Fox News has reason to rejoice as President Obama marks the media-manufactured milestone of his first 100 days in office. The conservative cable network's ratings are sky high under the new Democratic president. Yes, it looks like it couldn't be happier serving as "the voice of [Obama's] opposition," to paraphrase Fox News senior vice president Bill Shine.
Not surprisingly, Fox's success as the president's "opposition" stands in stark contrast to the way Americans now view Obama. According to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, Obama enjoys the "best job approval rating at this point in 20 years," with 69 percent of Americans approving of the job he's doing. Further, the poll found that "half of Americans now [say] the country's headed in the right direction," as opposed to the scant 19 percent holding that view just before Obama's inauguration.
So, what gives? Apparently, Fox's definition of "fair and balanced" has nothing to do with the practice of good journalism -- where fairness means truth and balance means exploring all sides of an issue. No, it is only offering up the "yin" to America's "yang."
Earlier this month, Fox even threw a nationwide party -- a "tea party," if you will -- to celebrate its "opposition" to Obama and his policies. That's right. Despite encouraging viewers to "say 'no' to biased media," Fox News jumped the shark with dramatic flair, airing dozens of segments imploring its audience to get involved with tea-party protests across the country described by the network as primarily a response to the president's fiscal policies. In all, Fox aired 107 ads for its coverage of tea-party protests. Over a 10-day period, you were more likely to see Fox pushing its revolt against Democratic Washington than you were to see commercials featuring that familiar troupe of singing pirates extolling the virtues of free credit reports.
For all the fun and games on display at its tea parties -- cries of fascism, tyranny, and socialism abounded, as did wild conspiracy theories -- Fox hasn't abandoned the perverse "they're coming to get us" mantra that has underscored its coverage of late.
Fox News has gone to tremendous lengths mainstreaming the sometimes violent, revolutionary doomsday rhetoric of the far right, which used to be confined to the extremist fringe. Appealing directly to the feelings of anger and anti-Obama paranoia in its own audience, Fox hosts have become louder and meaner than anything whispered in the shadows of previous presidencies.
Witness Fox News newcomer Glenn Beck, the network's conspiracy-theorist-in-chief, who, on a recent broadcast, imitated the president pouring gasoline on an "average American" while saying, "President Obama, why don't you just set us on fire? ... We didn't vote to lose the republic." A fan of bizarre imagery to be sure, Beck also portrayed Obama and Democrats as vampires "going after the blood of our businesses" before asking, "Who's next?" and suggesting we "drive a stake through the heart of the bloodsuckers."
Aside from Beck's sideshow theatrics, other Fox News hosts, anchors, and reporters seem to be reading from a unified set of talking points that begin and end with scary sounding "-isms." If Mary Poppins had "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," Fox has "social-fasci-commun-Nazi-McCarthy-Marxism." With great gusto, they've used terms like socialism, communism, fascism, and Marxism at least 1,400 times since the inauguration in their never-ending assault on progressives.
Meanwhile, hosts like Sean Hannity have taken to playing the role of victim with remarkable aplomb. Like many of his Fox News brethren, Hannity worked himself into a lather this month over a declassified Department of Homeland Security report detailing the threat of a potential increase in right-wing extremism. Hannity informed his viewers that "critics of the report say their definition of a right-wing extremist sounds awfully close to somebody who might simply just disagree with the Obama administration." It's telling that folks like Hannity would read a report about the threat posed by right-wing fringe extremists and think, "Hey, they're talking about me!" Don't forget, like a similar report released about left-wing extremists, the groundwork for this report was laid by the Bush administration.
When they haven't been going to war against progressives, they've been playing defense for conservatives and the previous White House.
During a recent broadcast of his top-rated show, Bill O'Reilly took a moment to feign concern over a potential bipartisan investigation into the torture policy of the Bush years. You see, he was concerned it might -- wait for it -- "polarize the country." I kid you not. Those are his words. Shortly after O'Reilly expressed his concern, text appeared onscreen stating: "The battle lines are drawn. Americans need to take a side." Which side will it be for O'Reilly, the self-styled master of conflict resolution -- the pot or the kettle?
What the remaining days of Obama's first term hold for Fox News is anyone's guess. If the first 100 days are any indication, however, this right-wing carnival ride is far from over. After all, ticket sales are booming.
Karl Frisch is a Senior Fellow at Media Matters for America, a progressive media watchdog, research, and information center based in Washington, D.C. Frisch also contributes to County Fair, a media blog featuring links to progressive media criticism from around the Web as well as original commentary. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook or sign up to receive his columns by email.