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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 24 November 2017 > Masochism Tango

Masochism Tango

FOX NEWS was wildly successful before Trump, and has been in a swoon since he became president, but can too much love be FATAL?

FOX NEWS IS destroying America. Its anchors are humorless propagandists for President Donald Trump, lacking dignity and honesty, humility and heart. The cable news network is a spigot from which right-wing misinformation flows unceasingly, flooding the nation with untruth, making millions wonder whether Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, as he claims, or in Indonesia, behind a mosque where fanatics plotted the destruction of America and the National Football League.


FOX NEWS IS saving America by telling truths you won’t hear on CNN or read in The New York Times, where liberal pieties prevail. It speaks for the millions of forgotten Americans in small towns whose newspapers are mostly filled with factory closings, foreclosure auctions and obituaries for the victims of fentanyl and despair. Fox News is the bulwark that keeps at bay political correctness, socialism and soccer.


FOX NEWS IS America—glorious and exasperating, bellicose and enthralling. At battle with itself and outside forces, Fox News helped create the splendid turbulence of our political civic life and is now threatened by it. You read Alexis de Tocqueville to understand the nation in its infancy. You watch Fox News commentator Sean Hannity to glimpse the nation in midlife crisis, mournful for past glories, a little despondent about present ills, but unfailingly optimistic about the future. For once, China and California are vanquished, and this flailing little century will belong to America, as did the glorious one before it.

“IT’S JUST EVERYWHERE”, SAYS LAUREN DUCA, A POLITICAL COLUMNIST for Teen Vogue of Fox News (she’s a favorite target of Fox host Tucker Carlson). Like many progressives, she charges Fox with feeding on “conservative paranoia” while manufacturing it, a brutally effective and profitable feedback loop. Her parents watch it, she tells me. So do my mother and uncle, hooked long ago by its loathing for the Clintons and its love of Israel. It plays at Duca’s gym. It plays at mine too. Actually, a confession: I am the one who turns the television to Fox News. Because while I find much of Fox News objectionable, I also find much of Fox News irresistible.

‘A Vulgar Turn of Mind’

VISITING THE YOUNG AMERICAN REPUBLIC IN 1831, DE TOCQUEVILLE marveled at its flourishing free press. In his native France, he would write in Democracy in America, “almost all [the press’s] power is centered in the same spot, and vested in the same hands.” The press was, like the country itself, decentralized and unruly. The typical American journalist had “a scanty education and a vulgar turn of mind,” he wrote, and made “an open and coarse appeal to the passions of the populace; and he habitually abandons the principles of political science to assail the characters of individuals, to track them into private life, and disclose all their weaknesses and errors.”

More than any other major media organization in modern American history, Fox News has found a way to appeal to those “passions of the populace.” The network represents a strain of populism that political scientist Richard Hofstadter described in Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, his classic 1963 study of demagoguery. Hofstadter wrote that modern American anti-intellectualism had its birth in the erosion of the agrarian society de Tocqueville had observed a little more than a century before. “As a consequence, the heartland of America, filled with people who are often fundamentalist in religion, nativist in prejudice, isolationist in foreign policy, and conservative in economics, has constantly rumbled with an underground revolt against all these tormenting manifestations of our modern predicament.”

Fox News has managed to turn that underground revolt into above-ground theater, a captivating spectacle of “homicide bombers” and “coastal elites,” of truth-telling patriots and politically correct traitors. In doing so, it has managed to convince people whose views may once have been considered fringe or extreme that they are, in fact, part of a silent majority bound by a vision of America where the right’s deepest fantasies are realized: abortionists jailed, Muslims detained and Rosie O’Donnell deported to Antarctica.

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OUT-FOXED: DONALD TRUMP IS THE BEST AND WORST THING TO FOX NEWS Fox News isn’t a network; it’s a worldview. That worldview is shared by Donald Trump, who reportedly watches several hours of Fox News each day. There has never been a relationship this close between a sitting president and an American media organization. Trump and Rupert Murdoch, chairman of the network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, are friends who talk regularly. Murdoch has offered him advice on media strategy; last March, Trump fired the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, who was conducting a federal investigation into how Fox News handled sexual misconduct claims.