Fox News as a Social Movement

Vanessa Williamson, Theda Skocpol and John Coggin argue (gated) that Fox News exemplifies a new and interesting mechanism of social movement organization. They suggest that Fox News is a key intermediating force between national level politics and various, more localized Tea Party organizations. This graph is particularly interesting – it shows the contrast between CNN and Fox News coverage of a major Tea Party event.

CNN’s coverage spikes at the major national event in April 2009, and drops to near zero before and after this event. In telling contrast, Fox News shows significant and growing coverage in the lead-up to the April rallies. … FoxNews has explicitly mobilized its viewers by connecting the Tea Party to their own brand identity. … Rather than serving a journalistic, or even a propagandistic function, Fox News in effect acts as a “national social movement organization,” as described by sociologist Debra Minkoff in studies of liberal identity movements. For a scattered set of people who might feel isolated or marginalized (like gays and lesbians, in Minkoff’s original example), a resourceful national organization can help to provide “an infrastructure for collective action” by promoting “the diffusion of collective identities” and fostering “at least a minimal degree of solidarity and integration.”

While Skocpol at least is no friend to conservatives, it is not hard to detect a certain hint of admiration in this piece. She has written eloquently in the past about the need to revive mass-movement politics that connect individuals at the local level to national level struggles and conflicts. On this account, Fox News serves as an example of how to build the necessary connection. It is also interesting that individual Tea Part members surveyed for this article have more complex attitudes to Social Security than you might imagine. Many of them have benefited from it, or have family members who benefit from it, and are relatively favorable towards it.

[Cross-posted at the Monkey Cage]

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Henry Farrell

Henry Farrell is an associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.