About thirty years ago, the Long Island Regional Poison Control Center ran a semi-famous ad campaign encouraging children not to treat prescription medicine as candy. The spot featured blue pills singing the following:
This is serious!
We could make you delirious!
You should have a healthy fear of us–
Too much of us is dangerous!
If you think about it, that jingle is the perfect description of Fox News, no?
I thought of that jingle when I came across a beautifully-written letter in the Boston Globe that summed up the case against the man who fathered Fox:
They say that one ought not speak ill of the dead, but in the case of Roger Ailes that would leave little to say. Ailes wrested conservatism away from intellectuals like George Will, who at minimum based their views on a coherent body of deliberate thought, and replaced it with a conservatism based on hatred, anger, and mistrust of one’s fellow Americans. His fire-breathing network, Fox News, boiled over with loathing of the left, prejudice against minorities, anger toward the poor, distrust of journalists, and contempt for academics.
Ailes reassured racists that it was really the victims of racism who were the bigots. He reassured those who based their politics on emotional reactions that they were wiser than those who based their politics on reasoning and thought. He replaced journalism based on factual information with a brand of journalism based on what we now call “alternative facts” — that is, untruths designed to play to the prejudices of his target audience.
Now, the letter is flawed in one respect: like the segregationist William F. Buckley, a climate-change-denying, campus-rape-denying ideologue like George F. Will does not, in fact, represent a kinder, gentler strain of conservatism. In fact, it can be argued that “intellectual conservatism” was always a hoax, as Brent Staples observed two decades ago in the New York Times:
The conservative revolution started with the premise that a liberal orthodoxy had hijacked the culture and muzzled public debate. In truth, the architects of the right — Irving Kristol, Paul Weyrich, Pat Robertson, William Buckley — were advancing an orthodoxy of their own, one that cast liberalism as an evil to be wiped out at any cost. With conservatives controlling the national agenda — and the word liberal reduced to a slur — the goal is clearly within reach.
The movement succeeded largely because it was focused — and very well financed. Over the last 15 years, foundations and think tanks like Olin, Heritage, Hoover and Scaife have spent tens of millions of dollars boosting their positions through books, papers and intellectuals-for-hire. The rush of new money created a class of professionals who live very well cranking out ideology masked as disinterested scholarship…[In terms of right-wing politics], race-baiting, Willie Hortonizing and homophobia were part of the package from the start and actually in fuller use in the 80’s than now.
Fox was only a year old when Staples wrote these words. Two decades later, thanks to Ailes, “race-baiting, Willie Hortonizing and homophobia” are far worse now than they were in the 1980s. Ailes may be gone, but his ideological offspring are still causing mischief, namely Sean Hannity, now engaged in a bizarre campaign to drive Rachel Maddow (whose shoes Hannity could not shine) off the air.
Could the damage Ailes did to this country be reversed? The only hope lies in the creation of a progressive media infrastructure strong, expansive and resilient enough to counterbalance the power of Fox and its friends. If that doesn’t happen–and rather soon–Ailes’s invective will be immortal.