Those who like to bury their heads in the sand won't want to read this. This is about Fox News and its march over the nation's news media, knocking off and steam-rolling other news channels while cementing its stranglehold at the top.
Most of us who live in the blessedly enlightened Washington-New York-Boston corridor like to brush off Fox News as the home of the intellectually challenged. We mock its slogan, "First, Fair and Balanced," and laugh off its rabble-rousing commentators as neanderthal, bigoted, biased right-wingers.
Fox's millions of viewers -- those little people in nowhere towns and backwater cities who don't read books or watch "Mad Men" -- are ridiculed and caricatured as dumb and dumber
. They are the hollering, red-faced crowds in the rowdy protests at town hall meetings last August. They are the social and political throwbacks of the Tea Party movement. They are the unfashionable, middle-America, small-town folks who queue up for hours to get a glimpse of their action hero, Sarah Palin.
So why is Fox News No. 1
Stack its lineup of stars -- Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity -- against the liberal MSNBC's lineup of Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, and you've got a pretty good picture of why Fox comes out on top.
It's simple. Beck, O'Reilly and Hannity -- as disagreeable as they might be to someone with my political leanings -- seem in varying degrees more in touch with centrist-to-conservative America, which is, like it or not, the heart of the country. They speak the language -- simple, straightforward. Who can't understand O'Reilly's pinheads and patriots? Who can resist Glenn Beck's boyish persona and oversimplified view of the world? And how about Sean Hannity, who proudly wears his biases on his sleeve?
Controversy is their bread and butter. They stoke the fires and stir the ashes and hold court with the low and the high. They don't dine and party with insiders. They are anti-establishment. They are suburbanites (none lives in Washington or Manhattan). They are outliers.
And now they've got Sarah Palin, the Wasilla beauty queen. When she made her debut on "The O'Reilly Factor" last week as a Fox News political analyst -- however much we enjoy chuckling at that -- the ratings went through the roof. Her appearance drew 3.9 million viewers, more than anything else on other cable news shows combined in the 8 p.m. hour.
At the same time, MSNBC, which employs brand-name anchors such as Andrea Mitchell and Chris Matthews, has wrapped itself in the liberal flag. It goes back to the 2008 campaign. Who can forget Matthews' revelation on national TV that he felt a tingling up his leg upon hearing Barack Obama speak?
During the campaign, MSNBC discovered what Fox News had discovered years ago -- politically biased reporting and analysis are a winning combination. But Matthews and Maddow, with their overwrought liberalism, and Olbermann, with his professorial sarcasm, can't possibly match Beck, O'Reilly and Hannity in head-to-head competition for the vast center of America. The MSNBC crowd speaks to the Eastern elite; the Fox boys speak to the middle between East and West.
"The public is not only shifting from left to right," the liberals' favorite conservative columnist, David Brooks
, wrote recently. "Every single idea associated with the educated class has grown more unpopular over the past year." He went on: "A year ago, the Obama supporters were the passionate ones. Now the Tea Party brigades have all the intensity."
While most of us were ignoring the Tea Party crowds as fringe, right-wing crazies, Fox News was there. Some might say that Fox actually promoted and gave life to the Tea Party movement. That's reaching too far. What Fox did is what Fox does with such success. It found the beginning of a populist wave and now it's riding its crest.
Perhaps if Washington and the liberal media had paid more attention and listened to the rising political winds, the Democrats would not have lost Massachusetts and with it, perhaps health care reform.