A year ago, I had the opportunity to live in China for 5 weeks or so. I had intended to make a comment about CCTV (China Central Television) and its influence on the people...and how those lessons are relevant for the United States. I basically left China with the impression that CCTV was less harmful to the Chinese than Fox News is to the United States. And yes, I am being completely serious.
To be clear: the argument I am making is NOT that CCTV lies or propagandizes less than Fox News. My argument is that CCTV is in net less damaging. In China, everyone knows that CCTV is state run, is biased, and is propaganda. Therefore, it seems like most people there take everything they see on CCTV with a great big grain of salt. Many people might be prone to flat out disbelieve anything the broadcaster says purely because it is on CCTV.
Contrast that to Fox News. While there was a recent poll that demonstrated that Fox was the least trusted name in news, that was mainly by virtue of their large negatives. There is still a huge segment of this nation that actually thinks Fox News is "fair and balanced". Fox is very divisive: the people who watch Fox only trust Fox, and the people who don't watch Fox really tend to distrust it.
Some might argue that Fox is no worse than MSNBC, which is obviously baised to the left. But Fox goes beyond bias. MSNBC is biased to democrats because they will focus on the stupid things republicans do and not focus on the stupid things democrats do. Or they will make arguments to support Democrat ideas and ones critical of Republicans ideas. But the crucial difference between bias and propaganda is that MSNBC rarely is actually dishonest about what they are presenting.
Fox News is different. They do have a routine habit of distorting, of manufacturing and propagating lies, of spreading misinformation generally. In fact, they've done far worse in my eyes: in the 2008 presidential primaries, Ron Paul won the straw poll from the first GOP presidential primary debate. Fox News pundits after sat around and all agreed that Ron Paul actually didn't win the debate, and then later Fox News tried to exclude Ron Paul from the next presidential debate that they were hosting. It was the single most reprehensible display of utter contempt for the American people that I have ever seen from any person, group, or organization.
Anyway, watching this recent clip of routine Fox News BS made me think to write this.
The last point I will make is that it is my belief that Fox News hurts America not because they hurt the Democratic Party, but because they hurt the Republican Party. Fox News almost is doing Democrats a favor at this point: the young internet-saavy Jon Stewart generation is very aware of the blatant lies and distortion that Fox pulls on a regular basis, even if elderly voters aren't. Anti-Fox sentiment is a rallying cry for the left.
Its the damage that Fox News does to conservative discourse that really hurts America, because we cannot operate as a nation without two viable political parties, and right now we really only have one. Fox News hurts Republicans because they are essentially the king makers. Sarah Palin is a force in American politics right now *because* of Fox News' promotion of her. In fact, the only reason she ever was named VP was because John McCain was stupid enough to let the establishment, of which Fox is a part, hand pick her for him. All of the intellectual hacks that Fox News promotes among the rest of the Republicans who have been named the leadership of the GOP have contributed to the rot of conservatism as a movement, a movement which I predict will prove utterly incapable of capitalizing on the electoral gains yielded by the inevitable backlash to overwhelming Democratic legislative gains seen in Obama's first two years (and a terrible economy).
Conservatives in the past used to be unafraid of taking on the left because they were confident in their principles and understood the ideas behind them with an unashamed intellect. Now they only go in front of friendly journalists like Sean Hannity and hit scripted soft-ball questions. Many conservatives have read "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand. For anyone who doubts if what I am saying here is true, ask yourself this question: who among today's Fox-anointed Republican leadership would John Galt not be contemptuous of? I can think of only one: Ron Paul. But as Donald Trump said tonight, Paul can't win a general election.
Quick update: I wanted to add some clarification. There are a lot of Republicans who I have a high opinion of. In fact, we have a few of them in Indiana; Mitch Daniels and Richard Lugar in particular have done a great job for our state. Mitch Daniels has a ton of smart ideas, but he has no megaphone with which to talk about them, because Fox is too busy promoting Republicans who obsess over culture war issues, or who are fond of suggesting that Obama is a Muslim. Perfect example: Mitch Daniels wrote an Op-Ed proposing a VAT, and he got crucified for it by the Fox-dominated GOP establishment. Meanwhile, Dick Lugar is facing a major challenge by the Tea Party in the 2012 election. They despise Lugar, and I'll tell you why: he is way too reasonable. He is willing to work with Obama on issues that advance the national interest (securing nuclear materials, START, etc), and that is a crime to many GOP primary voters.