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Fox Replaces CNN as King of Cable, Giving Conservatives a Voice on TV News

This is excerpt No. 33 (of 45) from America’s Right Turn: How Conservatives Used New and Alternative Media to Take Power, by Richard A. Viguerie and David Franke.

Ted Turner’s CNN proved that 24/7 cable news was not only possible, but the wave of the future.  Rupert Murdoch then bested Turner at his own game with his creation of Fox News.  The result was one of the Fox Newsgreatest victories for conservatives in the alternative media.

Murdoch did this by hiring the right people and letting them run the show, but also through smart marketing.  He saw a nation where conservatives vastly outnumbered liberals in the population at large, but where the media was overwhelmingly liberal.  If you’re an entrepreneur (like Murdoch) rather than an ideologue (like liberal Turner), that spells opportunity.  And Murdoch ran with it.
The Fox in the news house
Conservatives owe a great debt of gratitude to Ted Turner.  Yes, the very same Ted Turner who calls Christianity “a religion for losers” and who became the fourth man to rescue Jane Fonda from spinsterhood (for a while at least).  For it was Ted Turner the entrepreneur who took the financial risk to prove that 24/7 cable news was not only possible, but the wave of the future.  And yes, he created the Cable News Network (CNN, aka the Clinton News Network) in his image, but that only opened the way for another entrepreneur, Rupert Murdoch, to beat Turner at his own game.
Turner started CNN in 1980, and in October 1996 he became vice chairman of Time Warner with the merger of Time Warner and his Turner Broadcasting System.  CNN’s subsequent problems can be traced to that fateful month.  With the end of Ted Turner’s personal direction of the network, CNN became a bureaucratic mess.  The timing could not have been worse, for also in October 1996 the other entrepreneur, Murdoch, started the Fox News Channel.  At the time, almost nobody gave Fox News a chance to compete with CNN, but you should never place your bet on a corporate bureaucracy in a battle with a brilliant entrepreneur.  In less than seven years, Fox News not only managed to compete with CNN, it overtook CNN to become the foremost cable news channel.
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. is the nation’s seventh largest media group, following AOL Time Warner, Walt Disney, Viacom, Comcast, Sony, and Vivendi Universal.  Worldwide his empire includes more than 100 newspapers, including the Times of London and the New York Post.  He also owns HarperCollins, the second largest book publisher in the United States.
With six larger media empires around, News Corp. is hardly the “monopoly” threat portrayed by the Left.  The combined impact of all those conglomerates may pose a problem of sorts, but that discussion is beyond the scope of this book.  What makes the Left single out Murdoch as a threat to civilization is the fact that he’s so much more visible, being an entrepreneur totally in control of his empire rather than one of the relatively faceless bureaucrats heading the other empires.  That, and the fact that he aligned himself with media conservatives in the United States.
There’s scant indication that Murdoch himself is an ideologue.  He prefers to describe himself as a “moderate libertarian,” and he talks about how “we started as a small newspaper company and grew by providing competition and innovation in stale, near monopolistic markets.”  His alliance with conservatives in the United States was a strategic decision.  He saw a nation where conservatives vastly outnumbered liberals in the population at large, but where the media was overwhelmingly liberal.  If you’re an entrepreneur rather than an ideologue, that spells opportunity.  And he ran with it.
Give the man credit, too, for picking smart people to run his various properties – and allowing them to work without undue interference.  In the case of the Fox News Network, the man at the helm was Roger Ailes.  Before heading Fox News, Ailes was better known as a top Republican operative than as a media executive, though he had served as a producer of the Mike Douglas Show and as president of CNBC.  Broadcasting & Cable magazine says,
“Fox succeeds because it has personality, and it’s all Ailes: combative, blustering, straightforward, conservative and thoroughly Middle American…. Rupert Murdoch’s genius was not only in hiring Ailes but also in allowing him to impose his personality on the network.  Americans have a choice about where to go for national TV news: General Electric, Time Warner, Disney, Viacom or some overweight guy from Youngstown, Ohio, who seems to think and talk like them.  We are not surprised that a growing number are choosing the last.”
Broadcasting & Cable was so impressed with Ailes that it named him its first “Television Journalist of the Year,” in 2003.  One reader complained that this decision “makes about as much sense as awarding the Emmy for best news anchor to Ted Baxter,” but most readers probably enjoyed the magazine’s lengthy interview with Ailes as much as the editors did.  Who wouldn’t, with repartee such as this:
Broadcasting & Cable: You didn’t grow up as a journalist…
Ailes: “I’ve had a broad life experience that doesn’t translate into going to the Columbia journalism school.  That makes me a lot better journalist than some guys who had to listen to some pathetic professor who has been on the public dole all his life and really doesn’t like this country much and hates the government and hates everybody and is angry because he’s not making enough money.”
Broadcasting & Cable: So if Fox News is fair and balanced, then why do so many other people not believe it?
Ailes: “Because they’re getting their ass beaten.”
Broadcasting & Cable: Why do you get your back up if somebody says you run a right-wing, Republican network?
Ailes: “The more they call us that, the more viewers watch us, because the American people think the rest of the media is too liberal…. Most injuries in journalism are caused by journalists falling off their egos onto their IQs.  The concept that journalism knows and the public knows nothing and they’re idiots is wrong.”
Critics might question Ailes’ own ego and say that this exchange amounts to nothing more than breast-beating.  Explain, then, why Fox News got such hearty praise in October 2003 from CBS News President Andrew Hayward, as he accepted the Edward R. Murrow Award for overall excellence from the Radio-Television News Directors Association.  Hayward told his audience:
“The ability to offer something more to the viewer is, in my view, one explanation for the Fox News Channel’s success, which has confounded so many news traditionalists….  What Roger Ailes and his team have done so effectively is identify a niche in the market and patiently build a channel around a consistent, well-articulated vision…. The real lesson of Fox’s success in my view is that, in order to stand out, you need to stand for something, something you believe in and can deliver on.”
The irony, of course, was that at the time Hayward gave this tribute to Fox News – while accepting an award named for the top liberal TV icon of all time, Edward R. Murrow – Hayward’s own CBS Evening News was losing even more viewers than the other broadcast networks.  And where were their audiences headed?  To the cable news networks, of course, headed by Fox.  Perhaps Hayward did note the irony that he was getting the award while his ratings opponent was getting his audience.

