Bob Ehrlich: Fox News - The Opponent the Left Can't Beat


Fox News has certainly been in the headlines lately.

The Democratic National Committee has decided to eliminate Fox as a host for any of the Democratic presidential primary debates in 2020. The DNC’s decision was met with the expected derision in the conservative media. Some on the left (formerly known as liberals but now identifying as moderates given the party’s rapid leftward march) also lodged objections to the unexpected move.

The complaints centered on the evils of pick-and-choose media censorship. A few dissenters also offered practical objections to the effect that Democratic candidates had nothing to lose by showing up and making their case on the opposition’s home field. In its quiet moments, this proud but diminishing group of Democrats may ponder why its party leadership could not at least pretend to care about the concerns of disenchanted Fox-loving deplorables across the heartland.

America’s latter-day Walter Cronkite, Ted Koppel, committed a cardinal sin by repeating a favorite Fox (and Donald Trump) media critique: that “the liberal media has decided Donald J. Trump is bad for the United States … (and) is out to get him.” The gnashing of teeth could be heard from Mr. Bezos’ Post boardroom to the red carpets of Hollywood to faculty lounges throughout the land. A new Benedict Arnold had emerged — but this time in the person of a universally respected elder statesman known for his professionalism, integrity and balance.

Admittedly, this is the same man who had previously assured Sean Hannity that he (and Fox) were “bad for America … (because he had) attracted a large following of people who were determined that ideology is more important than facts.” Koppel went on to complain that Fox had successfully conflated news and opinion in a toxic manner. Nevertheless, the Koppel broadside hit home as it came on the heels of a similar complaint recently lodged by former CBS correspondent Lara Logan who slammed the media’s “absurdly left-wing Democratic bias.”

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A&E’s documentary on the late Roger Ailes and the rise of Fox News, “Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes,” aired March 17. The film chronicles Ailes’ consultant work on behalf of three GOP presidents as well as the hostile work environment that led to his eventual downfall. (Note that Showtime’s adaptation of Gabriel Sherman’s book, “The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the brilliant bombastic Roger Ailes built Fox News — and divided a country” will run as a limited series later this year.)

The left’s intense interest in Ailes and Fox is understandable. The man set out to crush MSNBC and CNN — and did so. Fox has led the cable news ratings for the last eighteen years. Notwithstanding its commercial success, the unseemly backdrop to Ailes’ Fox News juggernaut is, of course, an appropriate topic. Indeed, Fox’s then best-known female personalities, Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly, famously attested to a truly hostile workplace by levying credible sexual assault and harassment allegations that led to big payouts and the fall of the disgraced kingmaker.

But ratings successes and misogynistic backstories tell only part of the tale. Maybe a comment from the A&E documentary best encapsulates the primary problem with Fox vis-à-vis so many haters in the mainstream media. In attempting to critique the Fox phenomenon, Felycia Sugarman, a former producer at Ailes communications, observes that Ailes “used his talent to build something that built a wedge.” The pejorative is instructive: Fox became a bulwark between a reliably left-leaning national press corps and millions of red state dissenters. It was an unwelcome and uninvited interloper, conveying distinctly different values and, as such, was a real threat to the monolith.

Sure, right-wingers had enjoyed the advent of talk radio in the 1980s. Rush Limbaugh would become a dominant voice on the right to this very day. But despite the best efforts of conservative talkers, the nation’s opinion makers had enjoyed a clear path. Think about it. The New York Times, The Washington Post, CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, Hollywood, the arts and academia shaped the daily news cycle and the classrooms of future voters to their progressive agenda — and goals. But Fox was TV — a medium that could demonstrably change hearts and minds — quickly. Ailes understood the power of a conservative alternative — and soon other Republicans did, too.

And so a truly contrarian network was born, and now thrives. It has been around for 22 years. Love it or hate it, it is an appreciated option for those who desire to hear more right-leaning views once in a while.

Speaking of wedges, I wonder how the mainstream media will henceforth catalog years of sensational, non-stop, “indisputable” Russian collusion coverage that has now proven to be … nothing. On second thought — I think I know the answer.

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Robert Ehrlich is a former governor of Maryland as well as a former U.S. congressman and state legislator. He is the author of “Bet You Didn’t See That One Coming: Obama, Trump, and the End of Washington’s Regular Order,” in addition to “Turn This Car Around,” “America: Hope for Change" and “Turning Point.” Ehrlich is currently a counsel at the firm of King & Spalding in Washington, D.C.