by Christian Christensen
A few days ago, at my university here in Istanbul, I was giving a lecture on the Hollywood film industry. During my talk, I mentioned the 20th Century Fox film studio, and was asked by a student if there was any relation between that studio and the current Fox stable of media outlets. I replied that there was, and during the conversation mentioned the words "Fox News Channel." No sooner than the final syllables had fallen from my mouth, a mixture of laughter, shaking heads and rolling eyes filled the room. The Fox News Channel, it seems, generates as much emotion in Istanbul as it does in Indianapolis, Irvine or Ithaca.
The influence of Fox News on the U.S. political landscape has been well-documented, as has the "Fox-ification" (read: "shove to the political right") of other media outlets such as CNN and MSNBC. As the reaction of my Turkish students illustrates, however, the influence of Fox News does not stop at the U.S. border, but carries over into the global arena. Despite what some people might think, this is actually a mixed blessing.
In the old days -- which in media terms is about five years ago -- people living outside of the U.S. with access to satellite or cable television were exposed to the usual avalanche of cookie-cutter sitcoms, police/legal/school dramas and big-budget films from the United States. For news and politics from a U.S. perspective, and for people who had yet to discover the joys of the still-evolving Internet, there was only one choice: CNN. As a cultural ambassador, CNN was quite effective. U.S. television was pretty bad, people in Tokyo, London, Cairo, Paris and Sydney would agree, but CNN was at least respectable. Yes, "Love Boat" and "The A-Team" scraped the bottom of the intellectual barrel, but CNN, so the discussion went, was proof that there were some people in the U.S. who could think. None of this is to say that CNN was actually good, but rather that, as the monopoly provider of global news from a U.S.-centric perspective, CNN occupied a certain position of respect.
Now, it says a lot about the current state of U.S. news and journalism when you begin to wax nostalgic about the "good old days" of CNN, the network that brought us 24 hours of Pentagon-approved Desert Storm coverage, wall-to-ceiling-to-wall-to-floor O.J. and Diana, mysteriously conservative "liberals" like Michael Kinsley and mysteriously fascistic "conservatives" like Pat Buchanan. The (heavily repeated) claim that CNN was a "liberal" news channel was always a source of great hilarity amongst genuine liberals and progressives. It's not hard to be a liberal channel in an environment dominated by companies such as Time Warner, Disney, and GE. Basically, being a liberal news channel in the U.S. is like being a liberal person in Texas: just say that you favor lethal injection over the electric chair because it reduces the suffering of the prisoner and bingo! You're liberal. Dare to suggest that the U.S. military might not be 100 percent right all of the time, and bingo! Your news channel is liberal.
So why is the rise of the conservative Fox News a mixed blessing? Now that it is being shown internationally, Fox News has done two things. First, it has made mainstream outlets like CNN and then New York Times look far more "liberal" than they actually are. That's the downside. Second, it has made conservatives and conservatism in the U.S. look incredibly petty, exclusionary and simplistic. That's the upside.
As the smug, sanctimonious standard-bearers for Bush neo-conservatism, people like Bill O'Reilly and Neil Cavuto have provided non-Americans with their first glimpse of the faces of the moral revolution, and it isn't pretty. Fox News astonishes non-Americans with its self-righteous tone, nationalist bombast, childish graphics and populist bluster. While the old CNN was (and is) a conservative news channel obscured by a veneer of objectivity, cool and professionalism, Fox News is in your face with flags, neo-cons and feminist-bashers. It might be making centrist and conservative outlets (such as CNN and the New York Times) look liberal by comparison, but Fox News is also exposing the unseemly underbelly of hardcore U.S. conservatism to a global audience. Many international viewers are shocked, bemused and repulsed by what they see and hear on Murdoch's channel, and are beginning to understand the ideology that propelled George W. Bush to his second election victory.
As the media ambassador for global Bushism, Fox News is an illuminating embarrassment...and that can only be a good thing.
January 14, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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