“Just ignore them!”

Not quite toothless…
Frank Rich has a very well-written piece at New York Magazine, “Stop Beating a Dead Fox,” that is currently making the rounds. Rich does an excellent job laying out the declining ratings for Fox News, including a look at the demographics of its dwindling audience. There’s also some interesting explanation of why Fox has been both very slow and ludicrously clueless about how to integrate the net in general and social media in particular into its service and coverage. The reporting half of the article is really very good, and you ought to give it a read.

However, the most passionate part of his argument is the claim that when those of us who don’t share Fox’s ideology react to the latest outrageous commentary or false story, we’re simply giving them the attention they want. And we should stop doing that. That sounds eerily like the advice I used to get from some adults regarding some of my most frequent childhood bullies. And it is just one of the deep flaws I see in Mr. Rich’s arguments…

As a kid, when I was bullied, there were always some teachers, relatives, or adult friends who would insist that the primary reason that bullies picked on me was to get a reaction. If I stopped reacting to the teasing, or being tripped, or being pinched, or the various physical assaults and indignities, they would get bored and then leave me alone. The problem with that argument is that, to the extent that a reaction might have been part of the motivation, it didn’t have to be me reacting. The fact that any of the kids watching laughed at the antics of the bully, complimented him, or egged him on to do worse was all the attention the bully needed to keep doing it again and again.

Second: At another point Rich argues that the ideology Fox is promoting is losing in the political arena. As proof he points to Presidential elections over the last twenty-some years. This ignores several important facts, not least of which is that Fox News viewers represent the electoral base of a majority of the representatives in the lower house of Congress. While having absolute control of only half the Congress may not seem like much, the last few years it has been all they need to completely stop any program, plan, or initiative they want (which lately has been all of them).

Thanks to the way the Senate is structured (every state, no matter how large or small its population, gets two senators), 40 out of the 100 Senators represent less than 20% of the population. Because the majority of those low-population-dense regions are the heart of Fox News country, that dwindling audience wields outsize influence in the other half of Congress.

We know that they have control of a majority of the House of Representatives because they have rigged the game. Gerrymandered districting has guaranteed in the last two Congressional election cycles that, despite most voters across the country voting for Democratic representatives, Republicans have held onto their majority. So while they’ve cheated in order to do it, they have still managed to keep that control, and therefore that dwindling audience of Fox News continues, mostly through obstruction, to cause real harm to millions of real people.

Those Fox News faithful are also responsible for handing control of many state governments over to the same sort of wingnut politicians. Which is why the last few years a staggering number of anti-women, anti-gay, and anti-poor legislation has been passed in a bunch of states. Again, causing real harm to millions of real people.

Third: Mr. Rich reaps much amusement from just how clueless the folks running Fox News can be regarding modern technology. He’s right to be amused. If you haven’t seen the video when they rolled out their new “state of the art” high-tech newsroom for one of the shows last year—with the gigantic screens taking up most of the work surfaces for the primary purpose of allowing “news gatherers” to view a whopping four tweets at a time—you missed out on a good laugh.

It doesn’t matter if the Fox News execs and such are clueless. It doesn’t matter if the audience actually watching the cable channel itself has shrunk significantly. It doesn’t matter if even the vast majority of conservative young people aren’t watching the network on TV any more. Because the minority that still is watching is more than capable of sharing the misinformation, carefully packaged bigotry, and other craziness online to a much broader audience.

Mr. Rich operates under the false impression that the only way those of us who don’t agree with Fox News learn about the more egregious and outrageous claims is by reading about them on liberal blogs and news sites. No, at least half the time I learn about them thanks to my rightwing relatives posting links, videos, and memes on various social media. I also get an earful from some of those relatives, including the very young ones who are not watching cable TV any more, but get most of their info from the net and social media, whenever I see them.

So, while it may be true that Fox News has a rapidly dwindling audience of its cable news broadcast, the total number of people hearing and believing Fox’s lies and distortions, and acting on those lies at the ballot box, isn’t shrinking anywhere nearly as quickly.

Just as I couldn’t ignore the bully until he stopped beating me when I was a kid, we can’t ignore the rightwing lie machine until they stop finding new ways to restrict women’s access to health care, or giving legal state approval to religiously-motivatived discrimination, or diverting public school funds to private religious schools, or replacing science with wingnuttery in the remaining public schools, or trying to re-criminalize homosexuality, and so on and so forth.

In other words, Mr. Rich, I’ll stop beating that allegedly dead fox, as soon as its followers stop beating us. And not a moment before.

(Steph Guthrie advances arguments similar to mine in regards to misogynist and other hateful commenters on the net in: The Problem with “Don’t Feed the Trolls.”.)

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