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Understanding The Fox Effect Through the Eyes of Media Matters

The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network Into a Propaganda Machine(Anchor Books, 2012) is authored by David Brock and Ari Ragin-Havt, two of the active forces behind Media Matters, a non-profit watchdog whose website chronicles the antics of politicians and political commentators with the stated goal of identifying and documenting the truth behind the lies of modern media.

Media Matters as an organization has a particular vendetta toward the Fox News network run by Roger Ailes. Fact finders Brock and Ragin-Havt spend their entire book lining up examples of how the Ailes machine got started while working for President Richard Nixon, evolved during the Reagan era and began to rise into greater prominence during the administration of George H. W. Bush.

But the Ailes machine did not achieve full traction until he was given a network to run for Rupert Murdoch, the controversial media magnate whose news organizations overseas were caught doing all kinds of underhanded things, especially wiretapping and hacking phones of celebrities, politicians and public leaders. The level of corruption this represents in the field of journalism is hard to characterize, for the nature of information gathered illegally amounts to a form of bribery and blackmail, or at the very least an unfair and unbalanced approach to reporting the news. If the privacy of the public cannot be protected, private citizens and public figures alike are at the mercy of powers that can destroy and manipulate society. In that situtation, the media itself becomes a political force that potentially cannot be stopped.

No phone-hacking scandal has yet been attached to Fox News, but Fox Effect documents the many ways the so-called news organization instead employs the "end around" with sophisticated artistry whenever an inconvenient truth stand in the way of an ideological point the network would prefer to make. 

The term "talking points" is often associated with the manner and method by which Fox News conducts it business. The network is heavy on commentators and light on actual journalists anyway, so from a business and efficiency standpoint it makes sense to dispense the news in sound bites that can be parroted from the top down and the ground up. The Fox Effectdocuments this process at Fox News, with news editors and Roger Ailes dispensing the "official" stance on nearly every issue covered by Fox. The rare times when real news that doesn't fit ideological purpose gets on the air the station is quick to align its commentators Sean Hannity and the alike to bury any possible perception of disagreement with conservative motivations. 

That is how the "fair and balanced" checks and balances system works. 

Juicier facts emerge when even the talking heads at Fox decide to depart from the company line. Rogue commentator Sarah Palin notably ran afoul of Roger Ailes after she took a year's salary and then announced her decision not to run for the Presidency on another show. The pithy Ailes grew incensed, and Palin soon departed. 

But for the most part, Fox News is an admirable testimony to the unification of conservative opinion through use of the media. Trumpeting the "fair and balanced" message as a lead-in to television, radio and Internet content is just one of the ways Fox News seeks to brainwash its viewers into a preference for highly vetted information that grossly favors Republican interests. 

The evident cheerleading for Republican political candidates, where ratios of air time tip heavily toward politicians whose viewpoints align most closely with Fox. That practice excludes nearly all Democrats, and the few liberal commentators or politicians allowed on the air are usually surrounded by phalanxes of aggressive, loudmouthed Fox favorites whose shoutdown methods are not only encouraged by the station, but played as highlights over and over again in an attempt to prove that conservative viewpoints are superior, and therefore the winning formula for the country. 

It almost seems a century ago since Fox News cheerleaded the George W. Bush administration into war in Iraq, then ignored by preference the blunders, wasted and lost money, torture and obfuscations of men like Donald Rumsfeld who never seemed capable of giving the American people a straight answer the entire time he was leading our military forces.

Fox simply loved the sight of bombs dropping on Baghdad, playing video ad nauseum like it was war porn. It's approach satisfied a Red Meat & Payback mentality of a jingoistic audience hungry for revenge on anyone, or anything following the attacks on 9/11. Never mind that there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, or that there were no weapons of mass destruction known or found to be in Iraq. Fox just whitewashed over those grievous facts and moved on to the hanging of Saddam for its chewiest bit of video, wrapped in a warning, perhaps, that graphic footage may follow.

The network proceeded to take that momentum and turn media reporting into a war of its own, deriding the supposedly "Liberal Mainstream Media" as being out of touch with America. Did you catch that? Fox essentially used the war in Iraq to begin a war on America itself. Fox News knows that conflict is good for ratings, good for leverage and good for threatening its political and media enemies. 

But the use of force often creates collateral damage. 

The product of its force of will, concludes the book The Fox Effect, is that Fox News has actually begun to damage the interests of the Republican Party by appealing to increasingly extreme objectives among voters who bought into the Tea Party, a non-grassroots movement essentially created and promoted through the resources of the Fox News network, fostering allegiance to rigid idealists such as Grover Nordquist whose No Tax pledge now holds hostage hundreds of legislators in Congress, producing gridlock over spending issues to the point where the United States of America was nearly forced to default on its debt, and did experience a drop in its debt rating as a result. Nice work, Fox News. 

So it appears that Fox News has bitten off more than even it can chew. One would expect that to happen among such small minds bent only on capturing influence in the next news cycle. But one wonders if Fox News should now be required to register as its own political party. Its clear and only intent is to control the American voting interests. "Fox Conservatives" listen less and less to party leaders and more to news commentators whose strident speeches in prime time sound evermore like propaganda, having nothing at all to do with news in its most basic definition. 

Conservatives will brand The Fox Effect a "hatchet job" and dismiss anything written by Media Matters as a partisan attack on a news network that in its own words has attemped to level the playing field in claiming that liberals control the principal broadcast news outlets. 

For all their crying and whining, Fox News has been able to provide precious little proof that the media is biased toward liberal interests. If anything, our media system has become corporatized, more interested in earnings than news reporting. The Fourth Estate is now divided into quarterly financial reports, resulting in decisions being made based on how and where to invest resources for better returns rather than discovering the truth. 

Fortunately there still is potent investigative work being done in America, and a new crop of journalists now works across the face of media rather than being confined to just newspaper, radio or TV. Hopefully this transparency will keep our information honest, rather than cloistered behind marketing statements like "fair and balanced" in a media product that is anything but what it claims to be. 

The Fox Effect is a worthwhile read because it shows how the Fox network makes its decisions and seeks to control the messaging and political climate of the country. Media Matters may be a hated enemy of Fox News, but ironically this book may serve to save the powerful network from itself, if only a few of its key personalities had the guts and brains to read it, and understand how their success is truly a failure for American justice, truth and parity.