By Rebecca Couzens
A Production Assistant, who wishes to go under the alias of “Kate Johnson,” stood on the New York City streets, shocked and embarrassed following a rude awakening that made her realize her job welcomed the judgment of those who knew nothing about her. The words “shame on you” echoed in her head, said by an old woman scolding Johnson, after seeing where the Production Assistant worked. Johnson was asking New York pedestrians questions for a segment that would later air on television. However, after this incident, she realized she might need to get a new microphone to use for interviews, one that does not display her place of employment in bold uppercase letters: FOX NEWS. When I sat down to speak with Johnson, I could still hear the shock in her voice while recalling the occurrence.
In recent years, the media has become more polarized than ever before. With political tensions rising significantly in 2020, along with the detrimental effects of social media algorithms, it is easy to judge others solely based on their political parties. The growing issue of confirmation bias continues to control American society, only showing consumers one side of the story, which is the side they already agree with. A 2020 survey conducted by YouGov aimed to discover how likely it was for the members of each major political party to be friends with those who had opposing political views. Twenty-four percent of Democrats said they are not friends with anyone who holds very different political opinions from their own, showing a 14-point increase since September 2016. The same study showed that Independents had an eight-percent increase (from 12 percent to 20 percent), while Republicans had an insignificant change from 10 percent to 12 percent, within the last four years. Unfortunately, the study found that the likeliness of befriending someone with differing political views did not increase for any group, demonstrating that tolerance levels between parties have been diminishing over time.
Johnson is one example of someone caught in the trenches of the current heated political climate. Her job at Fox News attracts unsolicited judgments and opinions from complete strangers who are oblivious to the fact that Johnson strives to maintain a moderate view on news and politics. “It hit me; it made me so embarrassed. […] I think I was just so taken aback that someone would just judge me right off the bat from the place that I work at,” Johnson said while recalling her encounter with the old woman. After the incident, Johnson stopped sharing where she worked, since she did not know how those around her would react. She expressed the need for people to be reminded that Fox News is composed of different types of people who do not all share the same opinions and ideologies that are often promoted on the network. “Fox is not just one small entity; it’s not just one person making a decision — it’s a huge company. There are so many moving parts. […] People also forget about the little people that work at Fox, people like me. Even the interns, they just want to get their foot out there…” Overall, Johnson hopes that even those who disapprove of the network can remember that the employees at Fox “[are] people too.”
However, the judgments made about Fox News are not without justification, and the network is becoming less popular and less trusted by the younger generation. “Americans ages [sic] 65 and older account for around four-in-ten of those who say their main source is Fox News (37 percent), compared with 21 percent of all adults,” a 2020 Pew Research Center study found. The same study also shows that 61 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents distrust Fox News for political coverage. Fox News is thus one of the networks at the heart of America’s polarization. With the extremist narratives that are sometimes preached on the network, many assume that all Fox News viewers are unsympathetic, radical zealots who praised Trump for his victories without acknowledging or criticizing his downfalls. This assumption is in part likely due to the controversial stances that some Fox News anchors took when discussing the results of the 2020 presidential election. Reporters were stating that former President Donald Trump had the election stolen from him, which most Americans view as a conspiracy.
This allegation led to a $2.7-billion lawsuit conducted by the voting technology companies Dominion and Smartmatic. Smartmatic is specifically filing against anchors Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs and Jeanine Pirro for supporting misinformation regarding the legitimacy of the election. In his article titled “Fox News Can Barely Admit the Capitol Riot Is a Story,” Justin Peters, a “Slate” correspondent and “Columbia Journalism Review” contributing editor, criticized the views portrayed on the Fox News segment “Fox and Friends.” One of the show’s co-hosts, Brian Kilmeade, expressed his concerns over big tech companies’ classification of former President Trump as dangerous, in addition to Google’s January shutdown of the microblogging and networking app Parler “because they decided they didn’t like it.” To this, Peters responded in his article: “This deadly riot was preceded by two months of lies about a ‘stolen’ election, told by Trump and a cross-section of his enablers, as well as literally decades of scaremongering from Kilmeade’s employer about the character and intentions of the Democratic Party and the mainstream media.”
