I never watch Fox “News” if I can help it. I have my reasons. Sometimes in motels and restaurants, I can’t avoid it. So I pay just enough attention to see whether Fox is still a propaganda mouthpiece or not. Since its launch in 1996, Fox has been remarkably consistent.
Here are eight reasons I don’t watch Fox “News.” But first two or three Foxy stories to set the stage.
Last summer I was in Washington DC for an event promoting funding for national parks. I had supper in the restaurant of the hotel where I was staying. The restaurant was a large, open dining hall with TV screens in opposite corners. I could see both. One was tuned to CNN, and the other to Fox.
CNN was featuring a program about American heroes. Fox was hosting a news-discussion program. It covered several stories, and in each case it cast the story with a rightward political slant. One item concerned an initiative of the Canadian government to reduce the use of throwaway plastics, for environmental reasons. The headline at the bottom of the screen read, “Canada Declares War on Plastic” (or words to that effect). The headline was untrue, exaggerated, misleading, and obviously unsympathetic to creation care.
About ten years ago, I was making a series of phone calls in behalf of the Marston Historical Center. I called a man in my former hometown (Spring Arbor, Michigan). I had known his father, a fine Christian, and knew his grandfather had been a Free Methodist pastor.
I rang the number and got this message: “If we don’t answer the phone, it’s because we’re watching either Fox News or ESPN.”
I have Christian relatives whose TV sets are always tuned to Fox.
A number of years ago, staying overnight in a hotel, I flipped through TV channels and came across Fox. A cartoon was playing, so I watched for a few minutes. I soon saw it was a political satire making fun of a Democratic leader whom Fox disagreed with.
I could tell similar stories from times we were in motel breakfast rooms, or restaurants or elsewhere, and the TV was set to Fox (no customer choice). And Fox was airing misleading or propagandized news items. Truth twisted so that it morphs into untruth should be labeled “fake news.”
These kinds of experiences have led me to several reasons I shun Fox:
1. Fox “News” consistently gives a right-wing political slant to the news.
This started with Fox’s creator, Roger Ailes (same age as me), who died in 2017. (More on Ailes below.)
This slanting of news is concerning at many levels. Personally, I am concerned especially about four current issues: Climate, immigration, healthcare, and the politicizing of abortion. I am concerned because Fox “News” undermines creation care, undercuts fair and just immigration policies, views comprehensive healthcare as “socialist,” and prevents a balanced approach to reducing the number of abortions. And there are many other issues.
Roger Ailes’ agenda was always political. He told Fox executives in 2010, “I want to elect the next president.” Through Fox, Ailes largely defined President Barack Obama for conservative Christians. “For many Americans … the Obama they know, the one they are raging against, is the one Ailes has played a large role in creating,” notes Gabriel Sherman (The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built FOX NEWS—and Divided a Country [Random House, 2014, 2017], xvi).
Ailes created Fox as “a self-contained universe,” writes Sherman. Its audience “seldom watches anything else. They have been conditioned by Fox’s pundits to see the broadcast networks, CNN, and MSNBC as opponents in a grand partisan struggle” (Loudest Voice, xvi-xvii). By contrast, many non-Fox viewers check various channels.
2. Fox “News” is intentionally dishonest.
Ailes invented the slogan “Fair and Balanced,” but this itself is propaganda. From the first, Ailes saw Fox as a propaganda voice. He used the slogan “Fair and Balanced” to disguise his deliberate intention to be unfair and one-sided. Disingenuously, he claimed that “only his rival networks practiced partisan spin” (Loudest Voice, 196). (Everyone should read Orwell’s 1984.)
3. Fox’s aim is to entertain and stir emotions, not primarily to inform.
Gabriel Sherman notes, “The passion of [the Fox] audience was something that had never before existed in TV news, a consequence of Fox’s hybrid of politics and entertainment. Fox did not have viewers. It had fans. They watched on average 30 percent longer than CNN viewers in prime time…. To watch Fox was to belong to a tribe” (Loudest Voice, 291).
4. Fox “News” promotes cynicism, not compassion.
The channel constantly casts doubt on truth and promotes what some call a “politics of grievance.” The tone of its reporting is often sarcastic or ironic, with the unstated subliminal message: “Can you believe people are so stupid as to say or believe such things?” Fox does not promote sympathy and understanding. Rather, it encourages cynicism, victimhood, alienation—a defensive me-versus-them mentality.
