According to author, critic, and former Fox News Watch panelist Neal Gabler, there’s not much of a mystery about who killed “the idea of media objectivity.” The perp, Gabler alleges, was the late Roger Ailes.
“Before Fox News, most people actually trusted the media,” wrote Gabler in a screed that ran Friday on Salon and was originally published at BillMoyers.com.
The mainstream media weren’t perceived as politically biased…Having to appeal to large swaths of the public and terrified of alienating prospective viewers, TV journalists generally walked the line between left and right. They reported. They didn’t editorialize. Or at least they didn’t think they editorialized.
Then, however, Ailes convinced his public that simple reporting was a form of editorializing. He suggested that the media’s so-called ‘facts’ about the changing world were an endorsement of that world, and he claimed to be exposing media bias in order to correct it. In a way, he took seriously Stephen Colbert’s joke, 'It is a well-known fact that reality has a liberal bias.' But it could only happen because cable television, unlike broadcast television, could survive on a relatively small demographic niche like angry old white men. In Fox News, they found an outlet for their rage.
It was Richard Nixon, contended Gabler, who “turned Republicanism into a therapeutic movement of social vengeance,” and Ailes then “converted his [own] resentments and Nixon’s into a media message” (bolding added):
The base of conservatism -- especially those angry old white men who had supported Nixon -- would be the viewership of Fox News, too. These were people who felt the world slipping away from them in the tumult of civil rights, feminism, counter-culturalism and multiculturalism…Politically, they blamed Democrats, who seemed sympathetic to change. Culturally, they would come to blame the media, which reported on this new narrative of a changing world without expressing disapproval of it.
Exploiting the latter was Ailes’ job. He constructed a snarling counternarrative in the media in which social change was not a sign of progress but rather a sign of decadence and decay. If you boil Fox News down to one basic idea, this is it: White people are losing the world, the world is going to hell as a result, and liberal elites, including the liberal media, ought to pay.
You could say that Fox News gave voice to those who felt voiceless, though it might be more accurate to say that he gave voice to those who were so filled with enmity that they seemed on the borderline of sanity…[Ailes] created not just an alternative media or even an alternative set of facts, but an alternative universe that has overtaken the real one -- a bizarre universe bubbling with resentments and conspiracies and fabrications in which liberals aren’t a political opposition; they are the source of all evil. Basically, he poisoned America.
The election of Donald Trump, Gabler asserted, suggests that Ailes also was Satan to the GOP’s Faust:
Trump is fully the creation of Fox News, the candidate of Ailes’ dreams, the man who came to embody the two most important aspects of Fox News -- its betrayal of truth and its allegiance to journalistic porn. And this is why Ailes is so important in our political and media ecologies. We think of how Republicanism in the post-Reagan era infected the media, and we see Fox News as the prime example. But we don’t think as much about how Fox News infected Republicanism. Ailes was the carrier, and Trump the result.
Without Fox News, the Republican Party might look different -- and better. Without Fox News to conflate entertainment with news, to rip apart the idea of a serious media, to push a single-minded partisan agenda and to enflame embittered white men, there would have been no foundation on which Trump could build his candidacy -- or for that matter, no platform from which to blast an unending stream of nonsense stories about Benghazi and emails and the Clinton Foundation that the mainstream media felt duty-bound to pick up. No political party had ever had a major national propaganda arm posing as a media outlet. Ailes gave the Republicans one, and took the soul of the party in return.