I think I have figured out why my father watches Fox News. Now, my father, like all of us, has his racial prejudices and I have seen them evolve over time. He’s certainly a better man than he once was, not that he was ever some racist asshole who thought that blacks (or whatever) were bringing down the society. But there is no doubt that he grew up during a different time when white men were supreme. And he has not read White Like Me and doesn’t fully appreciate just how privileged he is. And so, like a lot of white men, he was skeptical about the civil rights movement when it affected him. Clearly, he believed that people should be allowed to vote and all that. But things like “busing” bothered him and he still has a general attitude that racial inequality has been “fixed.”
It is perhaps important to note that my father is not exactly white. By California standards, sure; he’s been part of the racial ruling class—part of the group that effectively has no race. But when we traveled through the south, it became very clear that my father was not white. And given that my mother was quite white, there were quite a lot of stares at the interracial couple with their mulatto kids. In fact, there was much worse than stares, but it really doesn’t matter here.
I’ve noticed over the past few years that my father has gotten more and more unhappy with Fox News. I take some credit for that. But he’s come to see that they very often don’t tell him the whole story. And very much to his credit, he’s noticed that on their panels of “experts,” very often no one disagrees. That to him seems fishy because if everyone agrees, why are they discussing it. It’s like, “Motherhood: good or bad? We’ll be discussing that tonight on Big Talk.”
On the other side, he seems pretty happy watching MSNBC—surprisingly, especially Al Sharpton. But if the subject of racial matters comes up, he gets very uncomfortable. Talk of blatant acts of racism—voter fraud and things like that—he’s on board. In fact, he’s often more upset than I am. But he does not like to be told that there is still systemic racism in our society. It upsets his whole vision of the nation as being fundamentally okay. And that’s where he’ll change the channel.
Back over on Fox News, he’s pretty much given up on watching the explicit opinion shows like The Factor. But he’s comfortable with Bret Baier and he was upset when Shepard Smith went on to his new floating post. He’s happy watching these shows even though he clearly knows that they are lying to him to at least to a certain extent and that they are deliberately withholding news from him.
I believe the reason he continues to watch Fox News—and by extension the reason a lot of people do—is that it doesn’t upset their world view—ever. Regardless of what rubbish is reported on Fox News, it will never report anything that might say that there is anything wrong with the utopian worldview of those older generations. They might report about welfare fraud, but they would never report about an economic system that keeps people in poverty that might push some of them to commit welfare fraud. They might report on Bernie Madoff, but they will never report on the systemic fraud on Wall Street. They might report on some government waste, but they would never report on how the government’s primary function is to take money away from the poor and give it to the rich. These absolutely true facts about the nation that we live in are upsetting to all of us. But to the old, to even acknowledge them would require a total rethink of the life they’ve lived. That’s hard, hard medicine. And Fox News more than any other news network doesn’t do that.
Even more disturbing, is the overall narrative that Fox News provides. It isn’t explicit, at least most of the time. That narrative says that the problems that plague our country are the result of those people: the young, the minorities, the terrorists, the intellectuals and their sneaky ideas. Fox News never slips up and betrays that “us against them” and “good versus evil” narrative. The viewers are constantly told that in this world, none of the problems out there are their fault. If everyone were like them, everything would be perfect. The nation is going to hell because a surf bum is getting food stamps, not because corporations are getting billions of dollars to make aircraft that don’t work.
Fox News is a pacifier—Barney & Friends for the old.
I want to be clear: other than how they vote against their own interests, the average Fox News viewer is not to blame for most of our society’s ills. But the whole point of Fox News is to keep the viewer focused away from where the problems truly lie: the power elite.