Letter to the Editor: No Longer Ailing Fox News

by W. Richard Benash | 8/4/16 6:00pm

On July 21, Roger Ailes resigned as chairman of Fox News, Fox Business and Fox television stations. This should have captured more of the news cycle than it did. That Ailes is stepping away from the network that he shaped in all ways — macro and micro — is one of the single best things to happen to America in generations.

This is not hyperbole. In its 20 years of existence, through its coarseness and outright hostility to anyone who does not share Ailes’ worldview, Fox News has cheapened American political discourse, delegitimized the profession of journalism and done incalculable harm to American democracy.

Perhaps if asked, Ailes would state that Fox News provided a voice for conservatism, long ignored by the legitimate media. But this very notion is ridiculous; at the time of Fox News’ founding in 1996, conservatives were represented in the news media through the National Review, The Weekly Standard, the punditry of George Will and William Safire and the nation’s number one rated radio show, The Rush Limbaugh Show.

Fox was not a lone conservative voice in the wilderness. Instead, it was talk radio on steroids. It was a disseminator of slander, misinformation and crackpot conspiracy theories, none of which were too extreme or too ridiculous. That Saddam Hussein had collaborated with al-Qaeda in planning the terror attacks of 9/11. That Iraq was maintaining weapons of mass destruction. That John Kerry, a man who bravely served his country in Vietnam, was a coward. That Barack Obama was educated in a radical Islamic madrassa. That Obama was a racist with a deep-seeded hatred of whites. That the government, as part of the Affordable Care Act, would euthanize elderly Americans. That transgender men and women are child molesters. There are hundreds of other examples that could be listed here, each one a product of Ailes’ vision of conservatism, each an encapsulation of his anger, sexism, homophobia and racial bigotry.

Sadly, millions of Americans thus tuned in and accepted one man’s hateful vision of America wholesale. The deepest tragedy is what became of the Republican Party. As a young boy growing up in the 1980s, I have vivid memories of the positive, can-do conservatism of Ronald Reagan. The confidence and ambition of Reagan has been replaced with the narcissism and fatalistic doom and gloom of Donald Trump. Many Republicans, instead of engaging in intelligent debate, seem determined to out-Fox each other, as evinced by former Representative Todd Akin’s comments regarding “legitimate rape” or Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s remarks that drug dealers named “Shifty” and “D-Money” were coming to Maine to score dope and impregnate white women.

What may be even worse is that much of Fox’s mostly conservative viewership have been shown to believe things that are flat-out false. A study conducted by the University of Maryland revealed that a significant majority of Fox News viewers believed Saddam Hussein was allied with al-Qaeda, despite this never being the case. A Stanford University study determined that Fox viewers were more likely than any other network’s viewership to reject the science behind global warming. Perhaps most damning was a 2011 study that determined that Fox viewers were less informed than those who watched no news.

Democracy can only thrive through compromise, intelligent debate and an established consensus on the facts of any given issue. It cannot survive without an informed public, and it cannot survive when a significant number of our elected officials refuse to accept mathematics, science or reality. This is the current reactionary state of the Republican Party, a once proud and honorable political party that has gone from nominating a man who always insisted America’s best days were ahead to making an outright fascist its standard-bearer. Ailes deserves significant credit for making it happen.

This may be the true irony of Ailes’ career. He may have wanted to enhance conservatism, but decimated it instead, along with political discourse itself. At 76, he will not have to live much longer with the consequences of his actions, but many of us will. He has made his mark on America, and left the rest of us a lot worse off for it.

-W. Richard Benash

Hanover, New Hampshire