Posted on | December 13, 2013 | 68 Comments
Before addressing the report today at Huffington Post, let me ask: How many readers are students of military science? One of the things you learn about when studying basic tactics is that battlefields sometimes have “channelizing” terrain features that restrict troop movements, so that the direction of attack (or line of retreat) is predictable:
Restricted terrain for vehicles may be roads or highways, or rolling hills that include trees or outcroppings of rocks. Remember that terrain is restrictive if it constrains a unit’s options for movement. Jersey barriers or high embankments alongside a road, for instance, can turn it into restrictive terrain — a channelizing obstacle that benefits the defense, not offense. Restricted terrain for forces on foot would include swamps, dense vegetation, steep rugged terrain, and dense urban areas.
At the 1862 Battle of Antietam, for example, “Burnside’s Bridge” was a channelizing feature, so that a small Confederate force was able to hold off a much larger Union attack which was focused on taking the bridge. Similarly, at the Battle of Fredericksburg, channelizing terrain features — including marshy ground on the northern end of the battlefield — had the effect of directing repeated Union assaults against a Confederate stronghold at the famous Sunken Road, a position that proved impregnable to frontal attack.
This is analogous to the problem of conservatives making Fox News a singular focus of efforts to combat liberal media bias. As early as February 2009, I described what I called “The Fox Trap”:
Media-wise, the GOP made the mistake of putting all its eggs in one basket. I enjoy Fox News, but it has created a syndrome where Republicans watch Fox all the time and delude themselves into thinking, “Hey, our message is getting out! We’re winning!” Fact: The evening news broadcasts of ABC, NBC and CBS reach a combined audience of about 22 million; the top rated Fox News show, “The O’Reilly Factor,” reaches 4 million viewers. So if the three broadcast networks are viciously biased against Republicans – and they are – then that anti-GOP message is reaching more than 5 times as many TV viewers as Fox.
[D]uring the Bush presidency, the Left created institutions (notably Media Matters) based on the dubious theory that Fox News and other conservative media had too much influence.
That theory cannot be reconciled with the facts:
NBC Nightly News . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9.3 million
ABC World News . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8.2 million
CBS Evening News . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7.3 million
Fox News (The O’Reilly Factor) . . . . . . . . . . . 3.2 million
MSNBC (Hardball with Chris Matthews) . . . . . 940,000
CNN (Anderson Cooper 360) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 605,000
Fox News is, as it proudly boasts, Number One in Cable News, accounting for 68% of the cable news audience. Add in the major network evening news broadcasts, however, and the total news audience is closer to 30 million, of which Fox’s share is about 11%.
In other words, 89% of news on TV is reliably liberal in its perspective, and the Left’s obsession with Fox News is absurd. Why should Media Matters have an annual budget of $10 million to counteract the influence of a network that gets 11% of the news audience?
We could discuss at length the ramifications of this data, but the point to be made immediately is that Fox News has functioned like a channelizing terrain feature in the informational battlefield. For the defenders of liberal media hegemony, all they had to do was to isolate Fox — identify it as a hostile force in the eyes of other media — and then to target both the network’s messages and its messengers.
In other words, a story that was damaging to Democrats or which undermined key elements of the liberal media narrative could be discredited simply by saying, “Oh, that’s a Fox story.”
This phenomenon was evident, for example, in the unrelenting attacks on Glenn Beck (whom liberals correctly identified as a popular figure among Tea Party-aligned conservatives) and even more clearly in the Left’s endless attacks against Andrew Breitbart.
What was the Left’s reaction to the initial revelations of “WeinerGate” in May 2011? “Oh, that’s bogus, because it’s just a Breitbart story.”
One thing that particularly enraged the Left was that CNN interviewed Breitbart about the story:
CNN Spreads Latest Breitbart Smear
– “Stranded Wind” (Neal Rauhauser), Daily Kos, May 30, 2011
CNN Knew Breitbart Was Lying
– “Stranded Wind” (Neal Rauhauser), Daily Kos, June 1, 2011
This meme — that the Weiner cybersex scandal was a “Breitbart smear” which should not be reported by “objective” media like CNN — was consistent with a general strategy by the Left to limit the ability of conservative media to influence the larger narrative, by ensuring that (a) the Right’s most effective messengers were restricted to appearing on Fox News, and (b) Fox News was viewed as unreliable.
