Roger Ailes built the Republican party –
now both are crumbling in plain sight
Very few citizens are aware of the historic role Fox News creator Roger Ailes played from the late sixties onward to foster the rise of the modern Republican party and alter the tenor of political discourse in America.
That history is clearly delineated in How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Factory by Tim Dickenson five years ago in Rolling Stone, and further articulated by media reporter Gabriel Sherman in his 2014 biography, The Loudest Voice In The Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News — And Divided a Country.
Mr. Trump’s decision to make Stephen K. Bannon, chairman of the Breitbart News website, his campaign’s chief executive . . . formally completed a merger between the most strident elements of the conservative news media and Mr. Trump’s campaign, which was incubated and fostered in their boisterous coverage of his rise.
Aug 18, 2016, New York Times
The advent of Stephen Bannon as Donald Trump’s new campaign manager is a significant milestone in the steady evolution of the Republican Party to the extreme right long facilitated, and now lead by experienced “alt-right” media manipulators. The history of this poorly understood evolution puts into stark relief the failure of for-profit media, particularly TV journalism, to illuminate this dangerous development in American politics.
In 2013, respected political scientists Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein sought to draw greater media and public attention to the troubling rightward drift of the Republican party in their book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism. In an interview with Bill Moyers on PBS, they expressed surprise and disappointment that none of the major network TV news organizations showed any interest whatsoever in discussing this topic.
Only recently have a few journalists and pundits begun to draw more attention to the role Breitbart News has played in the rise of Donald Trump. A key episode was the remarkable duping of the New York Times in covering the campaign by Andrew Breitbart and James O’Keefe to destroy the community organizing group ACORN by posing as a pimp and his prostitute seeking advice to circumvent the law.
Though the failure of Republican leaders to recognize their responsibility for the rise of the “alt-right” and its enabling of Donald Trump as their presidential candidate is finally being widely discussed, there are still too few connections drawn between the huge profits generated by right-wing media organizations and the threat they pose to the functioning of American democracy. Speculation regarding a new right-wing media organization involving Donald Trump, Stephen Bannon and deposed Fox News guru Roger Ailes to cash in on demonizing Hillary Clinton should she be elected president is worth following closely in the run up to election day this year.
Donald Trump once again captured major media attention over several days in August by claiming unequivocally that President Obama was the “founder” of Isis, and that Hillary Clinton was the “co-founder,” something he first suggested in early January. This presented a challenge to news organizations nationwide to explain whether there was any truth to Trump’s claim about who was responsible for creating Isis which did not end when he eventually said he was being sarcastic.
This generated even more accounts explaining why Trump supporters do not care whether what he says is true or not because the news media are biased against him. The Washington Post reported the complex factors and policy decisions made over many years by members of the Bush and Obama administrations, as well as actions by Congress, which contributed to the rise of Isis. Unfortunately, analysis of this kind is all too rare and not suited for careful consideration on commercial television news programs.
Boiled down, key underlying factors leading to the creation of ISIS were:1) invading Iraq with only dim awareness of the deep Sunni-Shia historical divisions suppressed by Saddam Hussein; 2) not providing sufficient civilian and ground forces to maintain stability; 3) the disaster of allowing Nouri al-Maliki to oversee Iraq’s transition to democracy which greatly exacerbated Sunni-Shia tensions.
These major developments were primarily the responsibility of the Bush administration, as was promoting the false connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda as reason to invade Iraq and topple him. Absent more thoughtful, fact-based discussions about how Isis came to exist, wild accusations about who is responsible will continue to be taken seriously by large numbers of voters in this election season.
Very few regard the 2016 presidential election season as normal in any respect thanks to the unique reality TV talents of Donald Trump. His masterful seizure of our public discourse is endlessly discussed with every new outrageous statement he makes, many now questioning the journalism that is being practiced even by reputable news organizations.
Media analysis from respected sources such as Jay Rosen, Jeff Jarvis and the Columbia Journalism Review have weighed in about widespread journalistic malpractice, and CNN host Brian Stelter specifically criticized Fox News for greater public shaming.
But there is little analysis pointing to a more systemic problem, namely that our commercially driven media system combined with under-resourced non-profit media organizations serving audiences as citizens, not consumers, require the systematic teaching of critical media literacy at all K-12 and college levels of instruction.
Unlike all of the British Commonwealth countries and most of Western Europe, the U.S lags far behind in teaching basic media education. Entirely too few American citizens, including Supreme Court justices, are aware of practical explanations as to WHY we as a nation are experiencing such breathtaking sophistry, mendacity and manipulation of public discourse this election cycle.
A healthier balance of commercial and public media is unlikely to be realized in the U.S. for a very long time, in large part due to the paucity of critical media literacy skills among our citizenry. Perhaps a growing awareness of the dangers facing our democracy related to our hyper-commercial media system and scarce knowledge of media education that have allowed a rank demagogue the opportunity to actually become our president will open the American mind to this unexamined reality. Key organizations addressing this issue worth following:
Global Critical Media Literacy Project (GCMLP)
Action Coalition for Media Education (ACME)
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR)
News Literacy Project
Media Literacy and Digital Culture Program / Sacred Heart University
Centre for Excellence in Media Practice (CEMP) / Bournemouth University