JONATHAN CHAIT FEBRUARY 1, 2011
A Frum Forum writer notes an interesting trend: People who find their parents are watching Fox News and losing their minds. To wit:
Over the past couple of years, I’ve been keeping track of a trend among friends around my age (late thirties to mid-forties). Eight of us (so far) share something in common besides our conservatism: a deep frustration over how our parents have become impossible to take on the subject of politics. Without fail, it turns out that our folks have all been sitting at home watching Fox News Channel all day – especially Glenn Beck’s program.
Used to be I would call my mom and get updated on news from the neighborhood, her garden, the grandchildren, hometown gossip, and so forth. I’ve always been interested in politics, but never had the occasion to talk about them with her. She just doesn’t care.
Or didn’t. I don’t know when it happened, exactly, but she began peppering our conversation with red-hot remarks about President Obama. I would try to engage her, but unless I shared her particular judgment, and her outrage, she apparently thought that I was a dupe or a RINO. Finally I asked my father privately why Mom, who as far as I know never before had a political thought, was so worked up about Obama all the time.
“She’s been like that ever since she started watching Glenn Beck,” Dad said.
A few months later, she roped him into watching Beck, which had the same effect. Even though we’re all conservatives, I found myself having to steer our phone conversations away from politics and current events. It wasn’t that I disagreed with their opinions – though I often did – but rather that I found the vehemence with which they expressed those opinions to be so off-putting.
To add some heft to this anecdotal take, Fox News has the oldest audience of any news network -- the average Fox News viewer is 65 years old!
Meanwhile, Conor Friedersdorf argues that liberals who wish their side had its own Fox News are misguided:
The left has its own malign influences on public discourse. Some are rich and successful. It no more makes sense for liberals to envy the right it's talk radio hosts than it makes sense for the right to envy the left for Al Sharpton, Jeremiah Wright, or Michael Moore, which isn't to say these people are perfect analogues – they're certainly they're less influential among liberals than Limbaugh is among conservatives, and it would be wrong to draw a false equivalence. But these figures were successful in gathering followers and driving stories. In the realm of politics, the pathologies that came as part of the package still resulted in a net loss.
The antidote for Fox News isn't Keith Olbermann. It's Jon Stewart. It isn't a new left-leaning host who turns Glenn Beck-style destructive absurdity to different ideological ends – it's someone who effectively demonstrates the absudity of blowhards.
It seems to be that Friedersdorf is commiting the classic fallacy of conflating the good with the useful. He argues -- indeed, he very nearly assumes -- that intellectual vitality goes hand in hand with political effectiveness. I could not disagree more.
A world in which there was a powerful medium to spread Democratic party propaganda -- a la Fox News and talk radio -- would be less pleasant in many respects. And it's certainly not a project I'd like to be part of. But it would almost certainly be a world in which public policy tilted further left than the current one. Moreover, Friedersdorf raises the specter of liberals having to choice under a party line like the right's Conintern. I think the more likely outcome is that a lot of what we think of as "the left" would simply become part of the center. That would be better, too. (I have more thoughts on this dilemma in my 2007 article on the netroots, which is the closest thing to the progressive attempt to mirror Fox News.)
Basically, the optimal number of Fox News-like propaganda outlets is zero. But I suspect the next most optimal number is two, not one.