The day of the March for Our Lives demonstrations I was watching CNN and their coverage of the student’s marches was wall to wall. Out of curiosity I changed the channel to MSNBC and, not surprisingly, they were also featuring non-stop coverage of the marches across the country and around the globe. Again out of curiosity I turned to the Fox News Channel. It looked like they were airing their normal programing with no mention of student marches. Several times during the course of two hours I flipped over the Fox News at random times – same story. I have my doubts whether the typical Fox viewer would have even known that the marches were being held except for periodic news blips on Fox, which were probably few and far between.
Many people have commented how they find it difficult to believe that approximately a third of our county’s population continues to steadfastly support Donald Trump. I have also heard it said that these people seem to live in some kind of alternate reality where the major events we experience daily are interpreted very differently. I have long suspected this is because their sources of information are very different from our own and it is warping their thinking somehow.
I began to come to this conclusion some time ago. Years ago some conservative friends of mine and I would sometimes discuss recent events while we ate lunch and those discussions often highlighted not only our political differences, but also our understanding of basic facts. One day I was scanning through the radio dial while driving home from work and came across a rebroadcast of the Rush Limbaugh talk radio program. Something he was saying caught my attention; he was making almost the very same argument that I had heard from one of my conservative friends the day before.
For the next few weeks I forced myself to listen to Limbaugh every weekday afternoon as I drove home from work – it was difficult because the man is such a sanctimonious piece of … Just as I suspected, a day or two after Limbaugh used an argument on his show, that same argument would come out of the mouth of one of my conservative friends. Forearmed, I was always ready with a counter and eventually I started making the suggestion that they learn to think for themselves rather than just repeating blindly whatever they heard Limbaugh say on the radio. With some of their best arguments rendered useless, my friends became less inclined to argue politics with me.
Having matured somewhat over the intervening years, I am no longer inclined to listen to opposition media just to be prepared to win an argument or two. However, anyone not living under a rock knows that the Fox News Channel is the go to source of current information for Trump supporters and other conservatives. When I realized that Fox was not covering the March for Our Lives demonstrations with anywhere near the diligence of CNN and MSNBC, I decided to do a little investigating. My intent was see if I could determine from conduct of Fox News in this one situation how the network shapes the views of its viewers in such a profound manner. I started searching the internet for video clips of Fox programing and media observation reports to find evidence of what exactly what kind of picture Fox News had been painting of the student marches for their viewers.
As I expected I was able to determine that Fox spent very little time covering the marches themselves. Most of their coverage consisted of after the fact discussions by Fox New “contributors” These Fox talking heads labeled the students, especially their leaders, as everything from “ignorant” to “misguided” and one even accused them of being “crisis actors”. One contributor indicated that the teens were being “used by left wing gun control activists” while another said the kids are “a kind of moral blackmail, where you are not allowed to disagree or you are attacking the child,”
However, this was not really surprising. While CNN contributors on the right were decidedly less harsh, they were also involved in laying out a similar narrative. Rick Santorum even commented on CNN that instead of marching and asking others to pass “phony gun laws”, the students should do something productive themselves to deal with school shootings like “taking CPR classes”. I have come to the conclusion that if any network asks right wing nuts to “contribute” to a discussion, these are the kind of comments they are going to make.
On the other hand I think the true orientation of the news network is found not in the comments of their contributors, in the behavior of their hosts and anchors. If you pay attention you will usually see CNN hosts providing hard news facts and asking questions of analysist and contributors. They usually will not comment on a political situation except to make statements that should be obvious to anyone paying attention. It is evident from their behavior that CNN management has laid out rules to that affect and that behavior has become ingrained in the network’s culture. That certainly doesn’t seem to be the case with Fox News. On Fox, hosts are evidently allowed, and perhaps even encouraged to show their true colors which are usually various shades of red.
Lou Dobbs, the Fox News host of the Lou Dobbs Tonight show and big Trump supporter, was one of the many Fox news hosts who derided the student marchers and have tried to claim that Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions are really the ones actually taking real action on gun control. While recently discussing the student marches with a contributor on his show, Dobb derisively replied to a comment by one of his guests saying, “Isn’t that disgusting? I mean, we’re tuning in to high school assemblie, to get the aggregated wisdom of 18-year olds.”