Andrew Breitbart understood this tactic, and fought very hard to escape the “Fox Trap,” which is why he delivered one of his biggest scoops on the WeinerGate scandal — the Meagan Broussard story, which confirmed that Weiner was “sexting” with multiple women — directly to ABC News as an exclusive. If conservative messages and messengers can be limited to one media channel, and that channel reaches no more than a minor fraction of the total news audience, liberals win. It’s really that simple, which is why this Huffington Post story is so significant:
Since its founding in 2004, the progressive watchdog group Media Matters for America has been a thorn in the side of Fox News. Its dozens of staffers monitor the network’s leadership, hosts, guests and financial dealings incessantly, calling out misinformation, conflicts of interest and evidence of a partisan agenda, in a bid to shed light on the workings of the right-wing echo chamber.
But in the coming years, Fox will no longer be the center of Media Matters’ universe. That’s because the group believes it has effectively discredited the network’s desire to be seen as “fair and balanced.”
“The war on Fox is over,” said Media Matters Executive Vice President Angelo Carusone. “And it’s not just that it’s over, but it was very successful. To a large extent, we won.”
According to its strategic plan for the next three years, a copy of which was provided to The Huffington Post, Media Matters envisions shifting its focus to new, increasingly influential targets, including Spanish-language media, social media streams, alternative online outlets and morning and entertainment sources. It will enhance its state media and issue-based monitoring, as well as continue its focus on right-wing radio and legacy outlets.
“We’ve always said, ‘Media Matters watches Fox, so you don’t have to,’” said Bradley Beychok, the group’s president. “That remains true. Fox News isn’t going to stop lying, so we’ll stay on that beat. But, our success regarding Fox News means that our talented team will carry out our mission in different ways consistent with a new strategic vision responsive to the transforming media environment.” . . .
Media Matters argues in its strategic plan that Fox News is no longer the gatekeeper it once was, now that social media has proliferated and many of the network’s personalities have moved elsewhere. . . .
Carusone argued that Media Matters’ focus on traditional outlets is more important than ever, especially given the changing nature of the news business and the staffing cuts happening in many places.
“These outlets are not our enemy. We do not have a hostile posture toward them,” he said. “But in some ways, because they’re vulnerable, because the right-wing echo chamber is so well-funded and so loud, there’s a role and a posture that we have to take that’s very different from the one we had in the past. It doesn’t mean that we don’t listen to the regular players anymore, but it just means that structurally, we have to think about how we make sense of it.”
Media Matters has also been branching out by doing investigative reporting and increasing its coverage of specific issues: gun violence, LGBT equality, energy and climate, immigration, the judiciary, the economy and women’s rights. Moving forward, it hopes to hold an annual conference in Washington, develop a deeper network of activists and expand its technological capabilities. One idea is a new portal site and a system, currently known as “Project M,” that will allow the group to better monitor the media landscape.
Carusone, who was recently promoted to his current role, has been a key foot soldier in the war on Fox. Before he joined the organization, back when he was still in law school, he started a campaign against Beck in response to the host’s 2009 comment that President Barack Obama is a racist. With the help of some progressive organizations, Carusone successfully convinced hundreds of companies to stop advertising on Beck’s show.
He joined Media Matters in 2011, around the time that Media Matters Founder David Brock declared an all-out “war on Fox” and launched a “Drop Fox” campaign aimed at the network’s advertisers. Although one of Media Matters’ main targets stood by Fox at the time, Carusone said the group considered the push a success. He pointed out that Fox President Roger Ailes said just a few months later that the network needed to do a “course correction” away from the far right.
Host Megyn Kelly has since taken over the 9:00 p.m. time slot that had been occupied for years by Sean Hannity, who is known for being more vitriolic and partisan than Kelly. Carusone argued that financial pressure, created in part by Media Matters, forced that shift. . . .
You can read the whole thing and decide for yourself whether (a) Media Matters has actually “won” its war against Fox News, or (b) whether the new “strategic plan” is just a fundraising pitch aimed at donors who have grown weary of funding an organization that has already spent millions of dollars on its anti-Fox News obsession. Readers may also want to remember something I wrote in April 2012:
The “Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy,” as Hillary Clinton dubbed it in 1998, was incapable of persuading a majority of Americans that Mrs. Clinton’s husband should be drummed out of office for his “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Similarly, conservative alternative media could not prevent Democrats from winning control of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections, nor prevent Obama’s 2008 election. And, although Republicans took back Congress in a historic 2010 midterm landslide, the prospects for defeating Obama’s re-election bid and unseating Harry Reid as Senate Majority Leader are uncertain at best, despite what most conservatives would view as the demonstrable failures of Democratic Party policies. Thus the question arises: “What are conservatives doing wrong in their efforts to expose, correct and offset liberal media bias?” . . .
Please read the whole thing. No one associated with Fox News will ever acknowledge the limits of their influence, but conservatives should not let themselves be blinded to the larger media reality.
It would be a wonderful Christmas gift for your kids.