Fox thrives on creating division. Fox viewers (the network would have you believe) are a select club who really know what is going on and are not fooled by “fake news” and the “liberal media.” In other words, here again, Fox turns truth upside down.
5. Fox offers a politicized version of the Christian faith.
By employing and frequently interviewing people like Sean Hannity, Southern Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress, and Jerry Falwell, Jr., Fox promotes a right-wing Christianity that passes as evangelicalism. Without Fox “News,” far fewer evangelicals (real or nominal) would have voted as they did in 2016. Fox and its viewers swung the election.
Since I don’t watch Fox, until recently I was unaware of superstar Pastor Jeffress and his outsized influence in politics and his close symbiotic relationship with Fox. Jeffress is pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, a megachurch of some 13,000 members. He broadcasts on thousands of cable and satellite outlets in 195 countries. He is also a prominent member of the President’s Evangelical Advisory Board, created during the 2016 campaign to curry evangelical support. The Board still functions, largely below the radar, as a way to keep the President’s evangelical base enthusiastically behind him. (One of several sources: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jan/30/donald-trump-administration-religious-right-access.)
Jeffress believes Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is largely irrelevant when it comes to politics. In a 2017 interview he said, “God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary.” God gives governments “the authority to do whatever, whether it’s assassination, capital punishment or evil punishment to quell the actions of evildoers like Kim Jung Un.” Jeffress added, “A Christian writer asked me, ‘Don’t you want the president to embody the Sermon on the Mount?’ I said absolutely not” (Ben Howe, The Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power over Christian Values [New York: HarperCollins, 2019], 46, 47). This of course clashes with Scripture and the ethos of the early church. I explain this and other distortions of biblical teaching about God’s kingdom in my book, Models of the Kingdom.
The version of Christianity dominant on Fox is essentially that promoted by Colorado millionaire Joseph Coors of Coors Brewing. Coors has “poured millions into bringing about a right-wing revival that braided the strands of Christianity, nationalism, and free market economics into a political force,” notes Sherman (Loudest Voice, 98).
Theologian Wayne Grudem, whose Systematic Theology is popular in evangelical circles, said in 2016, “I overwhelmingly support [T—’s] policies and believe Clinton’s policies will seriously damage the nation, perhaps forever.” Grudem cited policies on taxes, economic growth, minimum wage, immigration, the military, and energy, among others. No biblical concern expressed for aliens or the poor or the creation, however. “Again and again,” Grudem said, the Republican candidate “supports the policies I advocated in my 2010 book Politics According to the Bible” (quoted in Immoral Majority, 64). In general, evangelicals who supported the Republican candidate were feeding off “the bottom of the rationalization barrel: ‘lesser evils,’” notes Sherman (Immoral Majority, 65).
Fox “News” is corrupting U.S. Christianity. It has already corrupted a major sector of evangelicalism which due to a watered-down theology, escapist eschatology, uncritical patriotism, and dualistic political ideology was already highly vulnerable. Fox promotes might-makes-right politics.
Ben Howe, himself a conservative evangelical, writes: “Broadly speaking, we have taken to confronting immorality by becoming immoral. But because our immorality is intended to stop an objectively worse immorality, we reason that it is not immoral.” Thus “almost anything these days that you would expect Christians to condemn or oppose is not condemned or opposed because, as they see it, there is a greater moral consideration that takes precedence” (Immoral Majority, xxi, xxii-xxii). In the last couple years, I have repeatedly heard versions of this argument.
Watching Fox “News” predisposes Christians impulsively to pass along right-wing posts on Facebook and Twitter without checking the sources—sources which often are biased or based in Russia.
6. Fox “News” is voyeuristic in its selection of female reporters and commentators.
This is not news. A number of observers have commented on Fox’s predilection for attractive female blondes who subliminally appeal to male viewers, Christian or not. “Female broadcasters [tend] to be attractive blondes encouraged to show more than a little leg,” notes one commentator.
Fox personality Gretchen Carlson, whose lawsuit finally led to Ailes’ resignation, understood the culture at Fox. It was “common knowledge at Fox that Ailes frequently made inappropriate comments to women in private meeting and asked them to twirl around so he could examine their figures.” Carlson heard the “persistent rumors that Ailes propositioned female employees for sexual favors. Taking on Ailes was dangerous, but Carlson was determined to fight back,” which she finally did (Loudest Voice, 397).
