Fox News host Glenn Beck recently compared America under the Obama administration to the Planet of the Apes. Fox News doesn’t like black people, so is it any surprise that blacks don’t tune in?
Recently, Think Progress reported that according to the Nielsen ratings, only 29,000 black viewers have watched FOX News Channel this television season, out of 2.102 million total viewers. This means that African-Americans make up a mere 1.38 percent of FOX’s total audience.
That’s a pathetically low number of black folks, but we shouldn’t be surprised in the least. After all, given that network’s recent treatment of the Shirley Sherrod story, its long history of race-baiting, and the racially-offensive statements of FOX on-air hosts such as Glenn Beck, it only makes sense that black people would not tune into a TV network that disrespects and scapegoats them, and calls them out of their name, so to speak.
But does it matter? With a diversifying U.S. population, does it matter that Fox News, a major news outlet, only seems to cater to a white audience? Could a lack of diversity come back to bite Fox News?
The Fox News coverage of the Shirley Sherrod affair revealed once again that the network not only has a problem with the truth, it has a black people problem. Fox aired a heavily edited video of a speech given by the former U.S. Department of Agriculture official, via conservative blogger and media hitman Andrew Breitbart. The video of Sherrod, who was speaking before an NAACP function, gave the impression that she was a racist who had refused to assist a white farmer in need in 1986. In reality, Sherrod—who became a civil rights activist after her father, a black farmer, was murdered by a white farmer—understood the need to help this poor white man who was in the same boat as poor blacks. But that narrative of reconciliation did not fit with the conservative mantra of “black racism” echoing from Fox News, a reaction to the NAACP’s charges of racism in the Tea Party movement.
Sherrod was lambasted by the Fox hosts before the facts came out. And some Fox personalities such as Sean Hannity, Dick Morris and Monica Crowley called for her resignation on air, even after the racism charge was debunked.
For Fox News, this is nothing new. There was the excessive coverage of the manufactured New Black Panthers scandal, and charges that the Obama Justice Department was motivated by racial bias when it dropped charges against the group for voter intimidation. Then there was the airing on Fox of the fake “pimping” video—once again courtesy of Breitbart—that unfairly cast the community-based organization ACORN in an unfair light, and led to the group’s demise.
Recently, Greta Van Susteren’s show showed a photo of Shirley Sherrod while discussing Congresswoman Maxine Waters, forcing the host to apologize. Apparently, Fox News is easily confused by black people, presumably because we all look alike. Similarly, a few years ago the network aired footage of Harold Ford, Jr. during a discussion of Barack Obama, and showed Rep. John Conyers as they discussed the indictment of former Rep. William Jefferson (D-Louisiana).
To add to that, blatantly racist appeals by Fox have given black viewers a reason to turn the channel. For example, the network promoted Tea Party activities as a virtual media arm and official network of the movement. Fox anchor E.D. Hill called the Barack and Michelle Obama’s fist bump a “terrorist fist-jab”. Last year, Glenn Beck called President Obama a “racist” who has “a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture,” (even though he is half white, and his the majority of his administration is as well) a charge with which Fox boss Rupert Murdoch agreed.
Beck also infamously asked Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim member of Congress, to prove he is not a terrorist. And Beck announced that he will hold an August 28 march on Washington called “Restoring Honor”, on the 47th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech—at the Lincoln Memorial no less. Sarah Palin and the National Rifle Association will join Beck that day, presumably just as Beck thinks Dr. King would have wanted it.
In some ways, the situation in which Fox finds itself is not unlike that of the Republican Party. Both have depended on a “Southern Strategy” of sorts to woo white conservative support— based on raw appeals to the racial fears of whites, a fixation on tax cuts, social programs and other issues that are merely code word for black, and a fabrication of the truth. Their constituencies are the same—low information voters (a technical term meaning uneducated) who will believe anything they are told. And for both the GOP and Fox, it has translated into success. The Republican party has won many elections through polarization, and Fox has benefited from the increasing politicization of news audiences. Interestingly, Republicans, who mistrust most news sources, rank Fox News as their most trusted news source, while Democrats rate it as their least trusted source.
Meanwhile, there seems to be trouble on the horizon for Fox and the GOP—changing demographics. By the year 2050, whites will become a minority in the U.S. And soon, a majority of the babies born in this country will be of color. So, given the browning of America, how does Fox deal with this reality?
