Fox News: Trust, distrust and control

Kevin Drum highlights an extreme, but unsurprising, result from a recent Public Policy Polling survey on trust and TV news:

Among Republicans, as [this] chart shows, the shape of the river is simple: they don’t trust anyone except Fox News, who they adore. These numbers are spreads, with NBC, for example, garnering 17-percent trust vs. 69-percent distrust. Fox News, conversely, garners 73-percent trust vs. 17-percent trust.

Well, you say, maybe this just means that trust in the media is really low these days? Nope. Democrats and Independents may not trust Fox, but they do trust everyone else. The percentages vary, with more skepticism toward some outlets than others, but what non-Republicans don’t do is simply dismiss television news en masse as a bunch of lying corporate shills.

Steve Benen quotes the pollster’s analysis — “Democrats trust everything but Fox. Republicans don’t trust anything but Fox.” — and notes, correctly, that this is “epistemic closure.”

That’s by design. For Fox News, epistemic closure is a feature, not a bug.

This poll is evidence that Fox’s central message has reached its intended audience. That message is: “Trust no one except us.” Not the other networks. Not the newspapers. Not science or government or most churches. Not books or libraries or magazines. Not artists, teachers, universities or experts. Not your own five senses. Not reality. Only trust Fox News — everyone else is lying to you.

It’s not all that different from the way abusive husbands try to cut off their wives from all friends, acquaintances and co-workers to create total dependence and control that they can exploit.

If you can’t muster the honesty and accuracy that would earn your audience’s trust, then the next best thing, I suppose, is to convince them to distrust everyone and everything else.

[Edit: Initial version of this post didn't make it clear that the second paragraph quoted from Kevin Drum was part of that quote.]

  • WingedBeast

    We treat Fox News like it’s a disease that’s new to conservative politics.  I’m 33 years old, a child in the 80s and I remember a strain of conservative throught even then, one that was itself heartened by a strong history from the culture going back decades further at least, that refused to entertain the thoughts of anybody in opposition.  This wasn’t just obstinence as a flaw.  It was considered a virtue to only speak of liberal ideologies in terms of the flimsiest of strawmen.

    Beatnicks, hippies, protestors, etc are all called counterculture, but those most strongly wed to conservatism as a Tribe have defined themselves in counter to the countercultures.

    This is, by now, an old fact of conservatism vs liberalism that conservatism views the ability to listen, comprehend, and respectfully state the beliefs of anybody else (whether that anybody else is on a political, religious, philsophical, or even asthetic map) as a character flaw to be driven out.  Liberals often fail to achieve that ability but at least have to give lipservice to the idea that it is a virtue.

    What’s happening isn’t Fox News creating this distrust in other media or creating an ideological bubble.  The bubble, the self-organized cult was already there, has been there since loong before I was born.  Fox News just crawled in and started a News Channel that reports from the bubble to the bubble.

  • P J Evans

     CNN is ‘Fox Lite’ these days. Not that Fox viewers are likely to have found out.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Huh! That’s a shame. Then again I do seem to recall that CNN was one of the supposedly CIA-infested news agencies, so I’m not totally surprised.

  • P J Evans

    The big mistake is assuming that ‘unbiased ‘ means getting one person from each side of the question and giving them equal time to talk.

  • P J Evans

     They were funding the ‘Tea Party’ tour bus a couple of years ago. For any real news organization, the proposal alone should have set off alarms on every floor of their offices.

  • P J Evans

     They were funding the ‘Tea Party’ tour bus a couple of years ago. For any real news organization, the proposal alone should have set off alarms on every floor of their offices.

  • P J Evans

    Disqus. Sucks.
    (I got a ‘system error’ message on the first one.)

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    What happened to Glenn Beck anyway?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Here’s what I don’t get.

    I know quite a few people who stopped watching the normal news because it made them anxious–not from any yelling or sound effects or panic mongering. Just that being shown images of people starving to death in Somalia and feeling like there was nothing they could do about it makes them feel shitty. They don’t like feeling shitty so they stop watching the news.

    Why keep watching Fox if it makes you upset? I’m not a fan of the “encase oneself in a cocoon and ignore the problems of the world” approach to stress management, but it’s pretty popular. Why do so many people choose to get upset every night instead of eating ice cream and watching some crappy sitcom?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Here’s what I don’t get.

    I know quite a few people who stopped watching the normal news because it made them anxious–not from any yelling or sound effects or panic mongering. Just that being shown images of people starving to death in Somalia and feeling like there was nothing they could do about it makes them feel shitty. They don’t like feeling shitty so they stop watching the news.

    Why keep watching Fox if it makes you upset? I’m not a fan of the “encase oneself in a cocoon and ignore the problems of the world” approach to stress management, but it’s pretty popular. Why do so many people choose to get upset every night instead of eating ice cream and watching some crappy sitcom?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Unbiased and centrist are not the same thing.

  • FangsFirst

    Why do so many people choose to get upset every night instead of eating ice cream and watching some crappy sitcom?

    They feel like it makes them part of the righteous few, and gives them something to rail against, and thus minor feelings of belonging, heroism and persecution.

    In some ways, remote issues and the exorcism of frustration related to them is a lovely release and distraction from the real issues I have personal involvement in.

