Is Fox News ruining America?

There’s something rotten in the U.S., and opinions vary on what that something might be.

Some will say “the gays” are “ruining” America, some will say it’s “the atheists” or the undocumented immigrants or single mothers (just to be clear, it’s none of the above).

We don’t lack for possible culprits, but if we’re really trying to figure out what’s “wrong” with America, look no further than the brains and brawn behind the Fox News Channel.

Arguably one of the most powerful people in the country, who you may or may not have heard of, is a man named Roger Ailes, the controversial president of the Fox News Channel.

On Jan. 16, Gabriel Sherman, author of an unauthorized biography of Ailes, titled “The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News — And Divided a Country,” appeared on NPR’s “Fresh Air” to discuss Ailes’s news media empire.

Ailes is a former media consultant for Republican presidential nominees, a club that includes Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, and he is reportedly the primary force behind the brazenly partisan twist on news for which Fox News is best known.

This is where it becomes necessary to differentiate between opinion journalism (which is, for example, what Bill O’Reilly does on his show) and presenting the news on what is meant to be a straight news program, in a way that bolsters one side over the other. The latter is the problem: It’s what Fox News does incredibly well (and what MSNBC is trying to do for the other side, to a far lesser degree of success).

In the last few weeks of 2013, media outlets such as BuzzFeed and Salon published several lists of Fox News’ worst moments: Megyn Kelly asserting that Jesus was definitely a white man; Lauren Green’s awful, repetitive, embarrassing interview with religious scholar Reza Aslan; Bill O’Reilly claiming that Asians can’t possibly be liberal because they are “industrious and hard-working”; and Dr. Ben Carson comparing members of the LGBTQ community to supporters of bestiality and pedophilia. The lists could go on and on.

There’s a temptation to say: “Why pick on Fox News? Why aren’t there lists of the worst moments from MSNBC or CNN?”

It’s an interesting question, one that speaks to the inherent differences between those cable networks: Neither CNN nor MSNBC are quite so tied to a political party the way Fox News is to the Republican Party. MSNBC is undoubtedly liberal and does have a tendency to shill for President Barack Obama’s policies, but the Democratic Party’s base — younger, more diverse, less wealthy — does not gravitate toward MSNBC the way the Republican Party base gravitates toward Fox News. Comparing the two networks is, pardon the cliché, like comparing apples and oranges.

The problem with Fox News lies in its unrepentant stumping for the Republican Party, in its single-minded fixation on President Obama’s failures and missteps (of which I’ll admit there are many) rather than offering substantive dissent, in gleefully supporting casual bigotry, in promoting absurdities such as the so-called “War on Christmas” and in insisting that ideological opponents are anti-American.

A former State Press columnist wrote a few years back that it was liberalism, specifically the welfare liberalism of President Obama and his ideological allies, that was ruining this country. Scour the Internet and you’ll find many more potential culprits for the decline of the U.S. Go ahead and Google it; I’ll wait.

But isn’t it terribly melodramatic of us to insist that America is doomed or even that it’s actually in decline? Sure, the U.S. has problems. Everyone, everywhere has problems. It’s not like we’re special.

In fact, I’ll argue that Fox News isn’t actually ruining this country, but is just one political force among many others that help shape our political climate.

If anything is “ruining America,” it’s likely the people who insist that America is, in fact, being ruined. Take a chill pill.

 

Reach the columnist at skthoma4@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @savannahkthomas