Over the last decade conservatives have enjoyed Fox News, a national news network which gave conservatives a fair shake and which was willing to expose the bigotry of the establishment media towards conservatism. Yet there is the chance that Fox News when Murdoch dies may drift towards the lockstep leftism so characteristic of other news networks. For a couple of reasons, we need not fret too much if this happens.
Mass communications, including network news, is driven in part by market forces. We should not overestimate this influence. If ideological competition operated in the area of network news, academia, or other parts of the communication and education domains, then half of the colleges would be overtly conservative and most of the big newspapers and magazines would be conservative and Hollywood would produce lots of films that exalt the values we share.
In fact, it is not Adam Smith’s supply and demand or Milton Friedman’s free markets which hold sway in these fields as much as Lenin’s “party line” and Orwell’s groupthink. That is why the major news networks never expose the bias of their rivals even though that would win many viewers. But market shares have on three occasions pushed news networks into becoming more attractive to conservative viewers.
Fox News, of course, is the most recent and significant examples, but twice before Fox News broadcasting networks tried to pry disgusted conservative audiences away from the Stalinist competitors. CNN, when launched in 1980, presented shows like Crossfire and Capital Gang which had an equal number of conservatives and liberals presenting their arguments. This was utterly new (except for limp PBS sop like Washington Week in Review). CNN also gave us Lou Dobbs’ Moneyline, a national program which ran from 1980 to 2009, and Evans and Novak – tame stuff today, but at the time this was palpable shift.
In the decade before CNN, ABC News also experimented with a modest sprinkling of conservative thought. Howard K. Smith was a leftist for much of his career but he drifted perceptibly to the right in his last decade of broadcasting. His co-host of World News Tonight was Harry Reasoner, who had been a Republican politician in Minnesota. Other familiar faces now on Fox News got their break in national news reporting at ABC News: Brit Hume, John Stossel, and Chris Wallace.
Cable television creates a vastly more competitive environment than television in the days of ABC News, so if no network presents news in a way that does not offend the tens of millions of conservative viewers, some savvy businessmen will create a new network.
The second reason why conservatives can survive the end of Fox News as we know it is because conservatives have proven to be expert communications guerrillas. In 1964 Phyllis Schlafly wrote and published through a very small press a history of Republican nominations, A Choice, Not an Echo. The leftist media ignored the book, but conservatives spread the word and millions of copies sold, with hundreds of thousands before the California primary, likely swinging the state (and the nomination) to Sen. Barry Goldwater. She proved that conservative books could utterly outflank the staid, dreary army of leftist book reviewers or the censorious condemnation of leftist punditry. Nimble, alert conservative guerillas could get our message out by outsmarting the left.
A few years after Schlafly, Richard Viguerie again transformed American politics by using direct mail to contact targeted audiences of conservatives both to inform these conservatives about what was really happening in America and by raising, through modest but meaningfully donations to particular conservative organizations and campaigns, the funds to operate. Viguerie collected mailing lists and identified conservatives who were, for example, highly motivated pro-life Americans or who grasp how government regulations crushed small businesses.
The next decade presented conservatives with another genius of conservative propagation, Rush Limbaugh. He knew the AM radio business inside out and Rush also had a Churchillian indifference to the loud, angry threats of the left’s bully boys. Conservatives now almost own conservative talk radio. It is also vital to grasp that Schlafly and Viguerie, like Rush, are very much part of the conservative movement today. All three, of course, knew the venom that leftists would spew at them, but real conviction based upon personal reflection was the bedrock of their values and losing popularity contests manufactured by the left has not bothered them at all.
The internet promises to be the next wave of conservative media, and the rise of timely and thoughtful conservative internet periodicals (like the one you are reading now) has already found a vast audience which outflanks the leftist tin soldiers at every turn. What happens if Fox News fails us? Using our wits, our moxie, and fidelity to truth, we will be just fine.