A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes launched Fox News 25 years ago Thursday.
Is the United States better off?
For all the rightful scrutiny of Facebook in recent days, let’s recognize that Fox is corrosive too — maybe even more so. Fox is spawning so many copycats, like One America News, that it’s easy to picture an entire right-wing media universe with Murdoch’s creation as the foundation. So Fox’s quarter-century anniversary is a chance to consider its impacts on the country.
The network will be in full-blown celebration mode on Thursday, with a birthday-themed edition of “Fox & Friends” full of surprises. Promotional vignettes will keep airing all week long. A one-hour special premiered last Sunday.
But for the families that feel like they’ve been torn apart by Fox, this is not a happy anniversary.
I asked Jen Senko about this, because she directed a film titled “The Brainwashing of My Dad” that she turned into a book with the same name, newly published this week. “Well, well, well,” she said, when I emailed her about the 25-year milestone. “They certainly have a lot to celebrate. In 25 years they quite successfully achieved their goal of dividing America and churning out Republican voters to get votes for billionaires.”
In the reporting for my book “HOAX,” sources did invoke feelings of “brainwashing,” though not always so explicitly. As former Fox contributor Julie Roginsky said, opinion hosts “are absolutely giving Trump and their viewers the crack that they want… They are literally giving a drug to the viewers.” Sure sounds like the recent dialogue about Facebook, right?
Rupert deserves credit…
Fox News staffers still revel in the early reactions and reviews from 1996. The network was underestimated, for sure, and Fox cheerleaders still, a quarter of a century later, still cite “naysayers” like Bill Carter. In this celebratory video, Brit Hume cited Carter’s observation that Fox News — depicted as a toy for Ailes to play with — “may be less a toy than an imaginary friend.”
At the time, nine months before launch, Carter’s story for the NYT was spot on. But I wondered how Carter, now a CNN media analyst, felt about seeing his old story newly invoked, so I emailed him, and here’s what he said:
“The landscape of TV was obviously very different 25 years ago. When I wrote that piece many sources doubted whether another cable news channel would be viable — and they were right. And Rupert Murdoch clearly agreed with them because he didn’t start up another news channel, he started up a conservative opinion channel. And he deserves credit for prescience in understanding that a market existed for that. That decision has generated untold riches for Mr. Murdoch, along with untold side effects for the country. But nobody really thinks that either 25 years ago, or now, it has had anything at all to do with ‘news.'”
Trump says congrats
“Congratulations to Fox on 25 great years,” Donald Trump said in his taped vignette for the channel. For all of his gripes and rants and insults directed at Fox, it’s clear that his candidacy was enabled by the channel and his presidency was programmed by the channel. Trump is Fox’s biggest contribution to American history to date.
So it’s striking to hear some Democrats try to broker peace with Fox or try to appeal to the base that Ailes built. For example, Rep. Ro Khanna, Democrat from California, agreed to tape this shoutout for the 25th: “Congratulations. Now it’s no secret that I often disagree with the hosts, and candidly, I’ve taken my share of beatings, but a diversity of thought and free expression are the hallmarks of our democracy and I appreciate that Fox always has me on to hear my perspective.”
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