By Harold Meyerson
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
To: Mr. Roger Ailes
President, Fox News
You should be sitting when you read this, because I'm writing to apologize.
In times past, I've had harsh words for Fox for its consistent misrepresentation of the news. In 2003, I cited a survey from the Program for International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) and the Knowledge Network that showed that 45 percent of Fox viewers believed that the United States had uncovered incontrovertible proof that Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda had worked together; that we had found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; and that a majority of peoples in other lands supported our war in Iraq. In case these bizarre misconceptions merely reflected the a priori beliefs of President Bush's supporters, PIPA further documented that Bush backers who got their news from other networks had a decidedly firmer grasp of the facts.
Now, I don't in any way retract my judgment that you guys were at the time and still are a constant source of right-wing fantasies. It's just that, at least in today's political environment, I'm no longer sure this is a bad thing.
The election has left the Republican Party reeling, its base shrunk to those Southern, Plains and Mountain West states where rural cultures still predominate. The party's smarter strategists are arguing that the worldviews of the social conservatives and free-market extremists who dominate the GOP are either irrelevant or ridiculous to voters in the middle of the political spectrum. "We can't be obsessed with issues that are not the issues that are important to American voters," Jim Greer, chairman of the Florida GOP, told the New York Times.
But Fox has won its viewership precisely by promoting such obsessions.
During the campaign just completed, you guys focused on Barack Obama's allegedly Muslim and alien roots and socialist ideology; meanwhile, in the real world, unemployment rose, foreclosures soared and Wall Street went flooey. Over the past eight years, you beat drums for such causes as state intervention in the Terri Schiavo case. You demonized undocumented immigrants (okay, CNN's Lou Dobbs gave you a run for your money on that one). You fed the Republican base with a steady diet of bile -- and now that bilious base is the biggest impediment to the Republicans' repositioning themselves so that they can win elections again.
Reach out to Latinos -- the inescapably growing segment of the American electorate that voted overwhelmingly for Obama after four years of GOP immigrant-bashing? Not if Fox viewers have anything to say about it. Not after you've drummed into their heads that the Latino immigrant population is some looming terrorist threat.
Modify that opposition to stem-cell research? Tone down the ridicule of people in public life who have advanced degrees? Call off the Republican war on science that kicks in whenever science runs counter to right-wing fundamentalism in religion or economics? Not if the Hannity faithful can help it.
You're not alone in reinforcing those beliefs that marginalize the Republican right, of course. You've got plenty of help from Rush and all the little Limbaughs who dominate talk radio. But together with your allies, you haul truckloads of troglodyte garbage to your flock.
And the way your flock sees it, the modifications that Republicans need to make to become competitive again in American politics -- acknowledging a need for state intervention to make the economy work, backing off the primitive religiosity, embracing a more tolerant pluralism -- amount to nothing less than heresy.
As an aide to Richard Nixon back in the day, Roger, you were around for the birth of the Southern strategy -- the policy to move all those disgruntled racist Southern whites into Republican ranks. But the party as Nixon would have recognized it ceased to exist after the Republicans captured Congress in 1994. Since then, the national Republican Party has been dominated by far-right Southern legislative leaders -- Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Trent Lott -- and by George W. Bush. The past two elections, Republicans have grown weaker everywhere but the white rural South -- the region that remains the least educated and least diverse.
And rather than present these voters with a picture of a complex, changing world, you guys at Fox serve chiefly to reinforce their fears, to paint people who hold different viewpoints as alien and threatening.
In that sense, your work remains dangerous and disintegrative to the nation. But it is also, more narrowly, tactically, for now, a great gift to liberals and Democrats. You ensure the ongoing Palinization and marginalization -- electorally, the terms are synonymous -- of the Republican Party.
And to think that you're doing all this not on the Democratic National Committee's dime but on Rupert Murdoch's.
Cheers from your new fan,