By Luke Brinker
Keach Hagey’s Politico story about mounting conservative disillusionment with Fox News has been making the rounds today. Hagey reports that Fox chief Roger Ailes’s conscious effort to “tone down” the network’s heated rhetoric and the channel’s hiring of liberal-leaning commentators have provoked the ire of rock-ribbed conservative viewers.
Perhaps most striking, however, is the sense on the part of some viewers that the channel has become little more than a partisan mouthpiece for the Republican Party. (That’s not quite the same thing as being a promoter of conservatism). Here’s how Hagey begins his story:
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” andSean 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].”
This dynamic reflects a choice made at the highest echelons of Fox. Ailes, who made his name as a public relations adviser to President Richard Nixon, is a committed Republican, and as someone who wants to see President Barack Obama defeated in the fall, his main focus is the nomination of an electable GOP candidate. Hence the increasing prominence of analysts like Karl Rove, who has made quite clear that he views Mitt Romney as the most acceptable candidate in the Republican field. The story goes on to mention that Andrew Napolitano, a libertarian Tea Party type who supports Ron Paul for president, recently had his show on Fox Business cancelled, to the consternation of many of his fans. While Napolitano’s ratings were poor, such a move, coming on the heels of Glenn Beck’s departure last year, engenders suspicion among anti-establishment types who see the network as squelching grassroots sentiment in favor of the GOP elite.
Blatant partisanship is not unparalleled in cable news, of course. There’s never been any question which party Fox favors, and while MSNBC employs conservatives like Joe Scarborough and eclectic liberal Chris Matthews, its “Lean Forward” ads show an increasingly strident partisanship. There’s nothing wrong with any of this, but as Hagey’s story attests, viewers may not countenance a network that serves primarily as a party propagandist, instead of a principled voice for conservatism or liberalism.