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Posted by on May 17, 2015 in 2012 Elections, 2014 Elections, 2016 Elections, Featured, Journalism, Media, Politics | 17 comments

Bruce Bartlett on Fox News

Former Reagan and Bush (Sr.) economist Bruce Bartlett has published a thorough history and analysis of Fox News and its effect on American politics. It does not contain a lot of new information to those who follow politics closely but is worth a read.  Here are the high points:

  • A history of the small but distinct liberal bias in mainstream media before the rise of right-wing media
  • The rise of conservative talk radio in the late 1980’s with the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine and the emergence of Rush Limbaugh
  • Roger Ailes starts Fox News in 1996 with the backing of Australian newspaper magnate Rupert Murdoch
  • Fox quickly becomes the dominant news outlet for conservatives
  • Fox moves further right during the Bush years (particularly after 9/11)
  • Fox becomes increasingly factually inaccurate as documented by numerous non-partisan media studies
  • Fox viewers become increasingly likely to endorse factually inaccurate beliefs about political issues
  • Fox perceived by media watchers as an unapologetic propaganda outlet for the GOP
  • Some on the right suggest that Fox News controls the GOP rather than the reverse. Right-wing critics of Fox question whether the network is a net plus or minus for the party

As Columbia University political scientist Lincoln Mitchell put it after Romney’s loss:


“Fox has now become a problem for the Republican Party because it keeps a far right base mobilized and angry, making it hard for the party to move to the center or increase its appeal, as it must do to remain electorally competitive….One of the reasons Mitt Romney was so unable to pivot back to the center was due to the drumbeat at Fox, which contributed to forcing him to the right during the primary season. Even after the primary season, when Fox became a big supporter for Romney, the rift between official editorial position and the political feelings of Fox viewers and hosts was clear.63


Former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum perhaps put the complicated, double-edged relationship between Fox and the GOP best when he said, “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we’re discovering we work for Fox. And this balance here has been completely reversed. The thing that sustains a strong Fox network is the thing that undermines a strong Republican party.”64

Cross-posted from The Sensible Center

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  • He’s right of course – FOX and Limbaugh are the leaders of the Republican and their dying demographic. Who needs and RNC. The RNC was unable to remodel the Republican Party after 2012 because FOX wouldn’t let them. Their candidates for president have to move so far to the right to get the nomination they can’t win a national election – in this age of videos everything you said in the primaries will be held against you in the general.
    There are lots of good statistics here and you should read the entire thing. It is true that regular FOX viewers are less informed than people who watch no news at all.

  • As a side note my late mother was still alive in 2012 so we watched the election returns on FOX. Some of the most entertaining TV I have ever seen was Rove’s meltdown when FOX called Ohio for Obama.

    • It is interesting and entertaining to see Fox News personalities occasionally get a belly full of journeys into right-wing la-la-land and push back a little against the Murdoch/Ailes party line. Megyn Kelly’s crying BS on Karl Rove on election night 2012 was classic. Shepard Smith frequently holds the line on blatant violations of factual accuracy too.

      Theirs is a fine balancing act between journalistic integrity versus going too far off the reservation and landing on the Fox News enemies list populated by Bartlett, David Frum, Andrew Sullivan and other conservatives who have chosen integrity over ideological conformity.

  • shannonlee

    Both organizations are dependent on each other. Reps need Fox News to tell their lies to their base. The average social conservative voter has no idea how badly they are being fleeced by big business. Fox News needs Rep to interview and help sell their commercial time.

  • I would suggest tapping the brakes on using the term “debunk” in applying Zurawik’s column to Bartlett’s case.

    1) Zurawik only comments on one of several studies of misinformation peddled by Fox cited by Bartlett. The U Maryland study is not the only one out there on this subject that reaches similar conclusions.

    2) Zurawik’s column raises legitimate questions about the U Maryland study. It does not invalidate it completely. A more reasonable takeaway from Zurawik’s column is to interpret such studies with caution, not to throw them out completely.

    3) Bartlett is a life-long Republican who has no partisan axe to grind. I feel certain that he takes no pleasure in concluding that his party is being led off a cliff by Fox News. He is also a very serious and thorough individual. With respect, I find his case credible.

  • dduck12

    Any comparable studies on MSNBC? Probably not, because they have such a small share.

    • Yes, there are numeric comparisons of Fox News to MSNBC. has rated a number of statements made on both networks. Here is a summary:

      NBC/MSNBC got 34% largely true versus 44% largely false.

