March 17, 2013
Roger Ailes
Roger Ailes (Jim Cooper / Associated Press)

Now and again talk of big changes bubbles up around Fox News. In the fall of 2011, we heard about a “course correction” that would keep the network from moving too far to the right. And last fall, following Mitt Romney’s loss in the presidential election, we heard about a move to “bench” contributors who had messed up election analysis — a shift from last year’s excesses.

Every year, the Fox News core audience assembles at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). To judge from this crowd — based on dozens of chats with attendees by the Erik Wemple Blog — Fox News is doing pretty good work and needn’t contemplate any dramatic shifts.

“Pretty good shows,” said Dan Cole, a 61-year-old resident of Fredericksburg, Va. His wife, Jermaine Cole, says Fox is the “only news channel I trust to get the whole story.” Also: She professes, “I love the personalities.”

On the subject of ideological orientation, Ernest Istook, a former congressman from Oklahoma and now a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said that based on his viewing, “MSNBC leans farther in its direction than Fox does in its direction.”

The viewpoint that MSNBC is way more skewed than is Fox News — that’s not a difficult bit of input to score at CPAC. “MSNBC,” said 21-year-old Penn State student Nicholas Rapak, “should look at stuff from both sides of the issue or acknowledge that it’s biased.” Brandon Matsnev, 19, also a student at Penn State, did offer a brushback at the 16-year-old right-leaning cable network: “Even though I am a strong conservative, Fox can get me sometimes,” said Matsnev, referring to the tilt of the programming. Even so, he said that MSNBC is “further to the left than Fox is to the right.”

Another attendee: “MSNBC is a joke…Fox has a little bit of a slant.”

And here’s a nice boost for Fox News, from Blake Wicklander, 19, of West Palm Beach, Fla. Not from Blake himself, though. His mom, he says, has the network on “24-7.” “She feels nothing is distorted. Fox is going to give you the facts,” says Wicklander.

Larry Lease offers a bit more criticism. When asked what Fox News could do to improve things, Lease responded, “I think they need to go a bit easier on the infighting.” How so? Lease explained that he comes from Wasilla, Alaska, Sarah Palin country. He wasn’t crazy about the stories suggesting that Palin had gotten exiled as a contributor. “She just kind of got tired of it,” said Lease. “She has a family to take care of.”

The Erik Wemple Blog would never pretend that CPAC attendees offering praise for Fox News and condemnation for other outlets constitutes a revelation. Yet Media Coverage Inc. often looks at viewers solely in numeric terms, via all-important ratings. Who knows just what they’re thinking?

Example: In recent months, this blog has written an untold number of items on Dick Morris and Karl Rove regarding their respective embarrassments on election coverage. We covered the original mistakes, the attempts to explain away the mistakes, the fallout from those lame explanations, and more and more. To read this blog was to conclude that these were really big deals.

And to listen to CPAC attendees, they were not. Over a couple of days of interviews, we registered nary a complaint about these episodes. Perhaps there’s a Fox News media-crit bubble bobbing around out there.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.