7. Fox “News” is entertainment, not news.
Some of their news reporters do fairly report solid news, but the overall reporting is dominated by the political agenda Ailes created in 1996. Ailes was a genius at turning news into entertainment and politics into satire.
8. The final reason for bypassing Fox is Roger Ailes himself and the legacy he has left.
Read Gabriel Sherman’s The Loudest Voice in the Room, and you will understand.
Here are some insights from Sherman’s 500-page, well-documented biography. “There is perhaps no individual whose life explains how we ended up with President [T—] more clearly than Roger Ailes,” writes Sherman. “Ailes did more than anyone of his generation to fuse entertainment and politics into the potent force that [the Republican candidate] harnessed in 2016.”
Starting in 2011, Ailes gave the future Republican star “a weekly call-in segment on the morning show Fox & Friends, where [T—] first pitched himself to Republican voters.” Sherman notes, “That a candidate as wholly unqualified, unpopular, and visibly unstable … could win the presidency is a testament to Ailes’s influence on American culture” (xi-xii).
“Through Fox, Ailes helped polarize the American electorate, drawing sharp, with-us-or-against-us lines, demonizing foes, preaching against compromise” (xiv). This was not wholly cynical, for Ailes “saw himself as a field marshal in an epic battle to defend the American dream against the counterculture” (xv). Ailes viewed climate change as “a ‘worldwide conspiracy’ spun by ‘foreign nations’ to gain control of America’s resources” (xvi).
Ailes got his start in national politics way back in 1968, beginning at the Republican National Convention in Miami that nominated Richard Nixon. He landed a minor job with the Nixon campaign, and from there his influence grew. He set up a TV political event in Chicago, carefully stage-crafted to present Nixon as fair and balanced. The program featured an audience of handpicked Republican supporters and a carefully selected panel of questioners, including one African American. “Two would be offensive to whites,” one of the organizers said. “One was necessary and safe” (Loudest Voice, 47).
Robert Kennedy, Jr., who had known Ailes in earlier days, later wrote, “Roger believes that ends justify the means. Which was a Nixonian idea. It’s the idea that everybody does it, that the world is really a struggle for power. That justifies a lot of the things he’s done at Fox News.” Kennedy added, Ailes’ “views are sincere. He thinks he’s preserving the American way of life. In his heart, he thinks America is probably better off being a white Christian nation. He’s driven by his own paranoia and he knows how to get in touch with his own paranoia. He makes Americans comfortable with their bigotry, their paranoia and their xenophobia” (Loudest Voice, 108).
It was common knowledge at Fox that Ailes was a sexual predator. For a long time, Ailes managed to eat his cake and share it too. Since he was the boss, nobody said anything. A former female Fox producer remarked, “The whole Fox culture” had a “sexualized nature to it” (Quoted in Loudest Voice, 298).
Ailes had multiple affairs and sexual liaisons with female staffers. Only late in his career at Fox, however, did women begin to come forward with complaints and lawsuits, leading finally to Ailes’ downfall. Sherman documents a number of Ailes’ predations and encounters in his book. It makes for rough reading.
So here are my eight reasons. Interestingly, my parents never watched Fox “News,” because it didn’t exist. Their politics were conservative, but balanced and reasonable. They weren’t ideologues; politics was decidedly secondary to their deep Christian faith, which had been nurtured over many decades. Fox “News” was created in 1996, the year after my father’s death. My father, E. C. Snyder (who survived my mother by a dozen years) was wise enough, with enough life experience, that he never would have fallen for Fox.
For the most part, I don’t know which of my friends and relatives today watch Fox “News.” But I get clues when I hear people using the very arguments, catch phrases, and lies or rumors that abound on Fox. Talk with anyone about politics for five minutes, and generally you can guess what their main source is.
Since Fox “News” viewers are more a tribe than an audience, I already know the reaction most will have to this short piece. Anger, denunciation, accusations, questioning my Christian faith, and unfriending. Not the first time.
But my hope and prayer is that a sliver of viewers are open-minded truth-seekers who will begin to question their Fox fascination and rethink politics in light of Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom of God. And a sliver can swing an election.