A few days ago, at my university here in Istanbul, I
was giving a lecture on the Hollywood film industry.
During my talk, I mentioned the 20th Century Fox film
studio, and was asked by a student if there was any
relation between that studio and the current Fox
stable of media outlets. I replied that there was, and
during the conversation mentioned the words "Fox News
Channel". No sooner than the final syllables had
fallen from my mouth, a mixture of laughter, shaking
heads and rolling eyes filled the room. The Fox News
Channel, it seems, generates as much emotion in
Istanbul as it does in Indianapolis, Irvine or Ithaca.
The influence of Fox News on the US political
landscape has been well-documented, as has the
"Fox-ification" (read: "shove to the political right")
of other media outlets such as CNN and MSNBC. As the
reaction of my Turkish students illustrates, however,
the influence of Fox News does not stop at the US
border, but carries over into the global arena.
Despite what some people might think, this is actually
a mixed blessing.
In the old days - which in media terms is about 5
years ago - people living outside of the US with
access to satellite or cable television were exposed
to the usual avalanche of cookie-cutter sitcoms, police/legal/school dramas and big-budget films from the United States. For news and politics from a US perspective, and for people who had yet to discover the joys of the still-evolving Internet, there was only one choice: CNN. As a cultural ambassador, CNN was quite effective. US television was pretty bad, people in Tokyo, London, Cairo, Paris and Sydney would agree, but CNN was at least respectable. Yes, "Love Boat" and "The A-Team" scraped the bottom of the intellectual barrel, but CNN, so the discussion went, was proof that there were some people in the US who could think. None of this is to say that CNN was actually good, but rather that, as the monopoly provider of global news from a US-centric perspective, CNN occupied a certain position of respect.
Now, it says a lot about the current state of US news
and journalism when you begin to wax nostalgic about
the "good old days" of CNN, the network that brought
us 24 hours of Pentagon-approved Desert Storm
coverage, wall-to-ceiling-to-wall-to-floor O.J. and
Diana, mysteriously conservative "liberals" like
Michael Kinsley and mysteriously fascistic
"conservatives" like Pat Buchanan. The (heavily
repeated) claim that CNN was a "liberal" news channel
was always a source of great hilarity amongst genuine
liberals and progressives. It's not hard to be a
liberal channel in an environment dominated by
companies such as Time Warner, Disney, and GE.
Basically, being a liberal news channel in the US is
like being a liberal person in Texas: just say that
you favor lethal injection over the electric chair
because it reduces the suffering of the prisoner
and bingo! You're liberal. Dare to suggest that the US
military might not be 100% right all of the time,
and bingo! Your news channel is liberal.
So why is the rise of the conservative Fox News a
mixed blessing? Now that it is being shown
internationally, Fox News has done two things. First,
it has made mainstream outlets like CNN and then New
York Times look far more "liberal" than they actually
are. That's the downside. Second, it has made
conservatives and conservatism in the US look
incredibly petty, exclusionary and simplistic. That's
As the smug, sanctimonious standard-bearers for Bush neo-conservatism, people like Bill O'Reilly and Neil Cavuto have provided non-Americans with their first glimpse of the faces of the moral revolution, and it isn't pretty. Fox News astonishes non-Americans with its self-righteous tone, nationalist bombast, childish graphics and populist bluster. While the old CNN was (and is) a conservative news channel obscured by a veneer of objectivity, cool and professionalism, Fox News is in your face with flags, neo-cons and feminist-bashers. It might be making centrist and conservative outlets (such as CNN and the New York
Times) look liberal by comparison, but Fox News is
also exposing the unseemly underbelly of hardcore US conservatism to a global audience. Many international viewers are shocked, bemused and repulsed by what they see and hear on Murdoch's channel, and are beginning to understand the ideology that propelled George W. Bush to his second election victory.
As the media ambassador for global Bushism, Fox News
is an illuminating embarrassment...and that can only
be a good thing.
Christian Christensen is Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Communication at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul, Turkey. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.