FoxNews: a continuing dissection

FoxNews: a continuing dissection
: Jay Rosen is as fascinated with FoxNews as I am. Today, he uses as a launching pad a classic disgruntled ex-employee screed from Matt Gross, who recalls the day when a FoxNews boss came to the online operation and lectured the troops: “Seek out stories that cater to angry, middle-aged white men who listen to talk radio and yell at their televisions.” Gross sees this as cardinal sin, of course. Rosen, as usual, sees more subtle meaning:

It’s not just information with more excitement pumped into it (although that is true too) but also excitement as information. Get those viewers out of their seats. It’s the wow effect. It’s the tabloid mind. It’s the blare. (Fox is louder than other networks, volume wise. Ever notice that?)…

The best way I have thought of to capture this quality, which is both over-familiar and under-described, is to say at Fox they’re way more liberal with the exclamation points– but in everything, words, colors, graphics, sound, blondes. This is a kind of bias but it’s not a simple kind. By running–always running–with the more provocative story, you generate a variant on news, a tabloid genre, which some will call bias. But watch it when you assign standard political terms to the tilt toward excitement and high volume. Which network is most likely to have Al Sharpton on the air? Fox. He’s pro-excitement too.

It’s more complicated, and subtler, than just right or left. It’s about a deeper shade of ideology. It’s about populism.

The idea that “tabloid” means “right-wing” is a quite recent development. In the old days, tabloids (like Democrats) spoke for the working, tax-paying stiff. That was the grand tradition of the tabloid (and the Democratic Party). Perhaps that perception changed. Perhaps that party positioning changed. Perhaps newspapers and Democrats just got snotty while tabloids (in print and on TV, at least in the Murdoch empire) and Republicans tried to get down with the people. Who’s more populist today: The New York Post or the New York Times? Fox or CNN? Bill O’Reilly or Dan Rather? George Bush or Al Gore? George Bush or… Wesley Clark?

Now George Bush or Howard Dean… well, that’s a different question. Thanks to his internet strategy — his weblogs and MeetUps — he is trying to retake the populist cloak. Meanwhile, Al Gore is starting a TV network that’s supposedly trying to do likewise. Will the succeed? Only if they cater to us angry, middle-aged shlubs who shout at our TVs.