Fox News Turns 15, Continues to Wield Outsized Influence

Fox News is a heavily biased network that simply exists to advance the cause of the American right. Chief Roger Ailes and his minions are gearing up to do whatever they can to ensure Republican Rick Perry -- Mitt Romney is far too moderate, of course -- succeeds President Obama on Jan. 20, 2013.

No matter what people think about Fox News, no matter what conspiracy theories they may harbor about a devious Ailes, let's be decidedly fair and balanced: the network has been an extraordinary success. As it turns 15, Fox News has had an impressive and outsized effect on the news business and the political landscape.

Just one example: the network is launching a tour to promote its anniversary and taking certain shows on the road. "The O'Reilly Factor," hosted by the proudly conservative Bill O'Reilly, isn't going to Topeka or Oklahoma City, but the Democratic stronghold of Boston.

He'll host his show there Oct. 11 in venerable Faneuil Hall, giving him the stage where Samuel Adams argued for independence from Britain and Ted Kennedy entered the 1980 Presidential race.



O'Reilly the statesman? Not in Massachusetts. He couldn't draw enough people to fill a bus shelter in the Commonwealth, right.

Well, Fox is making sure to inform people, in Bieber-like fashion, that tickets will go on sale Monday at 9 a.m., suggesting they'll be gone by 9:15.

Looking over the history of Fox News, two characters stand out in its emergence: Ailes and O'Reilly. Ailes, the former Republican operative, has done a masterful job implementing Rupert Murdoch's vision of a 24/7 cable news network that would appeal to a would-be under-served conservative audience feeling ignored.

Murdoch may lean right personally, but Media 101 advises find an opening and move aggressively. And yet, even as Rush Limbaugh had done well on radio before, no one would have predicted Fox News had much of a shot in 1996 when it launched in few homes and paid for carriage.

CNN had established itself as the cable news leader with the first Gulf War and seemed likely to swat away any challengers. If anything, MSNBC, which launched a few months before Fox, seemed to have a better chance of succeeding with a sort of CNN-for-tech-savvy-young-people approach.

Over time, Fox surged and routinely topples CNN and MSNBC. Ailes was able to prove that an editorial page could thrive on TV, which MSNBC would follow years later by going left.

Ailes has faced all sorts of criticism about polluting the political discussion. There are the suggestions he's in cahoots with the GOP.

Maybe he does huddle with Mitch McConnell, but Ailes is a showman and he knows the more talk, the more interest. He's surely happy to have people spending their time wondering what miasmic strings he's pulling.

Fox News might only draw a few million people a night - a tiny slice of the electorate - but its right-leaning commentary is absorbed inside the Beltway and then flies out, reaching far more than the initial audience in the process. A provocative Karl Rove argument might get minimal notice if made just on the network, but by the time it cycles through the media-political ecosystem, it has broader reach.

And of course, if "liberal" late-night hosts grab clips from Fox, then the legs get longer, especially when the "Today" show plays clips of the comedians making fun of the clips.

O'Reilly's show helps spur the attention. His influence over the past 15 years has been nothing short of remarkable, if only because of how unlikely it seemed. He joined Fox News after hosting the tabloid show "Inside Edition."

What Ailes saw convincing him O'Reilly might be a dynamic political commentator is unclear. But, O'Reilly has become a beacon to the right and gets people buzzing.

Which suggests liberals or Democrats who dislike Fox might be better off doing more to ignore it, including the current White House. Their talk is proving to be expensive in political capital.

9 comments about "Fox News Turns 15, Continues to Wield Outsized Influence".
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  1. Rich Miller from Barking Dog Marketing Communications, September 14, 2011 at 10:02 p.m.

    Don't look now, but your leftist political viewpoint is showing.

  2. Alice Ross from Strategic Promotions, Inc., September 15, 2011 at 12:36 a.m.

    Your article states that FOX consistently topples CNN and MSNBC with just a few million viewers per night...are you saying that CNN and MSNBC reach limited number of viewers? Probably not worth tuning in-in your opinion? Or is just annoyance that a news channel can reach so many people who don't subscribe to your personal views? Perhaps that is the sore spot...

  3. Howie Goldfarb from Blue Star Strategic Marketing, September 15, 2011 at 10:18 a.m.

    If you take the 'Liberal Cable News Channels' they average about 3 million viewers combined. Fox is also viewed by about 3 million on average. News is watched on mainstream TV by far more people. Reaching 1.5% of the potential voter population doesn't move needles. Huffington Post has 3.5x more visitors than Fox News online. I think the only place that Fox News has outsized influenced is in the minds of the media not the news. People who watch Fox are voting GOP. It isn't swing voters or independents.