It wasn’t at all difficult to ascertain the opinion of Tucker Carlson about the student marches when he sarcastically stated on his Fox News program, Trucker Carlson Tonight: “It is all pretty straightforward. If the NRA wasn’t so blindly committed to killing children. If they didn’t enjoy murder for its own sake, we wouldn’t have mass shootings. It is that simple. The speakers at the march told us that repeatedly, and the media dutifully amplified that message, and formed a protective ring around the activists.”
Later in the program Carlson went on to say, “This is the problem with letting children write news stories. The articles tend to be dumb, and intentionally or not they tend to be inaccurate and dishonest. Worst of all, they tend to reinforce the fantasy that complex problems have simple solutions, because that is what most children believe. In real life, nothing is simple . . . The self-righteous kids screaming at you on television over the weekend aren’t helping at all.” On another segment Carlson asked why “people who don’t have the right to buy guns have the right to make my gun laws”. “They’re not citizens, they’re children. They’re not of 18.”
On her Fox News program, The Ingraham Angle, Laura Ingraham stated her opinion that students aren’t leading the movement to try to prevent school shootings; Democratic organizations and liberal Hollywood stars really behind it. She then caused a firestorm on social media when she mocked student leader David Hogg, an honor student at Stonewall Douglas High School, retweeting a story from a conservative news site that described Hogg as a “Gun Rights Provocateur” who had not gained acceptance to four University of California schools. “David Hogg Rejected By Four Colleges To Which He Applied and whines about it,” Ingraham tweeted. “(Dinged by UCLA with a 4.1 GPA. . .totally predictable given acceptance rates.)”
Hogg immediately responded with his own tweet calling for a sponsor boycott of Ingraham’s program, later tweeting the names of the shows top 10 sponsors to his 600,000+ twitter followers who apparently then called on those sponsors to drop their advertisements on the Ingraham Angle. The last I looked six of those ten companies, including most of the biggest hitters, had already responded by announcing that they were in the process of pulling their advertisements from Ingraham’s program. At which point Ingraham publicly apologized for attacking the teenager. It was unclear whether the sponsors have continued with their boycotts.
However, when it comes showing his deep red political views of the student movement, Pete Hegseth, one of the three co-hosts of Fox and Friends (one of Donald Trump’s favorite programs) went on a rant that will be difficult to top: “Forgive me if I don’t want to hear a lesson on the 2nd Amendment from a 17 year old. . . . These 17-year-olds should go back to civics class in my opinion. But unfortunately the media is propping up kids and using them to advance an agenda. … Good for you. You can protest. You’ve got your rights. You’ve got your perspective. I respect that, but maybe you should learn a little bit more about what this country represents as far as — you’ve got a 9-year-old on stage. God bless her. And her grandfather, Martin Luther King, did so much for this country, but she’s saying, forgive me if I don’t want to hear a nine year old year old tell me ‘I dream of a world without guns.’ My world, I want a world without Islamists. I wish that was true too.”
Now I must admit that I rarely if ever watch the Fox News channel. Every time I have made the mistake of tuning in I quickly became disgusted their “slant” on the news of the day and their talk shows which sounded a lot like far right wing propaganda to me. Now based of what I have learned about how the Fox News staff handled their coverage of the student marches, it is not difficult to understand why their viewers seem to live in an alternate reality.
Try to imagine if you will how your perception of the world would be different if your only sources of information and opinion were the Fox News Channel and conservative radio talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Human beings naturally like to hear from others who agree with them. Conservatives/Republicans have long accused that the “main stream media”, as they call conventional news sources, of a “liberal bias”. In our society when entrepreneurs see such a vacuum they rush in to fill it. The result, with the introduction of Fox News Channel and conservative talk radio stations, their conservative consumers have completely isolated themselves in a world where they are only told what they want to hear. It is little wonder that we tend to see them as living in an alternate reality where they can continue to support Donald Trump regardless of all of disgusting things he is and does.
However, we also need to view this as cautionary tale. We too are human and naturally prefer to select the information sources who provided to us the news as seen from a perspective with which we agree. Consequently we need to guard against traveling a similar road taken by many conservatives and Trump supporters, only in the opposite direction. Amid all of the noise of opinions and various points of view, there are true facts about what is the happening in the world in which we live, facts would otherwise be distorted if they were forced through the ideological strainers some cable news channels provide We must seek out those pure facts regardless of where or not we like them because only then equipped with the best information possible can we make rational decisions about where we in this country should go from here.