      Fox News got 23% largely true versus 59% largely false.

      CNN is the best TV network with 58% true vs. 22% false.

      So, by that comparison, MSNBC’s record is bad but Fox is 15% worse.

      • SteveK

        You beat me to it Ballard but since I already wrote it here’s the Fox News to NBS / MSNBC numbers another way.

        The current “Pundit Fact” by PolitiFact files on both Fox News and NBC / MSNBC show:

        Fox News
        True – 11% / Mostly True – 12% / Half True – 19%
        Truth Column total – 42 %

        Mostly False – 21% / False – 29% / Pants on Fire – 9%
        False Column total – 59 %
        * * * * * *
        NBC / MSNBC
        True – 11% / Mostly True – 23% / Half True – 22%
        Truth Column total – 56%

        Mostly False – 22% / False – 18% / Pants on Fire – 4%
        False Column total – 44 %

      • dduck12


    • Slamfu

      The fact that MSNBC does more or less the same crappy journalism for the left that FOX does for the Right, but doesn’t have anywhere near the market share just says that liberals have a lower tolerance for crap than conservatives. Conservatives eat it up, liberals avoid it. It’s the same reason left wing talk radio never took hold.

      • SteveK

        Well said Slamfu… But the right will continue to try to present it as the same… “Both Sides Do It” you know. :o|

  • JSpencer

    “A history of the small but distinct liberal bias in mainstream media before the rise of right-wing media”

    Maybe… although to many of us it was more a reality bias then a liberal bias. At any rate, we’re talking half a lifetime ago. Since then, FOX has become the monster that saner portions of the GOP don’t know how to deal with. Just like the tea party, they thought it was an asset… in the beginning.

    • I tend to agree with Bartlett that there was a small but distinct liberal bias in mainstream media before the rise of right-wing media. He gives a number of reasons for this, none of which involve an intentional effort to distort the news.

      To his reasons, I would add the following: The slight liberal media bias before the late 1980’s was largely a reflection of mainstream political thought at the time. Look at the platforms of the Nixon and McGovern campaigns in 1972, for example. While McGovern proposed a guaranteed national income that really was more socialist than anything the Republicans yell about today, Nixon too proposed a welfare program that no Democrat would touch today.

      Big media was a lot smaller before the advent of the Internet or cable TV. It consisted of the 3 major networks and a handful of major newspapers and magazines. That media environment is described very well in David Halberstam’s “The Powers That Be” about the WaPo, Time/Life, CBS, and the LA Times.

      The staffs of all of these media entities mostly knew one another. They went to the same small group of journalism schools (Columbia, Missouri, Northwestern). The main centers of media power–the New York and Washington bureaus of these giants–were pretty tight little communities that not only knew each other professionally, their families socialized and even vacationed together. Halberstam wrote that the main result of this was group-think (a fairly narrowly defined conventional wisdom).

      This restricted mainstream political opinion to a pretty narrow band around a slightly left of center midpoint. On the right, William F. Buckley, Jr. was seen as a crank and founded the National Review because none of the mainstream media would publish him. Buckley’s tone and policy positions would seem quite tame compared to today’s GOP. On the left, opposition to the Vietnam war took several years to gain much public traction in the late 1960’s because the media consensus was that protesters were all drop out stoners. Therefore, they were dismissed and not taken seriously.

      Since then media has splintered and the conservative movement has been successful at pushing the entire political conversation to the right. So, while I do think there was a slight left leaning bias 25 or so years ago, it was small and never nearly a pervasive as conservatives have tried to argue.

      • dduck12

        It’s a Small World is good for Disney, but the media small world could have been quite large influentially, or not. Just saying.

  • Soothsayer123

    What network was being watched by Romney supporters on Election night at Mitt’s HQ? That’s right: Fox News. No wonder so many of them were shocked and stunned. FNC had been predicting a landslide victory for Romney, ignoring The 538 and Princeton studies that showed Obama with a solid lead. Those two studies got the vote and the number of electoral votes exactly right.

  • Candy Neville

    I’m even more simplistic. I think when one man (an Australian yet) purchases a network, it purely for profit. And I think Murdoch gets a huge kick out of the power and the puppetry. I think that’s what he wanted to buy. Pull the strings for his puppet show and watch his little employees dance. Still, not all the people are fooled and like the Beatle song says, all that money “just can’t buy me love.” Or in his case, as much power as he wants.

  • Big Jim

    As the blonde told the fire department,….Duh, big red truck!!

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