Television personality Bill O'Reilly watches the Los Angeles Lakers play the Minnesota Timberwolves in their NBA basketball game, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) Television personality Bill O’Reilly  (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Stop paying so much attention to Fox News, urges Frank Rich in long essay about Fox News. A writer-at-large at New York magazine, Rich argues that Fox News’s audience is old and getting even older really fast; that Fox News’s audience consists of people who’ve already made up their minds about things; that Fox News is splintering the Republican Party.

“With a median viewer age now at 68 according to Nielsen data through mid-January (compared with 60 for MSNBC and CNN, and 62 to 64 for the broadcast networks), Fox is in essence a retirement community,” Rich concludes.

Best to move on to other obsessions, he suggests.

Provocative stuff. Yet just last week, the New Yorker quoted President Obama saying this: “Another way of putting it, I guess, is that the issue has been the inability of my message to penetrate the Republican base so that they feel persuaded that I’m not the caricature that you see on Fox News or Rush Limbaugh, but I’m somebody who is interested in solving problems and is pretty practical, and that, actually, a lot of the things that we’ve put in place worked better than people might think.”

Right there is a testament to Fox News’s enduring influence, and from a pretty reliable and on-the-record source: the president himself. And consider a conversation that went down last November on Fox News. On Megyn Kelly’s prime-time program, Obamacare proponent Ezekiel Emanuel, a former Obama administration official, credited Fox News for obstructing the health-care law:

EMANUEL: There were differences about how they wanted to run it, and they decided to run it with people in CMS [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] having the charge for doing it. Remember, this was not an environment which was hospitable to setting up the exchanges. You and your colleagues were constantly criticizing, trying to underfund it and trying to make sure it didn’t work.
KELLY: A lot of that criticism proved true.
EMANUEL: It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. We’re going to try to do everything we can to make it fail and then when it fails, we’re going to say, “Oh why did it fail?”
KELLY: What? I don’t think Fox News had anything to do with the rollout of As far as I know, we didn’t touch that Web site.
EMANUEL: You were constantly attacking the law and you were trying to make it underfunded.

Now that’s influence.

Whether you believe Rich, Obama, Emanuel or all three of them, Fox News has made one thing clear: It laps up any testament to its relevance. Following the release last week of the above-cited Obama quote to the New Yorker, for example, Fox News jumped all over it. Daytime anchor Jon Scott did a segment on it and Bill O’Reilly got into it, as did “The Five” and Howard Kurtz’s Sunday media show.

Rich’s roar comes just after publication of the biography of Fox News chief Roger Ailes — “The Loudest Voice in the Room” — written by Gabriel Sherman, also of New York magazine. Sherman’s book is a meticulously reported look at one of America’s media titans, but its weakness lies right in the area upon which Rich is alighting in this essay — the network’s audience and the degree to which Ailes’s work has divided the country.