Out of the FOXhole, Into the Battle of Ideas

When it comes to getting the news, we live in an incredible time. Americans in the 1800s had to rely solely on what stories came down the telegraph wire. Or fast forward to the 1960s, when three news networks reported the same events in the same way. Today, we are overwhelmed by options: satellite radio, hundreds of TV channels, millions of blogs and entire books that can be sent to an iPad in seconds.

To quote Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility. We in the conservative movement have unfortunately given one network the power to begin every conversation, to set the tone and essentially draft the agenda on what matters to us.

Roger Ailes, President of Fox News Channel (FNC)

I respect the media empire Fox News Channel (FNC) has become. Roger Ailes, president of FNC since its start in 1996, says his guiding values are “God, country, family.” No wonder his network appeals to hard-working, everyday Americans.

However, it’s a dangerous thing to end your news-gathering at one media source.

After seven months on Capitol Hill, I see the love-hate relationship Congress has with Fox News—even a strongly conservative office like the one I served as an intern. The network is helping more than anyone to rally the right together. But to what end?

Fox News, like most TV networks, depends on revenue from advertisers to exist. Advertisers pay more if your audience is larger. Which means that, apart from any noble goal of truth-telling, FNC producers care most about increasing their audience. As Roger Ailes said recently on ABC News: “I’m not in politics, I’m in ratings.”

And Fox has figured out better than any other news/entertainment operation how to bring in more viewers: create an emotional connection with TV hosts, tell stories with clear-cut heroes and villains (when reality has more gray), always keep the drama high.

Bigger issues are also at stake. Every dialogue with your liberal friends (I hope you have many) is an opportunity to give new insight. Since they get news from the mainstream media, that’s your “in.”

For instance: if I started discussing President Obama’s connections to Mao, my Democrat friends would tune me out. But if I engage them with respect, talking up the stories they follow—mentioning relevant facts they perhaps missed—they’ll listen.

“It’s easier for me to watch Fox News,” a busy working mom recently told me. “At least they don’t have a liberal bias.” No need to abandon FNC entirely; even the New York Times assigned a reporter to watch Fox so the paper would not miss stories like why Van Jones resigned.

One thing we can all do is change the channel more often to hear what other credible voices are saying. Some places you can start:

TELEVISION

C-SPAN. It’s boring at first, I admit. But after a few dozen hours watching Congress in-session, you’ll begin to recognize Congressional leaders and how they discuss current events. I’d say at least 20% of current legislators are standing for conservative values; C-SPAN is the #1 source for getting to know them firsthand.

Morning Joe. A former Republican Congressman, Joe Scarborough hosts a casual panel of liberals and conservatives every weekday morning on MSNBC. Morning Joe provides a different sort of “fair and balanced”—where the right isn’t always guaranteed to win the debate. That’s a good thing.

RADIO

NPR. Without question NPR leans to the left. (Of the infamous exchange between Terry Gross and Bill O’Reilly, an NPR spokesman said: “…the interview only served to confirm the belief, held by some, in NPR’s liberal media bias.”) But no one does radio news better than NPR. No one.

Dennis Prager and Michael Medved. These two conservative Jewish hosts break the mold of talk radio, giving religion and culture as much airtime as the political battles of the day.

WEBSITES

The Wall Street Journal (wsj.com). With its accurate reporting and “big tent” of conservative opinion, WSJ has recently become the most-read newspaper in the nation. Be wary, though, of a corporate bent that can get out-of-hand; in late 2008, the paper was flush with pro-bailout editorials and not a single opposing viewpoint.

The Hill (thehill.com). Congressional staff read The Hill everyday, in print or e-newsletters. Despite a left-leaning perspective, it’s a valuable source for news on Congressional legislation, election fundraising and political stories that matter.

WORLD Magazine (worldmag.com). Some faith-based voices subtly assert that their worldview perfectly matches that of God Himself. Talk about dangerous. Thankfully, the journalists at WORLD Magazine cover politics, culture and international news with professionalism – recognizing the Bible is neither Democrat nor Republican.

PODCASTING

So how do I make time for all this media and still get on with life? The secret is podcasting. All the media sources listed above have an audio or video podcast – a program you can download for free onto your computer or portable device. Learn more about how to enjoy podcasts at www.apple.com/itunes/podcasts.

A few other programs not to miss if you get into podcasting:

Cato Daily Podcast (cato.org). For advocates of limited government, there is no more reliable or thorough source than The Cato Institute.

Sunday talk shows (search iTunes). It’s like watching presidential debates, only better. Each of these shows—Face the Nation, Meet the Press, etc.—feature guests from both left and right every Sunday morning. Thanks to podcasting, you can subscribe  online and enjoy the shows after whatever weekend worship service you attend.

