Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Mr. Obama and Fox News

Right now, based on what I have so far seen of McCain-Obama campaign coverage, large communications media and their journalists seem more favorable to Democrats than they have been the last two presidential cycles. I will discuss that more in time, but for now I just want to finish a particular thought about Rupert Murdoch and Fox News, because the network's business model makes them an interesting case in a media environment shaped by Sen. Barack Obama's rise.

Fox News markets itself as being fair and balanced, and therefore a problem-solving force in society -- as a right-wing upstart that "balances" liberal-leaning networks like NBC and CNN. In other words, Fox News's legitimacy as an economic entity is as a partisan, right-leaning voice, one that fills a hole that other competitors left open. More than any other news network, therefore, Fox News has economic incentive and existential reason to resist becoming more liberal as the Democratic Party, through Mr. Obama, finds a compelling voice and gains power.

Nonetheless, things don't stay the same forever, especially a succesful business model. So there must be conditions under which Fox News transforms itself. Can we imagine them? I can see Fox News changing itself into a different political medium if (a) Sen. Obama wins, and (b) if Sen. Obama gains power and popular support in Fox News-viewing areas. Of the two, (a) is more likely than (b). But the thing about Mr. Obama is that, give 'em hell, he and his campaign are using issues like the economy and religion, and to a slight extent even the war, to go after hard-core Republicans whose conventional wisdom is otherwise strongly shaped by Fox News.

So then, will Fox News have to adapt its business model as a result of Sen. Obama?

We'll have to wait and see. At this point, I still think the odds are a President Obama reinforces rather than changes the current structure of Fox News. But either way, from this angle, Fox News' future is difficult to pin down, but fun to think about.

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