Thursday, December 30, 2010

Why does FOX dominate the ratings wars for news media?

Steve Benen in the Political Animal at Washington Monthly posted an article that reported FOX "News" has going away more viewers than any other media outlet that is counted as part of the news media. I just realized why they dominate those ratings. FOX is the only organization being measured as a member of the news media that caters to viewers who demand social certainty in the face of great social changes. It is also the most likely of any media outlet to warn its viewers that everyone else is lying to them. FOX carefully crafts an image to attract frightened people who recognize that we are in a period of great social change and who are afraid they are going to lose what they have because of it. Then they promise that if the public elects the politicians it promotes that image will come true.

This is not a problem for people with great wealth since possession of wealth protects people from all but the most radical social change. They live in gated communities and avoid meeting with anyone not of their class. They protect themselves by promoting increased police, more laws and in these days of globalism, by getting their friends in government to spend more on the military. But even the most wealthy are afraid, that's why the Republicans are catering to them with tax cuts and with repeal of the inheritance tax.

The poor as a group are not up in arms because they can't be in any worse condition even if things do change radically, and American history shows that little will get better for them no matter what changes.

Look at the public which is being counted as viewers. Fox's ratings are based on middle class cable TV viewers who fear the current social changes will cause them to lose what they have. The American public right now is more afraid generally than I have ever seen, and I am in my late 60's. The closest to this that I have ever seen was during the 60's when the race riots and assassinations were happening, but that was not stacked on top of economic disaster - especially the many foreclosures - and a radical right-wing government removing the social safety net as was installed in 2001 (and which Obama has not appeared to change much.) There are a lot of reasons to be afraid of loss, especially for the middle class, and those who have controlled the government in the twenty-first century advertise that the government will not and cannot help if individuals lost their security. That was Ronald Reagan's great message and it has been the message of the American right-wing since the nineteenth century.

To frightened middle class people a government using authoritarian means of control looks very attractive. That's especially true if the media can sell the idea that the social changes that are the threat are all caused by the demands of the lower social classes. So FOX sells the ideas that the economic problems of today were caused by poorly managed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac because the Democrats wanted more poor people to get their own homes. (Completely untrue. See also An autopsy of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.) The drug problem is caused by crazy poor people hopped up on Meth who have uncontrollable demands to pay for their drug habits, so the only solution it to imprison them. (Also completely untrue.) Other similar simplistic lies include blaming crime on immigrants, usually from Mexico. These lies are especially aimed at the darker-skinned Mexicans of Indian descent since that resonates with America's innate suspicion and fear of darker-skinned people. These and other similar lies are spewed by FOX in order to hand control of the American federal government to their politicians in the conservative Republican Party. But since the solutions being proposes are based on lies and half-truths, they won't work. The government that implements those solutions will see them fail and have to fall back on police powers to control the lower classes who will be taxed to make up the money given to the wealthy and the big businesses.

This is what the attack against Social Security is all about. Social Security retirement is well funded for a long time, but the excess money the baby boomers have paid to cover their own retirement were put into government bonds and either wasted on wars or given to the wealthy in tax breaks. Next year the baby boomers start to retire and are going to demand the money loaned in treasury bonds be paid back. The only solution is for the government to start taxing the wealthy to pay back what it borrowed or lower benefits so that it does not have to pay the money back to the (middle class) retirees who thought they were saving for retirement. Since the wealthy have a lot of investment in government bonds they do not want the government to default and they do not want their taxes raised, so Pete Peterson and friends will lower Social Security benefits so that it never has to be paid back.

Another major problem is that the failed government policies being promoted by FOX lies and half-truths will justly cause criticism. Since the policies are not based on facts which can be independently verified, expect to see government censorship and police reactions against leakers. That's the core of the attack on Julian Assange and Wikileaks. The government applies security primarily to protect themselves from criticism. Most of the material is already known to real enemies. But policies based on lies cannot be supported by reason. They have to be maintained by force.

One group especially likely to react with approval towards an authoritarian government is the elderly middle class. These people are FOX' most fervent viewers. They have a lot to lose and as a person gets older he realizes that he no longer has he time and energy to recover lost property and expected future benefits when those things he expected to have are taken from him. When a person is younger the idea of taking risks to improve his life is exciting, especially since the young are usually sure you will win when they take risks. (Same reason I buy a lottery ticket.) As a person gets older he has more to lose and much more awareness just how easy it will be to lose it. This is why older people are more likely to be afraid and demand greater security than younger people are.

What does that have to do with the ratings? FOX provides the clearest image of a society that does away with uncertainty for the middle class (sure it's mostly lies) and they discourage their viewers from watching any other media that presents a less saccharine (but more realistic) image. All the other "news" media provides information about threats and very little reason to feel secure. So those most in need of reassurance gravitate to the only source in the media - FOX. Everyone else scatters their ratings to all of the other media members.

Voila! FOX dominates the ratings with a very high percentage of older, misinformed viewers.

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