How Fox News controls the conversation at every midterm election

One of the contradictions at the heart of mass media journalism is the tension what people think they want to hear about, what's helpful for people to hear about, and what people actually pay attention to. Every journalists loves to assert their objectivity, but at the end of the day, journalists still make decisions about what they do or do not cover, and why. Those decisions are informed by a variety of factors, from advertising support, to resources and budgets, to a journalist's own personal interests — all of which are perfectly normal and fine challenges to balance in our capitalist society, but all of which also separate the journalism further and further from the realm of "objectivity." Adding further complication is the fact that journalists can't control what people are actually interested in. Sure, they can try different storytelling techniques or emotional manipulation and hope something sticks. But the audience is going to run with whatever interests them.

Unless you only show them one thing. Over, and over, and over again, so the audience can't care about anything else even if they wanted.

Over at The Present Age, Parker Molloy has a fantastic breakdown about how Fox News is so damn good at this latter manipulation — to the point that they've managed to control the entire conversation surrounding midterm elections. Every 4 years, they pick a topic — literally anything, doesn't matter if it's real or even interesting — and bombard their audiences with it, turning into such a hot topic that the other networks have no choice but to respond by covering the same issue. And it works.

Molloy shares some charts that graph the frequency of these conversations on Fox News as well as other networks, and with the visualized data, you can very clearly see the impact. Fox News leads with a random topic, and if they commit enough to the gag, the other networks follow. As Molloy explains, in the context of 2014's Ebola non-troversy (remember that?):

For instance, here's a chart (via my former employers over at Media Matters) that shows how much prime time coverage Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC devoted to Ebola in the weeks leading up to and following the 2014 midterm elections:

Notice how in the weeks leading up to the election Ebola was dominating the news? And notice how quickly Ebola disappeared from the headlines after election day (11/4/14)? That's not some sort of wild coincidence. Fox News and other right-wing media outlets decided that screaming about Ebola was the GOP's best shot to retake the Senate, and covered the story in a way meant to suggest that anyone who wasn'talso screaming about it was trying to protect Democrats from negative coverage. Mainstream media outlets, afraid of being hit with accusations of "liberal bias," followed Fox's lead (and in the case of CNN, went absolutely wild with it, even inviting the author of the fictional movie Outbreak to comment on it).

In 2018, the big story was the "migrant caravan." Sure, the caravan, like Ebola, was real; it's just that, again, like Ebola, which killed a total of two (2) Americans, it wasn't legitimately newsworthy. Still, Fox was able to successfully goad CNN and MSNBC into devoting significant time and energy into covering the topic. And, just like with Ebola, coverage of the "migrant caravan" essentially disappeared the second the election was over. Funny how that works!

Molloy is always great at this sort of media criticism, and her latest piece is no exception. You should do yourself a favor and check it out.

Another Successful 'Foxtober' Midterm Election is Under Way [Parker Molloy / The Present Age]

Image: RenaudTR / Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 4.0)