Variety Columnist Accuses FNC of Racial Motivations, Provides Zero Quotes from Actual Programming

August 10th, 2010 11:39 AM
Variety Magazine TV critic Brian Lowry - formerly a reporter for NPR and the Los Angeles Times - surely was not a member of JournoList. But he sure writes like he was. Lowry took a page directly out of the Spencer Ackerman Guide to Dubious Racism Accusations in his most recent column, claiming the Fox News Channel caters to racial fear and resentment to sell its brand.

Lowry provided no examples to back up his claims. He did not give voice to any opposing views. The only evidence he offered to back up his accusations were quotes from "thoughtful conservative" (read: not-so-conservative conservative) David Frum and liberal Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent.

In true JournoLista fashion, Lowry cited Fox's coverage of the New Black Panther scandal at the Justice Department as evidence of the channel's attempts to "delegitimize Obama" by stoking racial fears. Just as Ackerman advocated with the Jeremiah Wright scandal, Lowry cried racism in order to avoid any actual discussion of this administration's strange affinity for racialist radicals - or any of Fox's actual coverage of the scandal.

Networks cater to all kinds of demographics. But overlooked amid recent hand-wringing over racial politics and the separate debate over whether Fox News merited a front-row White House briefing room upgrade is the main ingredient in the channel's stew: fear.

With Barack Obama's election, Fox has carved out a near-exclusive TV niche, while having plenty of company in radio: catering to those agitated (consciously or otherwise) by having an African-American in the White House. Yet a broader secret of its success -- preying upon anxiety in general -- hasn't really changed since the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

As the original home of the "news alerts" (which usually aren't alerting us to breaking news), Fox News under CEO Roger Ailes has been adept at tapping into deep-seated concerns. And in order to powerfully connect with core viewers, it's not enough to disagree with President Obama's policies; rather, they must be couched as an existential threat to U.S. society.

Lowry goes on to single out Glenn Beck (of course), and to cite a couple of commentators who he apparently considers experts on Fox's alleged "fear and racism" strategy.

Thoughtful conservative commentators have cited the dangers in such overheated rhetoric. Former Bush speechwriter David Frum has become one of the most articulate, writing after passage of healthcare reform, "Conservative talkers on Fox and talkradiohad whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or -- more exactly -- with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?"

Frum added that talk hosts operate "responsibility-free" -- playing a different game than Republican politicians, since perpetuating frustration and outrage boosts their ratings...

For all the invectives hurled at Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in the three-cable-news-network era (which didn't begin, unbelievably, until halfway through Clinton's presidency), the most egregious attempts to delegitimize Obama are both distinct and not particularly subtle. The latest theme -- illustrated by Fox's crusade regarding the New Black Panther Party -- hinges on fear of racial bias where whites are the aggrieved party.

As the Washington Post's Greg Sargent noted, Fox's eagerness to "drive the media narrative ... simply has no equivalent on the left." Still, the most ruthless liberals -- those more committed to partisan advantage than accuracy -- have inevitably drawn lessons by observing, and will retaliate whenever Republicans regain power.

Since its inception, Fox has emulated the "If it bleeds, it leads" mindset of local news, garnishing its presentation with snazzier graphics and more urgent production values. The canny post-Sept. 11 adaptation has been, "If it scares, it airs."

As mentioned above, David Frum is of course presented as the "even some conservatives don't like Fox" commentator. And of course Lowry things Frum is "thoughtful" - if he were more conservative, he wouldn't be deserving of that label. Frum is not given space to criticize Fox because he's thoughtful. He's thoughtful because he criticizes Fox.

As for Sargent, Lowry readers who don't know the WaPo blogger are left without any indication of his political leanings. Lowry presented Sargent as a media critic noting what he claims is a simple reality, but did not mention that the blogger is on the opposite end of the political spectrum from Fox's prime time talkers.

So Lowry's only substantiation for his sweeping theories about the root of Fox's success comes from a left-wing blogger, and a conservative who makes a living ripping on other conservatives.

And Lowry has the temerity to criticize Fox's journalistic practices.