Johnson recalled that emotional day of the Capitol riot: “In [this] entire year there’s been chaos and backlash and fighting and protests of all kinds, but that kind of just hit me [when] people [were] fighting our Capitol. That is the definition of democracy is being fought.” Johnson believed that day signified that the country was in shambles. “It was hard for me to watch, and it was very emotional, I think, for many journalists working that day. […] Ultimately, it just made me feel for those who are in pain this year, and I’m just hopeful that we can move forward honestly under this new administration. I’m just hopeful that we can have a better America and a better, more unified country, because ultimately that’s what everyone wants.”
Some might argue, though, that Fox news was a contributing catalyst for the events that happened at the Capitol that day. When I inquired Peters about his thoughts on Fox News’ journalism, he also acknowledged the size of the company and the people behind the scenes. Due to the large size of the organization, Peters said that he thinks it would “be weird if there weren’t a decent percentage of people that were good at their jobs and took them seriously within the vast staff there. And there still are a bunch of harder news reporters there that do see it as a priority to just report the news as they see it.” However, despite there being quality journalists on the network, Peters believes their work can still be clouded by the radical thoughts of other anchors on air. To make this point, he draws an interesting analogy. He begins to compare Fox to a club with arsonists: while some people in the hypothetical club like to burn down the buildings, there are also those who try to put the fires out. Peters explains: “The way to evaluate that club wouldn’t be to say, ‘Well, we got some people that like to set fires. We got some people that like to put out fires.’ The two washup and it all breaks even. [..] In the end, you still have the charred husk of a building that was burnt down […] That’s still the outcome.” Peters believes that while there are some solid journalists at Fox, their good work can be overshadowed by those who find it lucrative to not present the same quality in what they do.
One host who shows that Fox News still has objective, high-quality journalists on its network is Neil Cavuto. A White House press conference was being aired on Cavuto’s show, “Your World with Neil Cavuto,” when Trump’s press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, claimed that significant illegal voting had taken place in an effort to prevent Trump from being reelected. After McEnany began making these allegations, Cavuto cut away from the conference, stating: “She’s charging the other side with welcoming fraud and welcoming illegal voting; unless she has more details to back that up, I can’t in good countenance continue showing you this.” Another example of Cavuto showing his standard for proper reporting took place after former President Trump shared a tweet stating, “Just watched @FoxNews heavily promoting the Democrats…Fox isn’t working for us anymore!” To this, Cavuto responded on his segment saying, “First of all, Mr. President, we don’t work for you. I don’t work for you. My job is to cover you, not fawn over you or rip you, just report on you. To call balls and strikes on you. My job, Mr. President — our job here — is to keep score, not settle scores. […] It’s called being fair and balanced, Mr. President, yet it is fair to say you’re not a fan when that balance includes stuff you don’t like to hear or facts you don’t like to have questioned.”
Despite the narratives that Fox pushes on certain segments, Cavuto proves that those radical opinions do not represent everyone who works for the network. Likewise, Johnson sets a similar example for those behind the camera, as she strives to occupy a middle ground within the political landscape. “A lot of journalists I know — definitely those who work with me on Fox, my colleagues, and also my friends in the company — there are so many of us who are middle ground, who are very moderate when it comes to politics, and have views on both sides.” Johnson credits this to reading, watching and learning all perspectives. “I think that if you’re reading and watching everything and you’re not just continuously feeding yourself information that you already agree with, you’re ultimately going to learn something…you’re naturally going to become more open-minded.” Perhaps the answer to the political divide of this country is to immerse ourselves in the opinions that differ from our own, and remember that even those we disagree with “[are] people too.”
Justin Peters article: https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2021/01/fox-news-impeachment-capitol-riot-twitter.html PEW study: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/04/08/five-facts-about-fox-news/