Thursday, November 8, 2012

Republican (Media) Wins!

“Perhaps because Fox continued to dominate the sector both in audience and financial terms, it did not change its formula or experiment with new methods of content delivery.”
(The Pew Research Center, State of the News Media 2012).

In the wake of the election, partisans and pundits on both sides have been opining about what went wrong for Republicans. An emerging narrative in the media is that the Republican Party must change.  From MSNBC to FOX to CNN to The NY Times to The Wall Street Journal, pundits have been calling this election a “wake up call” for the GOP. The electorate has changed, demographically, and the Republican agenda simply isn’t representing a majority any more.

Normally, when an electorate shows its colors on election day, political parties look at the results in order to inform tactical decisions.  New strategies are constructed; corrections and alterations are made.

But I think the Republicans will have a hard time changing because of the incredible financial success of Right-leaning media companies. The financial success of a place like FOX News speaks to its dominance of its own market-share: members of the Republican Party. The Republican Party no longer seems to be led by politicians; it seems to be led by vendors selling product. I know this is a broad simplification—but my point is logistical. I don’t think Republicans are stupid. I think the Party has bought into an incredibly profitable, media business model.

When Balance Becomes The Enemy
Right-leaning media sources such as FOX News have inoculated themselves to correction (or even reflection) because sources like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly encourage their audiences to discredit and disbelieve any other news source.
According to many of the loudest on the Right, every other bit of media is liberal, wrong, and/or downright deceitful.

This is not a small deal. Imagine having a doctor who not only tells you that all other doctors aren’t as good, but that all other doctors are also liars.  What happens when another doctor has a treatment that you actually NEED?  You would be tempted to believe that no one else could help you. 

There's no better evidence than this election.  Many of my Republican friends were SHOCKED that Obama won.  They were absolutely flummoxed.  That’s because somewhere in the past 4-8 years, the core of the Republican Party switched from being members of a party into members of a market.  Right-leaning media audiences are huge and loyal, but they have bought more than the news. Customers have not bought the “most trusted” news; they've bought the ONLY trusted news of the Republican Party.

The News Isn’t Good
Can you blame FOX News, Limbaugh, or the rest?  They have an incredibly profitable business model. From a success point of view, you have to admire them. They have, literally, destroyed the competition. But the collateral damage is to the Republican Party-- and to political debate itself.  
With profits like FOX's, can the rest of the press far behind? 

The day after election night on FOX’s "The O’Reilly Factor," the show posted a fresh poll of their own viewers, asking “Do you believe 'The Factor' has been fair covering the election?”  'The Factor' is the show that had FoxNews regulars (and Republican insiders) such as Charles Krauthammer, Dick Morris, and Karl Rove on the day before the election—all who predicted a Romney win.  On 11/06,  O’Reilly himself said, “Romney will win Florida, I just don’t know about Ohio.”

80% of their audience said “Yes, 'The Factor' had provided fair coverage."

You can’t make a happy toothpaste brusher change his toothpaste.  And until wildly successful news sources such as FOX News and Limbaugh fail as businesses, the Republican Party doesn’t look like it's going to change. There's just too much money to be made.

And that’s bad news for everyone-- especially Republicans. 

image credits: The Pew Research Center, ABC News, and FOX News

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