    And BTW the Daily Show has almost as much viewers as Fox. What Fox did that was brilliant was it saw there was a space no news channel was in and they took it. Niche marketing at it's best. What is even more enlightening which the two commenters and the author are not aware of is one of Murdoch's best friends said if he could make just one penny more as a liberal station he would switch immediately. But there is competition on the Left/Center not on the Right.

    I say more shrewd business person. He might be an asshole. He might be a pig. He might be someone who cares not for honesty in news. But who said nice people win in business? But then people like him take falls. It is VERY possible he and his son will go to jail in the UK for the News of the World Scandal. If anyone thinks he was 'in the dark' then just ask Bernie Ebbers how that defense worked for him.

  4. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, September 15, 2011 at 11:21 a.m.

    Fox outdraws CNN so much in actual viewing, that even if you subtract off the FOX viewers who self-identify as conservatives, Fox STILL has a larger audience than CNN. They must be doing something right.

  5. Mark Walker from aka Media Mark, September 15, 2011 at 2:29 p.m.

    Always nice to have a "rich uncle" to prop up your venture for what, 10-12 years? How many networks can say THAT?!

  6. Johnny Walker from SURFLINE, September 15, 2011 at 5:46 p.m.

    Jealousy will get you no where ;)

    Fox news was and is a godsend for the American people, with every major news network and print media in bed with the libs and Lefties Fox has and is the best and only balanced option for Right wingers and moderates. If you think O'Reilly is that far Right you are either not watching or clueless. Fox is the only place where they routinely bring on both sides of the discussion or argument and allow them to fight it out, there is no other cable or network station that even comes close to bringing on the other side as often as Fox does.
    And the best thing is Fox is interesting and entertaining as well with smart, personable hosts who you actually can enjoy watching on a regular basis.
    Keep bashing, it just pushes their ratings up even higher, no cable network is close to them for a reason.

  7. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, September 16, 2011 at 4:59 a.m.

    Excuse me but Rick Perry is a Christian socialist who has no chance with real conservative voters. At least 15% of real conservatives would sooner pull the lever directly for Obama than for this fake. The only GOP candidate worth voting for this year is Ron Paul, flawed as he is, and the entire liberal media, especially the neoconservative Fox News, is trying to ignore him. If Ron Paul loses to Rick Perry in the GOP primaries, Barack Obama will have a second term, guaranteed. The GOP vote is not about to gel behind another born again Bush clone. It won't happen. Period.

    The only thing Obama needs to worry about, besides an unlikely challenge from Hillary, is someone entirely new and interesting (meaning non-religious) coming on to the GOP field.

    But Rupert Murdoch and his son will make sure that nobody notices this candidate. So Obama wins again.

  8. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, September 16, 2011 at 5:06 a.m.

    Fox News is ignoring the fact that Rick Perry worked with "women's groups" in Texas to put a $5 tax on strip club patrons, in order to fund a rape crisis center with the overwhelming implication that men who watched strippers were more likely to rape than others. This was naive, outrageous and ideologically left wing all at the same time. Worse, it strengthened an unholy alliance between evangelicals and left wing anti sex feminists.

    The Texas courts immediately struck down this blatant attempt to tax "bad male behavior". The tax is no more.

    Real men refused to pay it. Strip clubs refused to ask them to.

    By doing this Perry showed that he's a feminist and not even remotely conservative. Not even remotely. I'm a conservative but I would campaign for Obama if this loser got the GOP nomination. Obama is more right wing.

  9. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, September 17, 2011 at 2:14 a.m.

    What's fascinating to me about Fox's outsized influence is that it's we rating's followers who have helped give it to them.

    Take any national news event - like a State of the Union Address, Election Night Coverage, etc... Fox will claim (rightfully) that they have more viewers watching them than any other network.

    But here's the lie. Fox's viewer share is essentially 20%. That is also the same as the % of US citizens who self-describe as heavily committed hard right views.

    Since they are the only outlet consistently espousing that single point of view, they get that 20%. The other 80% of viewers REJECT Fox, then spread across 7 to 10 different networks. In the end, none of those networks amass a share larger than 20%.

    Fox, though, gets press coverage that mixes their ratings win with a perception that their conservative viewpoint is more mainstream than it is (it's fringe, in truth). And the ratings clearly show that it's fringe - if anybody would report accurately.

    But, as a reporter friend of mine observed, it's a rare reporter that understands %'s well enough to hold this viewpoint.

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