The FOX has come back to guard the hen house. But if history is any guide, the hens and the chickens will not be too welcoming.
The arrival of the Fox Business News channel is to its backers comparable to the cavalry coming over the hill to save the business world, if not the capitalist system, from detractors if not from itself. Whereas Jesus sought to drive the moneychangers from the Temple, Fox's Roger Ailes has his sights on those subversive "liberals" who have wormed their way into posing a friends of business world on CNBC. He has vowed to blow them away.
CNBC's owner, General Electric, a company known for its corporate conservatism and its past patronage of Ronald Reagan, has to be amused to find itself on Rupert Murdoch's enemies list. Speaking of CNBC, Murdoch sounded like the Grinch of Christmas past in hinting but never really spelling out his agenda:
A British outlet quotes him. "They dwell too much on failures or scandals," Murdoch said last week. "We don't get up every morning thinking business is bad," said Ailes. "Many times I've seen things on CNBC where they are not as friendly to corporations and profits as they should be."
Roger Ailes is a rightwing Republican street fighter has been repositioned for this task. He is downplaying his hardcore GOP Bushevik ideology to recast himself as a self-styled populist, the champion of the little people, fueled with a war chest of $300 million from the evil empire run by the shadowy and Orwellian named News Corporation.
Ironically, on the same day that Fox took to air, one of the institutions Murdoch seems to admire, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), opened its Congress in Beijing with its own plan for politically correct capitalism. They too are purging their liberals. What symmetry! (Hu may be on first but Rupert is pitching.)
Back in New York, on Wall Street, the credit crisis just won't go away with a new wave of major defaults on loans, banks reporting billions in write downs and losses and fresh warnings from the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank that the economic slowdown is here. An economist at Goldman Sachs dismissed a new plan by three big banks and the Treasury Department to "calm debts in housing" as a "P.R. move." PR for business is at the heart of the Fox Biz mission.
On top of that, some of the people who Ailes hopes to champion and convert into viewers are out protesting against predatory lenders and boycotting Countrywide Financial, the nation's largest lender and mortgage servicer. In some parts of the country, the partisan war is giving way to a new type of debt-driven class war of borrowers fighting lenders.
In other words, the business arena is a lot messier and more complex than the political arena which Fox News was able to polarize with simplistic pro-war slogans, personality baiting and and us versus them patriotically-correct deception. A mechanistic pro-business versus anti-business frame is not the same and is not going to work.
That's why Roger has paid more attention to sizzle than steak with a new stable of foxy presenters aimed more at the eye than the head. Snazzy graphics, hot colors, and special music is complemented by "conversational" anchors round out the carefully thought out packaging. At least one show will come from a bar. After all, he is competing against sexy "money honeys" like CNBC's Maria Bartiromo.
TV can't be all slogans and flag waving-a reality than many Fox critics miss by just focusing on what is said and not on the attitudes and look that drive Fox's audience-friendly media environment
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One of his big problems is a changing mood in a country that does not share the upbeat pro-business optimism that pours like a nightly sermon out of the mouths of Neil Cavuto and clones. (Ultimately, Fox Business may be more of a religious channel than a news outlet with its faith-based approach.)
They are competing with more on TV and in the popular culture than CNBC or Bloomberg. CSI Miami recently worked the practices of abusive credit card companies into a primetime drama. A correspondent who saw it told me, "while highly dramatized to be sure, the message was pretty clear--beware the credit card industry/offers young people!" Capital One ads were oddly absent during the show. The episode was entitled "Bang, Bang, Your Debt" and is available for viewing in full on Innertube." Check out the new George Clooney flick Michael Clayton for a tale of more corporate perfidy.
This is all taking place in a climate of growing pessimism about our economy and business ---attitudes that run contrary to the gung-ho optimism that Fox projects and which infects self-defined conservatives and liberals alike.
Gary Younge of the Guardian has reported on a deeper shift in American attitudes that perhaps he can see more clearly as a foreigner:
"This sense of optimism has been in retreat in almost every sense over the past few years. According to Rasmussen polls, just 21% of Americans believe the country is on the right track, a figure that has fallen by more than a half since the presidential election of 2004. Meanwhile only a third think the country's best days are yet to come, as opposed to 43% who believe they have come and gone - again a steep decline on three years ago. These are not one-offs. In the past 18 months almost every poll that has asked Americans about their country's direction has produced among the most pessimistic responses on record - a more extended period than anyone can remember since Watergate.
America, in short, is in a deep funk. Far from feeling hopeful, it appears fearful of the outside world and despondent about its own future. Not only do most believe tomorrow will be worse than today, they also feel that there is little that can be done about it."
And one main reason is that Americans are hurting in their pocketbooks as well as their souls:
"Closest to home is the economy. Wages are stagnant, house prices in most areas have stalled or are falling, the dollar is plunging, and the deficit is rising. A Pew survey last week showed that 72% believe the economy is either 'only fair' or poor and 76% believe it will be the same or worse a year from now. Globalization is a major worry..."
Corporate-friendly Fox Business is not speaking to this sense of despair as real populists would, and perhaps like Ron Paul and some of the Democratic challengers, are. And by the way, the rich high CPM (Cost per thousand) viewers at CNBC are also on the defensive, nervous, worried, scared, and maybe even panicked.
This is a time for economic truth, justice and change, a focus on remedying the crimes of institutions, not the flaws of personalities. Who needs more inane business chatter on the ups and downs or markets, or even the posturing ploys of populist posers who pretend at anti-elitism with the money bags of moguls behind them?