Like a soldier leaving his safe foxhole, enter the battle of ideas. Have you found other news media with solid reporting and centrist analysis? Share them below.

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6 responses to “Out of the FOXhole, Into the Battle of Ideas

  1. Great post, Josh. Thanks for the list of recommended resources. I can’t watch Fox all day, but it least it doesn’t cause me to vomit as when I try to watch CNN. I’ll have to give cspan a try and maybe NPR. Thanks again!

  2. Stephanie Younger

    While I’m a huge Fox News fan (probably because I remember the days before FNC), I completely agree that everyone should have more than one source for their news. I would add The Weekly Standard to your list. BTW, FNC has 2 contributors from NPR on their channel (Juan Williams and ?Maura Lians) and while they lean left, they’re more tolerable than most liberal commentators. The most frustrating thing for me is when either side just spews out their talking points instead of being intellectually honest. Thanks for the list of suggested viewing/reading.

  3. I completely agree, and honestly, I’ve gotten to the point now where I believe any major news network, regardless of political leaning, is corrupted by corporate interests. Basically, it seems like the purpose is to distract Americans and take their eyes off the ball.

    Here’s what I mean, and feel free to disagree if you choose, but think about this whenever you watch any major news network: no matter who you’re dealing with, the message always thrives on conflict: it’s always “conservatives” vs. “liberals.” And basically, each pundit on the television or radio is designed to appeal to a certain “market segment” among the larger pool of voters. The problem is that conservatives have embraced the media personalities that they agree with to a degree of unhealthy reliance.

    It is important to take heed as to who these people are, by the way. They are designed and marketed to appear as if they “belong” to certain groups of working class Americans, from the gentle all the way to the bold and angry. But none of them really belong. They are all multi-millionaires who make their fortunes by performing under lucrative contracts with super-rich media owners and promoters. They perform for pay, as anyone should expect.

    What people should always be wary of in media personalities (including politicians) is that just about all of them are mainstream, even those who claim to be “anti-establishment,” and their message is to marginalize one half of America against the other half. As long as we do not unite both halves, the establishment media gets to tell us who our establishment candidates will be. And then, when we pick a candidate, it doesn’t matter who we pick, the establishment is happy. We are basically given two choices, both of whom are acceptable to the establishment. What’s sad is that whenever candidates who are truly principled and cannot be bought out by lobbyists and special interests enter the picture, they are immediately marginalized into oblivion and made into whackos because they don’t fit the plan. Thus, the status quo is maintained.

    I believe the best thing to do is to trust nobody who is deeply entrenched in the establishment. Instead, trust your friends and neighbors. Start a populist movement. There are no “big name” heroes. They wouldn’t have big names if they weren’t already corrupted. That’s how they get big in the first place.

    We typical Americans do not have the immense wealth and resources to run the media and to buy political favors. Only the top 1% can do that. For the rest of us, we need to seriously think about whether we need to keep playing the fake class warfare the establishment wants us to play, or whether we need to find common ground and reduce the influence of the establishment.

  4. Hey Stephanie,
    Intellectual dishonesty kills me. I was reading an FOTF letter on the health care bill and spotted a half-dozen places where it was obscuring details and leaving out the other side of the issue. You’ll lose the next generation every time with such tactics.
    Juan Williams is always interesting to hear, definitely an original thinker.
    Thanks for the comment, -josh

  5. J.B., Some good insights there for sure. “News” has surely been more distracting than informing lately. A few thoughts:

    1. There are, in fact, Conservative and Liberal ideologies – reasonable people debate the merits of how these relate to issues of the day.

    2. You can find real examples of media personalities and politicians who did rise from obscurity due to talent / luck / reasons beside wealth or power.

    3. What you’re getting at with politicians is that our two-party system rewards incumbents in political office. It’s a valid point, though probably not fixable.

    4. You’re right that the sharpest, most clear-thinking leaders are marginalized. Senator Tom Coburn comes to mind. So does Ron Paul actually. (Your wording hints at libertarian ideology, I am intrigued by how closely you follow those ideals.)

    5. Finding common ground is a good aim. Casting off the fake class warfare as you say, I think we’ll find a few friends among the “establishment” and “big names”.

    Keep in mind that representing the needs of millions of people burdens these men and women in Congress like a 300 lb. weight. Some are in it for power, some for money, some for prestige – but a good number are doing their best to help people, while staying true to our founding principles.

    As the greed and self-focus of some is exposed, we should never discount the true leaders. Painting with broad strokes is the stuff of cable TV, not discerning Americans. Thoughts?

  6. Pingback: 2010 in review | The Civil Roar

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