different narrative might actually be what Fox viewers want. In his research, Jonathan S. Morris notes that there is a correlation between those who view Fox and those who are skeptical of the mainstream media (68), perhaps best exemplified by the term “lamestream media,” which is used by some in conservative media circles to taunt other media outlets. If viewers are already mistrustful of other media outlets and see them as biased, they will see Fox as an outlet they can trust as telling the real news.
Morris also raises an aspect overlooked by Williamson, Skopcol and Coggin’s article, which is that along with being an agent for organization, Fox also positions itself as being a news organization that presents itself as objective and laying out all of the facts for the people to decide (60). This description could further reassure Fox’s audiences, who, already mistrustful of other media outlets, could look at Fox offering a different narrative and feel their own preconceived notions of politics to be confirmed.
With this in mind, the attempt by Fox and other conservative media to reframe the narrative can be interpreted as a way to counter the media narrative and tell viewers the rest of the media is misdirecting their focus and they understand where the real focus should be. But even when it does finally begin covering the same news as other outlets are covering, they feel it to be their responsibility to reframe news in a way that deviates from mainstream narrative and could make it more palpable for their viewers, like calling the shutdown a slimdown.
Morris, Jonathan S. “The Fox News Factor.” The International Journal of Press/Politics 10.3 (2005). Web. 4 Oct. 2013.
Williamson, Vanessa, Theda Skopcol, and John Coggin. “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism.”Perspectives on Politics 9.1 (2011). Google Scholar. Web. 4 Oct. 2013.