Fox News is losing conservatives. It’s hard to believe, but (insofar as anything in the media world can be called “data”) it’s true: Republicans, who ranked Fox News as their most respected brand in the Tea Party fever-pitch years of 2011 and 2012, have now cast it out of the top 10 altogether. To further confuse our understanding of the culture wars, both Chick-fil-A and the Discovery Channel, as brands, have fallen out with the Republicans. There’s probably someone out there who could explain how the new young GOP voter hates homophobic fast food and the germ theory at the same time, but I’m not that person.
But back to Fox News. How does the 21st century’s answer to the John Birch Society newsletter drive off people who still haven’t accepted the 2008 election of America’s Kenyan Socialist Anti-colonialist Overlord, much less his 2012 re-election? The Atlantic’s Connor Simpson has a theory: Fox News was so close to the Republican Party it couldn’t be useful to Republicans. The network that spent all of 2012 telling the GOP faithful that Mitt Romney was setting the country on fire with his charisma and common touch may not—spoiler alert—actually be at a competitive advantage when it comes to winning elections.
This is important, because we’ve spent a large part of the 2000s arguing about the effects of social media, the internet, etc., and we’ve been concern-trolling ourselves over the decline of the mass media and whether it means the end of our common understanding of politics. “What will we do,” gasp the pearl-clutchers, “if we aren’t all reading the same four newspapers every morning?”
The answer, it turns out, is that we’ll do just fine, for a bunch of different and important reasons.
First of all, the good old days were never that good. The “consensus” years of the 1950s to the 1970s were only a consensus if you were white, straight, and male. Secondly, the consensus could be horrifically wrong, like when it led the United States into the Vietnam War. (New York University’s Jay Rosen has been particularly good on how the age of mass media isn’t something to be nostalgic about.) Thirdly, anyone who both has relatives and uses Facebook has probably discovered some surprising political views from an uncle they don’t talk to often. We aren’t actually able to maintain perfect social media filter bubbles, as much as we might prefer to.
But the Fox News case suggests that our ideological universes are vulnerable to that most basic attack: relevance. It turns out, when you spend your days in a political echo chamber talking to the same people, you start convincing yourself that the polls are skewed and you don’t need to worry about pesky little things like Latino voters. And then you lose elections. And then you start looking around, and ask yourself where everyone has gone—and then, belatedly, you go looking for them.
Writing this from a city where about a third of the electorate believes that Rob Ford walks on water, cuts through gravy with a scythe, and is relentlessly pursued by Satan’s familiars and the Toronto Star (but I repeat myself), there is at least this much to be hopeful about: it’s still really, really hard to fool all the people all of the time. And, actually, as it turns out, it’s hard to fool all of the people more than once.