“There are smart corporate people at the top at Fox, and you know they’re thinking about it,” says David Lerner, president of Riptide Communications, a New York-based progressive press agency whose clients specialize in social justice issues. Lerner thinks that black people not watching Fox will have no effect on other viewers. “They have a political mission. I think of them as fringe even though they’re not. Other networks follow them. CNN followed the Tea Party after Fox did. In time that’s going to hurt them because they don’t have the guests or news programming that appeals to a more diverse population,” Lerner added. “Right now they’re sitting pretty. They have other networks lapping at their heals. They get lots of attention for being Fox.But the numbers being what they are, I think that down the line it will hurt them. They will become less relevant as the country gets browner.”
Lerner finds Fox’s editorial position on issues such as immigration appalling, particularly given that the network is headed by an Australian immigrant. And he wonders if the network will bring in Spanish-language news programming to appeal to a broader audience, as Fox Sports does with its soccer coverage. “They are still the leaders in viewership, so in terms of market share they are doing well. Advertisers reach all the networks and go to Fox because of the older viewership. They will take hits on their views because of their older white male demographic.”
Meanwhile, other observers believe that FOX News is bad for business, and advertisers will drop like flies because they do not want their products associated with the divisive, highly racialized rhetoric of Glenn Beck and other FOX on-air personalities. The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that polarizing figures such as Beck are dangerous, and have aided in the rise of the violent radical Patriot movement, with its assortment of militias, white supremacists, anti-immigrant Nativists and other hate groups. Just to make the point, Beck listed the tweet “Embrace White Culture” from a neo-Nazi group among his favorite tweets. Plus, he has associated and appeared with known members of white supremacist and neo-Confederate groups. Beck is fond of the Oath Keepers, a group of soldiers and veterans that pledges to disobey “unconstitutional” orders from what they believe is a tyrannical government. They are well-trained, gun-toting, Obama-hating, and conspiratorial— and they are dangerous.
“I think [fringe militia leaders] wouldn’t have much influence if not for the aiding and abetting that they are getting from so many mainstream figures,” Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center told NPR. “I’m talking about the Tom Tancredos and the Michelle Bachmanns, the Lou Dobbs[es and] the Glenn Becks of the world. Glenn Beck of Fox News, of course, spent three shows speculating on whether or not it was so that FEMA had constructed a whole set of secret concentration camps. Ultimately, in his fourth show, he decided it was not true and quote-on-quote ‘debunked’ it. But the real point was that for three entire shows he hawked this point. And Glenn Beck has close to 3 million listeners, and a lot of those people follow him religiously — really believe that these things are true.”
And Beck bears responsibility for the Obama administration throwing Van Jones, the green jobs czar, under the bus. Potok noted that “They fired Van Jones, a White House environmental advisor, after Fox’s Glenn Beck made false claims that he was a ‘black nationalist’ and former ‘radical communist’ who was using green jobs as a form of ‘stealth reparations.’”
The movement to boycott Glenn Beck has been very successful, with 136 sponsors dropped from his show as of this publication. Yet, the movement has received little attention. ColorofChange.orghas waged a successful campaign to pull advertiser support from Beck’s show via an online petition.
And one of the powerhouses behind the highly effective Beck boycott effort is Angelo Carusone, with his StopBeck.com website and Twitter page. “StopBeck.com is a nonpartisan effort focused on holding Glenn Beck accountable for preying on racial anxieties, employing vitriolic rhetoric, propagating sexism and disseminating willful distortions. Our purpose is to urge sponsors to stop supporting Glenn Beck’s brand of hate with advertising dollars,” Carusone states on his website. He stresses that his efforts are not about Beck’s politics, but rather his recklessness, concluding that “Neither Fox News nor Glenn Beck will take any responsibility for the willful lies, sexism or preying in racial anxieties. Accordingly, we are compelled to bring accountability back to broadcasting. We would prefer that Mr. Beck, regardless of his opinions, act responsibly.”
And whatever the boycott movement and applying public pressure fails to accomplish, time almost certainly will finish off. Today, Fox is feared by the Obama administration, and now has a front-row seat in the White House briefing room based on the network’s “length of service and commitment to the White House television pool.” But time will one day run out for the Fox News Channel’s divisive brand of pseudo-news entertainment, to the extent that racial polarization and incitement to violence can pass for entertainment.
Besides, as some media experts note, much of Fox News programming centers around themes such as 9/11, which will become an historical fact that won’t resonate politically anymore. And young people are greatly in favor of gay marriage, which flies in the face of Fox’s “Archie Bunker” strategy of chasing older white conservative males prone to bigotry and intolerance. On this, Lerner makes it plain: “There is no other reason to be optimistic other than that these people will be dying off.