Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Fox News 'course correction' rankles some

Roger Ailes is presiding over a shift toward the center at Fox News. | Reuters


(Politico)  As a white, male, middle-aged conservative talk radio host from Virginia, John Fredericks is something close to the Platonic ideal of a Fox News fan.

And until last year, he was one. But then Fox’s treatment of the Republican primary race — the presentation of Karl Rove as a political analyst despite his having “thrown in for Romney” and Sean Hannity’s clear ties to the Republican establishment — began to grate on him. So he changed the channel.

“I’ve gone from all Fox to no Fox, and replaced it with CNN, which I think right now is giving me a much fairer analysis of what’s going on,” he said. “I feel they’ve lost that independent conservative mantra that had drove people like me to them. I used to feel that I got it straight, and I got an independent conservative view. Now, what I get is some wholly owned subsidiary of the RNC [Republican National Committee].”

Across the Conservative Political Action Conference this year, there were similar grumbles among conservative activists that the cable channel was no longer speaking for them as it once did.

The grumblers were picking up on a strategy that has been under way for some time — a “course correction,” as Fox chief Roger Ailes put it last fall — with the network distancing itself from the tea party cheerleading that characterized the first two years of President Barack Obama’s presidency. Lately, Fox has increasingly promoted its straight-news talent in the press and conducted some of the toughest interviews and debates of the Republican primary season. Just last week, it hired the openly gay liberal activist Sally Kohn as a contributor.

All along, Fox watchers warned that it risked alienating conservative true believers as it inched toward the center.

Well, consider them alienated.

“To tell you the truth, a lot of conservatives see Fox News as being somewhat skewed on certain issues,” said Patrick Brown, who runs Internet marketing for The Western Center for Journalism, a conservative nonprofit that features stories questioning the president’s eligibility for office. “We actually did a poll recently that said, ‘Is Fox News actually conservative, or has it moved left?’ And some 70 percent of our readers thought it had moved left.”

“Left” is, of course, a relative term.

A casual Fox viewer might barely notice the changes since the network remains critical of the Obama administration and reliably conservative opinion voices, like Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, still anchor key spots in the Fox firmament. But the changes are there...

Now, changes have begun to surface in its opinion programming, too. Last week, O’Reilly invited onto his show a gay-rights activist to weigh in on Roland Martin’s controversial tweets during the Super Bowl.

O’Reilly and Martin may be old foes, but the spectacle of watching O’Reilly, who once compared gay marriage to interspecies marriage, attacking a CNN anchor for being insufficiently sensitive to the feelings of gay people was quite a switch from the tone of two years ago. O’Reilly also stuck up for Ellen DeGeneres last week, suggesting that those who opposed her new role as spokeswoman for JC Penney because she is gay were not acting in “the spirit of America.”

Viewers are noticing, as the survey by Brown’s group, The Western Center for Journalism, picked up. The center was co-founded by Joseph Farah, the WorldNetDaily founder and publisher of last year’s big birther book, and is now run by Floyd Brown, a co-founder of Citizens United and best known for producing the “Willie Horton” ad.

But what is interesting is that the survey found Fox viewers felt the change in Fox had come relatively recently. And that they were far from alone.

Cliff Kincaid, president of America’s Survival, had a whole booth at CPAC dedicated to questioning Fox’s programming choices, complete with “Bring Back Beck” buttons and bumper stickers.

“What happened is they buckled under pressure from George Soros and his operatives to get rid of Glenn Beck,” said Kincaid, who wants Beck back on the air so he can continue his “investigative journalism” into Soros’s influence on the media.

He said that pressure went beyond the $1 million that Soros gave Media Matters in October 2010 “to hold Fox News accountable.”

“We talked to a private investigator who interviewed representatives or employees of News Corporation about the threats and intimidation against them for going after Soros,” he said.

But Kincaid’s beef with Fox went beyond Beck.

He complained that the channel had recently hired “two far-left radical feminists,” Jehmu Greene and Kohn, who were “graduates of Jane Fonda’s Women’s Media Center.”

“Fox became successful by filling that void and becoming a platform for conservative voices,” he said. “If they want to watch Jehmu Greene or Sally Kohn, they can turn on MSNBC...”

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