Megyn Kelly's move to primetime will mark a shift in the very essence of Fox News, away from the hate of right-wing radio and towards something more effective at shilling conservative misinformation.
Recent rumors indicate that Megyn Kelly may take over Sean Hannity's 9 p.m. time slot on Fox News. But the factors in play are much bigger than one hour a night. The imminent Fox News primetime shakeup is more about Fox News' own brand of misinformation being set to surpass the blunter approach of Rush Limbaugh and right-wing radio hosts.
For a brief bit of historical context before we get to the rumor itself, Fox News' approach in many ways grew out of Rush Limbaugh's short-lived television show. Roger Ailes famously produced the show and would take lessons from there to Fox News where he is still the CEO. (As well as taking lessons from his time as a Republican operative, which are well-documented.) And the further back you look at Fox, the more it resembles the worst aspects of Limbaugh's show. But as Fox has grown, it's adapted, allowing it to more effectively advance a political agenda.
This adaptation was on full display in Roger Ailes' 2011 admission to Howard Kurtz, who has since moved to Fox, that Fox News needed to make a "course correction." The big picture result of this is Fox still pushing demonstrable misinformation, but doing so in a way other news networks will be more likely to pick up rather than mock. Their audience might not have had a problem with the old Fox News (at least, Roger Ailes gave no indication that they did), but the network's reputation was in tatters. (As an aside, CNN's recent pushing of right-wing Benghazi myths only emphasize the risk of Fox's revised approach.)
Sean Hannity is in many ways a product of an iteration of Fox News that is slowly fading away. His willingness to push any argument any Republican ever once had has eroded Hannity's credibility over time. The Republican congressman who coined the term "terror baby" recently guest-hosted Hannity's radio show. Cumulus reportedly isn't even bothering to renew his radio syndication contract. Hannity declared himself as birther-curious, went all-in during the 2012 election on the story that President Obama once hugged a guy that right-wingers didn't like, and even dabbles in secession.
But the new face of Fox News primetime, Megyn Kelly, is a much more pernicious purveyor of political propaganda. Kelly has the unique ability to pluck misinformation and imbue it with a veneer of legitimacy that Sean Hannity has long since lost, if he ever had it at all. She can have a great moment chiding Fox colleagues Erick Erickson and Lou Dobbs for sexism, only to turn around and push the New Black Panthers scandal as something serious. Megyn Kelly can cover gay rights in a way that is occasionally not abominable, and then push Benghazi falsehoods that have long been debunked. Megyn Kelly will rebuke Dick Morris and Karl Rove, but then hosts a climate change denier during the president's climate address. Kelly smacked down Mike Gallagher on family leave, but she also defended Newt Gingrich's bizarre suggestion that schools should use children as janitors. The examples go on and on -- but the key for Fox is that her positive moments always get more press than her more dishonest moments. It's no surprise that Howard Kurtz declared her future bright.
On the April 5th edition of Real Time with Bill Maher, science education activist Zack Kopplin confronted The Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore over myths about science funding, pointing out that Moore, who questioned the need for funding research on "snail mating habits," is "not a scientist":
As it turns out, the reason actual scientists are conducting this type of research is because snails carry parasitic worms that kill children:
In an attempt to distract from an emerging debate over how much to strengthen gun laws, Newsweek and Daily Beast special correspondent Megan McArdle called for people, even children, to be trained to "gang rush" active shooters. The Department of Homeland Security, however, recommends that people evacuate or hide in response to an active shooter, and to take direct action only as a last resort and when your life is in "imminent" danger.
McArdle's essay on how to prevent mass shootings in the wake of the tragedy in Newton, Connecticut, begins with a libertarian defense of congressional inaction on gun issues, even sneering that it is "easy and satisfying to be for 'gun control' in the abstract, but we cannot pass gun control, in the abstract." You might well have seen most of this essay after any mass shooting in recent decades.
McArdle is so resigned to any gun laws failing to prevent gun violence that she concludes that people should be encouraged to "gang rush" shooters rather than hide:
I'd also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once. Would it work? Would people do it? I have no idea; all I can say is that both these things would be more effective than banning rifles with pistol grips.
So, in sum: the chances of achieving anything with any gun legislation are so low that in these circumstances, people should resign themselves to probable death by running at the person firing a gun in the hope that enough people will follow that their likely death will not be in vain.
As Jonathan Chait points out at NY Magazine, this is an absurd proposition:
Are you kidding me? You think gun control is impractical, so your plan is to turn the entire national population, including young children, into a standby suicide squad? Through private initiative, of course. It's way more feasible than gun control!
Unless I am missing a very subtle parody of libertarianism, McArdle's plan to teach children to launch banzai charges against mass murderers is the single worst solution to any problem I have ever seen offered in a major publication. Newsweek, I award this essay no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.
Moreover, the Department of Homeland Security has specific guidelines on how to act when one's life is threatened in a shooting situation. Objective 1 is to evacuate, and if you cannot evacuate, objective 2 is find a hiding place: "If evacuation is not possible, find a place to hide where the active shooter is less likely to find you." DHS recommends that people take action against an active shooter only as a last resort and when your life is in imminent danger.
The most recent issue of Newsweek features on the cover stereotypically angry Arab men, presumably from inside a recent anti-American protest, with the headline "MUSLIM RAGE." The pushback against the cover was immediate and strong. Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the Jerusalem Fund, described the cover in an interview with Politico as "extremely unhelpful" and "playing to Islamophobic stereotypes."
Want to discuss our latest cover? Let's hear it with the hashtag: #MuslimRage.-- Newsweek (@Newsweek) September 17, 2012
This has led to some genuinely humorous responses that effectively illuminate the problem with Newsweek's cover story on their own, but the situation is deeper than that.
Niall Ferguson's Newsweek cover story on President Obama exemplifies a deficiency in today's media. As criticism of Ferguson's shoddy work mounted -- both from outside and inside of Newsweek/The Daily Beast -- Newsweek explained to Politico's Dylan Byers that Newsweek "rel[ies] on our writers to submit factually accurate material." Indeed, Byers also noted that Newsweek does not even have a fact-checking department.
This admission is disturbing on face. Newsweek wants to sell you stories and news about the world but can't even be bothered to check the claims it publishes. Even worse, they didn't seem all that uncomfortable with the admission. Newsweek's defense is that others are this lackadaisical at journalism, which is to say Newsweek has no defense. In a media environment without fact-checkers, it's no wonder we have fabulists and problems with facts and the media. But there's a more pernicious ramification of Newsweek's abdication of journalistic practices: This is what the predatory conservative echo-chamber and Fox News count on.
Fox and the right-wing echo chamber exploit these vulnerabilities in the media. When the media process seems shoddy (regardless of whether it actually is) and the result produces news that is inconsistent with conservative ideology, right-wing media pounce and attack the outlet as part of some left-wing media cabal. We've seen Fox do this from Dan Rather to Politico to ABC News to MSNBC and more. On the other hand, when they find the argument useful, the right-wing echo chamber can herald the piece and ignore inaccuracies within.
It's no surprise that while discussing Ferguson's article across multiple programs, Fox never discussed the myriad factual problems in Ferguson's piece that one could find with a rudimentary Google search. This is even as Ferguson's self-professed friend who writes for the same outlet called the piece "absurd propaganda."