The term “Fox News Viewer” generally is a quip deployed to describe people who are completely decoupled from reality and instead live within a carefully crafted bubble of disinformation. Everybody knows this, apart from Fox News viewers, it is not exactly a state secret.
What made recent headlines on April 4 were a couple of quotes from a forthcoming book by New York Times reporters Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin. Permit me to quote the opening paragraph of the CNN article …
In a forthcoming book, a pair of New York Times reporters and CNN political analysts report that President Joe Biden “assessed” Fox News “as one of the most destructive forces in the United States.“
The reporters, Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns, say that Biden was even more critical of Fox Corp patriarch Rupert Murdoch.
According to the book, Biden told an unnamed associate in mid-2021 that Murdoch was “the most dangerous man in the world.“
Again, not exactly a revelation of epic proportions. Most who seriously ponder the impact of Fox News think this.
Can anything be actually done, has a vast swath of the population been so immersed and steeped in political fiction that they are now beyond reach?
There is a new study that offers a glimmer of hope.
Experimenting with Fox News Viewers
What exactly did they do within this study?
Back in 2020, they recruited people via a survey panel who were regular Fox News viewers. As you might anticipate, they were all very conservative and also strong Republicans.
They randomly picked 40% from a pool of 763 candidates and offered them $15 per hour to watch up to 7 hours of CNN per week during the month of September 2020. They also prioritized the hours to be the time slots that they normally watched Fox News.
To ensure they really had watched, they asked questions, for example, who had guested on the show? etc…
They carefully surveyed all 763. That included the 40% who had been watching CNN and also the rest who had continued on with the Fox News diet of BS.
For those who had been watching CNN they found …
- A huge shift in what they believed to be important. This was clear evidence that the media really does set the agenda of what many believe to be important.
- The also found changes in attitudes and policy preferences regarding COVID-19
- Their evaluations of Trump and other Republician candidates had changed
What is interesting here is that there exists a traditional view that if you are a highly engaged partisan then you will simply reject information that conflicts with your partisan loyalties that come from “them”. The results here strongly suggest that this is not true.
These hardcore Fox News viewers were persuaded by simply tuning into CNN instead of Fox.
It also greatly strengthens the case that Fox News really is very dangerous to democracy. Because Fox deliberately distorts, hides information, and promotes lies, this, in turn, does influence voters. This is a very serious challenge for policymakers to grapple with.
What Happened after they went back to Fox News?
They ran an endline survey several weeks after their CNN viewing had finished.
Yep, attitudes had meaningfully shifted back to the previous baseline.
Meanwhile over at the Whitehouse
We all know what Trump would say and do regarding anything he does not like, but what about Biden?
Generally, he says nothing in public about Fox. The book I mentioned at the start was citing a private conversation.
We do all know what he really thinks about Fox News, basically because most of us think the same.
He did recently slip up last January. After yet another truly stupid question from Fox’s White House correspondent Pete Doocy Biden was caught on a hot mic muttering that Doocy was “a stupid son of a bitch.”
That went viral.
Doocy said on Fox later that evening that Biden called him shortly after that exchange to apologize …
“Within about an hour of that exchange, he called my cell phone and he said, ‘It’s nothing personal, pal,’”Pete Doocy
So yes, Fox News is indeed a huge problem. Biden knows it, but acts with dignity and also deploys humor. At a recent town hall he dropped this quip …
“I turn on Fox to find out how popular I am,”
What Can we actually do?
What we really should not consider doing is going full-Putin with a Government that starts to control the media.
So what can be done?
There is one key action that goes beyond simply calling out their lies and exposing them, it involves hitting them where it will really hurt.
- Encourage far more extensive advertising boycotts.
- The corporations that advertise on Fox News really should be encouraged to walk away. Lying to the public is having consequences, so if they don’t wish to be associated with that and enable it, then they really need to quit supporting it.
You can also personally take action. Call your cable provider, if you still have one, and tell them you don’t want Fox News. If they respond “Sorry, can’t do that”, then cancel and tell them exactly why. If you do cut away then streaming exactly what you actually want is honestly a far better solution these days.
If you subscribe to cable — Spectrum, Frontier, AT&T, Dish, or one of the 500 national or regional carriers — you are paying Fox a fee monthly, whether you like it or not, whether you watch it or not. Millions are doping this, it is time for that to stop. Cable is dying anyway, it is time to move on and leave them behind.
When you think about Fox News’s role in the 400,000 U.S. lives lost to the pandemic and in the disastrous attack of Jan. 6, it’s even fair to call it deadly.
So if reality-based America wants to communicate clearly with Fox News leadership, they’ll have to do it in a language they understand. The language of money.
That was Jan 2021. The total number of lives lost to COVID via the very blatant COVID disinformation promoted by Fox News is now close to 1 million dead.
- How do you personally feel about Fox News? (If you disagree with my stance regarding them, I’d be interested in hearing why)
- Assuming that you do feel as many do, what do you feel should be done?
- If you were paid to watch Fox News for one month, do you think it would alter your perspective on the world and what was going on?