America’s Right Turn serialization:

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  1. “Media Monopolies Declare War on Conservatives”
  2. “What Conservatives Can Learn from the West’s First Media Revolution”
  3. “What Conservatives Can Learn from America’s First Media Revolution”
  4. “The Factors That Created a Grassroots Conservative Movement”
  5.  “More Factors That Created a Grassroots Conservative Movement”
  6. “Money in Politics:  Everyone Complains About It, but Every Political Movement Needs It”
  7. “Conservatives in the Wilderness: American Politics in 1955” 
  8. Conservatives in the Wilderness: Restless, but Lacking Leadership
  9. “How William F. Buckley Jr. Gave Birth to the Conservative Movement”
  10. “How Barry Goldwater Gave Political Voice to the New Conservative Movement”
  11. “Why There Was No Mass Libertarian Movement—Lessons for Conservatives”
  12. “1964:  This is What Happens When the Other Side Controls the Mass Media”
  13. “Thanks to Shamelessly Dishonest Liberals, Conservatives Have No Chance in 1964
  14. “How Conservatives Turned a Lemon (1964) Into Lemonade (the Future Successful Movement”
  15. Conservatives Test a New Secret Weapon
  16. “Conservatives Use Their Secret Weapon to Create a Revolution”
  17. “Conservatives Grow Under the Radar, Testing Their New Secret Weapon”
  18. “Why Direct Mail Is So Powerful for Insurgents—Like Conservatives”
  19. “Creating the Religious Right, and Electing Reagan, Using Alternative Media”
  20. “Phyllis Schlafly Showed Us How to Stop an ‘Inevitable’ Leftist Crusade”
  21. “Liberals Learn How to Use the Conservatives’ Secret Weapon”
  22. “What Conservatives Can Learn from the Man Who Built the Modern Liberal Movement”
  23. “Morton Blackwell Trains Tomorrow’s Conservative Cadre”
  24. “From FDR to Rush Limbaugh: The Talk Radio Revolution”
  25. “Talk Radio Demolishes Hillarycare, and Provides a New Battleground for the Culture Wars”
  26. “Why Liberals Fail—While Conservatives Succeed—on Talk Radio”
  27. “How the NRA Used Alternative Media to Save the Second Amendment”
  28. “C-SPAN Starts the Revolution Against TV’s Liberal Gatekeepers”
  29. “Direct Mail: A Giant Step Forward for Political Democracy”
  30. “Why Direct Mail is the Smartest Form of Advertising for Conservative Candidates”
  31. “The 1970s: Healthy Growing Pains in the Emerging Conservative Movement”
  32. “Rush Limbaugh Becomes Talk Radio’s #1 Star; the “Tea Bag” Rebellion Becomes Its First Big Victory”
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