Fox News has become more than a news outlet, it has shaped the way that news coverage is presented to the public. Fox is, in fact, influencing its competitors. It is expensive to explore the news issues and it is cheap to feature opinions. Because of that, MSNBC has taken a defensive role and tried to play the opposite side of the spectrum. “MSNBC is the way that it is because it’s trying to outfox Fox. (1)”
Fox emerged as a 24-hour news network that premiered on October 7th, 1996. Rupert Murdoch’s network branded itself as “fair and balanced” and took off with unbelievable speed. By June of 2000, 20% of US cities and 17.3% of the population had access to the network (2). Right away, it seemed as though the Fox Network had an agenda. They presented themselves as “an alternative to the liberal media.” This post will examine side-by-side coverage of monumental events, agenda setting in coverage and whether or not Fox has had an effect on the American people.
The Fox employees are prepped each morning with a “message of the day.” These will either explain the stories that reporters should focus on for that day, or explain certain terminology that is to be used on the network that day. An example of something that was presented in a “message of the day” is “Call these men sharp shooters, instead of snipers, we don’t want the American people to view them in a dark light.” An anonymous former Fox employee said, “we weren’t a news network, we were pushing an agenda (1).
The network makes news and commentary almost indistinguishable. Many of the commentators and interviewers play different roles on different days, and make it hard for viewers tuning in to the network to know which hat the newscasters have on (1). “At fox, they believe that opinion is safer than fact because it can’t be proven wrong (1).”
During the 2014 Presidential election between Kerry and Bush, Kerry made the following statement: “I’ve met foreign leaders who can’t go out and say it all publicly, but boy they look at me and say, you gotta win this, you gotta beat this guy, we need a new policy, things like that.” (3) A few days later, Cedric Brown, a Vietnam veteran insisted that Senator Kerry reveal the names of the leaders he was referring to in the prior comment. He implied that Kerry was a liar, and that the reason that he wasn’t revealing the names is because the leader must have been from North Korea.
The coverage of the event was heavy on both Fox and ABC networks. However, the coverage of the event was very different between the two networks. While ABC referred to Kerry as “the presidential contender who was determined not to give ground in the war over who is the most truthful”, Fox described him as “battered” and on the strategic defense (3). ABC focused on both sides and accusations of the two parties involved, while Fox focused on Kerry’s credibility as whole, and brought in subjects such as his inconsistent comments on war from years earlier (3). Although the events were identical, the commentary and speculation by the two news networks showed just how differently the event was framed to the viewers. While ABCs commentary on the event told viewers what happened, Fox told viewers how to think about what happened.
It turns out that basic facts are misinterpreted by fox viewers because of how much of an agenda the network has. In a survey asking basic political questions about the war in Iraq to Fox and non-Fox viewers, the results showed that “the more likely you were to watch Fox News, the more likely you were to make incorrect assumptions about what was going on in Iraq.” (1) When asked if America found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, 33% of Fox viewers said yes. (1) This is compared to the 11% of PBS/NPR viewers that said yes. 67% of Fox viewers thought that the US had found a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. This can be compared to the 16% of PBS/NPR viewers (1). Because of Fox’s positive portrayal of the results in Iraq, 35% of Fox viewers thought that the world opinion was in favor of the Iraq war, while only 5% of PBS/NPPR viewers thought this was the case. (1)
Bob McChesney, author of Founder of the Free Press commented on these statistics. “As a journalist, if someone told you, the more people consume your media, they less they will know about the subject and the more they will support government policy, well isn’t that the last thing that any journalist should want to hear?” (1)
Secondly, Fox News reports a significantly different distribution of information than other news networks. This is known as selection bias. The stories that a network chooses to focus and report on say a lot about the network its self. An anonymous past Fox employee describes that one day on the job, they cancelled all regular programming and ran an uncut tribute to Ronald Reagan for his birthday. The reporter was sent out to the Presidential Library, and although there was no actual celebration going on at the site, the library was the backdrop of the entire show. A celebration was staged by a fourth grade field trip group (1). This tribute was in lieu of all other breaking or current news for the day.
The amount of time that Fox news reported on the Tea Party did not match the amount of time that the general news sources thought the group deserved. CNN, for example, only talked about the Tea Party during one of their National events, while Fox news talked about them all year long, especially leading up to events. Some Fox News reporters even hosted their shows at these events and sponsored the rallies. Debra Mincoff stated, “rather than serving a journalistic or even propagandist function, Fox News in effect acts as a national social movement organization. (4)
Finally, although we know that Fox takes their place in the sphere far right from the mainstream media, are they accomplishing their intended goal? It turns out that they are. As mentioned above, Fox News was established in 1996, and quickly and exponentially seeped into the many American towns. However, some towns got the Fox network before others. In fact, neighboring towns with similar demographics and populations acquired the network at different times. Because some towns were exposed to the network during the 2000 election, and others were not, it was a comparable statistic.
Of those towns that acquired Fox News, voter turnout was much higher, especially for republicans in democratic skewed towns (2). In addition, Fox News convinced between 3-8% of its non-Republican viewers to vote Republican (2). Towns that offered Fox News in their programming in 2000 increased their Republican vote share 5.9 percentage points (2). Although other factors may have had some cause in the increase, the towns without Fox News were able to serve as a control group, in which Republican support barely wavered.
According to Kathleen Hall Jamieson, “Fox News creates a self protective enclave hospitable to conservative beliefs.” The network, as a whole, has become less of a news source and more of a political arm of the Republican Party. However, much of the media outlets owned by Rupert Murdoch are the most popular and highly viewed/read/listened to of their kind. And if Fox News does in fact have an agenda, the data spoken to above proves that, even if on a slightly small scale, they are affecting the seats won in government. But whether or not Fox has a direct effect on the people who end up in office, they certainly have a power over the agenda of the US Media. With opinion and biased news demand at an all time high, Fox seems to be in the best place they could be right now.
1. Greenwald, Robert, dir. Outfoxed. 13 Jul 2004. DVD.
2. The Fox News Effect: Media Bias and Voting
Stefano Della Vigna and Ethan Kaplan
The Quarterly Journal of Economics , Vol. 122, No. 3 (Aug., 2007), pp. 1187-1234
3. Jamieson, Kathleen Hall. Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2010. Print.
4. Vanessa Williamson, Theda Skocpol, and John Coggin. (2011). “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism.” Perspectives on Politics 9(1), 25-43.