  • WingedBeast

    Because feeling like you can’t do anything about the struggles of other people makes you feel shitty and weak.  Feeling upset about what those liberals are doing and joining Fox News and those they support in opposition is feeling strong.

    You join Fox News to be one of the great amalgum of the powerful and wise.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Then why do these people I know turn off the news and try to focus on the small pleasures of their own lives rather than become hateful right wing conservatives?

  • Anonymous

    I get all my news from Slactivist, FSTDT, and The Young Turks.

    But then, I dont’ have cable, either.

  • Anonymous

    I miss those two shows.  They were the only worthwhile things on TV until that cartoon about ponies and how to be a decent person.

  • http://mordicai.livejournal.com Mordicai

    Princess Luna is my co-pilot.

  • Anonymous

    On the “Shouty” point, isn’t this something that’s been carried over from print journalism? Compare a typical tabloid with a “quality” paper like the NY Times, the Guardian or Le Monde. The “quality” reports an important story: The headline is big enough to catch your eye, but not excessive; the picture is usually a quarter to a half the width of page; and there’s a lot of writing, which you hope will tell you in some detail what has happened. The tabloid, by contrast takes up half the front page with a headline in about 288 point type and uses most of the rest for the picture. There’s a couple of paragraphs of text somewhere in a bottom corner (not very informative).

    Now that’s shouting in print, to me. And it’s a style that’s been developing for as long as I can remember. Fox is, after all, owned by a man who made his first fortune by more or less inventing the modern tabloid, so it’s not surprising that they carry the same techniques across to other media. It’s still not very informative, but tabloids have always outsold the qualities, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised.

  • WingedBeast

    Short answer is “different strokes for different folks”.  Different people make different choices.  Some, I imagine, prefer dealing with the calmer world of their own lives (as opposed to their own lives plus the entire world’s pain), some prefer to believe themselves to be the saviors of the world.

    That latter one is why I vote, why I argue with my rightwing friends, why I pay attention to the general news, I want to be a part of the solution, it makes me feel good.  If my greatest fantasy included being a part of the solution by being a part of the tribe that defeats the evil Tribe named Everybodywhoisn’tinmytribe, Fox News would be a great place to go.

  • FangsFirst

    The Daily Show and the Colbert Report are posted in full online every day, if you do indeed miss em

  • http://www.quirkyknitgirl.com/ Stephanie Ivy

    When I hear things like that, all I can think of is cult. Because that’s what cult leaders do; they say mine is the only information and you may not seek anything else out. It’s one thing to disagree with another group — but to forbid even the search or question? It’s cult-like and, frankly, dangerous.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Clips on the Daily Show website are blocked in Australia. Fox bought the rights to the show, took it off the public broadcaster and onto pay tv (which most people don’t have) and blocked videos on the website.

    Grrr

  • FangsFirst

    Yeah, I have a friend who told me it’s blocked in the UK, so being blocked, well, anywhere else doesn’t surprise me much. She was expressing concern about the lunatics in the Republican party and how the election of one of them could affect everyone else (and those of us she knows over here), and I wanted to show her the “Newt Gingrich says awful things about everyone” segment, and then she told me it was blocked there.

    (I considered noting “unless you’re in another country,” but I think The_L isn’t, so I left it off)

    Sorry you are kicked out of it for dumb reasons, since you clearly are annoyed by it. And I rather think you would enjoy it (or did in the past maybe?) from what I’ve seen of your views :

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I used to watch it on ABC then online, and laugh my arse off. I’m actually considering buying the itunes episode pack as the primaries keep going.

  • Anonymous

    …Do you read Shakesville? I read Shakesville. I make a point of checking it basically every day, and I’m happy to do so. Sometimes/often, there’ll be an article about a piece of news, or about the reaction to a piece of news, or just a spontaneous thing that a contributor thought they’d write about, and it’ll be about something really horrible. When I read about horrible things, I will often feel stressed, upset, and drained, which doesn’t exactly work wonders with my anxiety disorder. 

    I continue to read Shakesville, despite how frequently it will exhaust me, for a few reasons. I like to keep informed, for one thing. It offers an unabashedly progressive feminist viewpoint, which isn’t a tremendously easy thing to find, and as my understanding of its most common weak points has developed, so too has my trust. Most of all, though, I feel like it makes me a better person. Directly and indirectly, it has influenced how I think about many issues, and has helped me become more sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. 

    For these, I am willing to expose myself to things that will upset and anger me, instead of spending my time doing other, less stressful things. I don’t think this is unusual. Yes, absolutely, sometimes I do shut off the news and focus on the simple pleasures in my life. But sometimes, that’s not enough to satisfy me, and I tend to think it’s that sense of satisfaction that people try to strive for, more than simple entertainment in its own right. Satisfaction means different things to different people at different times, so it doesn’t seem that strange to me for a large number of people to make a point of setting aside some time in the evening to watch the  news, even if what they see doesn’t give them an immediate sense of happiness. 

    It’s unfortunate that, in this case, Fox News is the thing people are making a point to watch, since Fox News is an atrocity. But they put on a dynamic and entertaining show, and they tell their viewers that they’re covering the really important issues. So it ends up being a really fulfilling combination, even if what’s being served is composed primarily of trash. I’m not surprised that it has such a powerful influence on its audience.


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