Stumbling around for someone to blame for the (so far) failed insurrection in Washington, Fox’s Tucker Carlson knew where to point the finger. “It’s not your fault,” he told his Trump-grieving viewers. “It’s their fault.”
The “they”? According to Carlson’s colleague Sean Hannity, that’s the media, the left, who were refusing to listen to the pain from the Trump heartland — or, as Fox and Friends host Brian Kilmeade put it, have never accepted the legitimacy of the Trump presidency.
Across the Pacific, on Sky after dark, Adelaide’s own Cory Bernardi was repeating the talking point with a murmured “shocking, shocking” followed by a forceful what-aboutery word salad of Black Lives Matters, Russia-gate, media elites and pious lefties.
As political party media, the Murdoch-owned outlets are in a hard place. They thought they were in charge of the outrage economy they created as a tool to link the hard and soft right in a populist unity — and then make money out of it.
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Trump has revealed it’s Frankenstein’s monster. They’ve lost control of the outrage and it’s out and about, scaring the villagers.
Seems outrage is addictive. It demands ever-increasing doses. If the hardened end of their spectrum doesn’t get what they want from Fox, they’ll get it somewhere else, turning to more extreme digital voices like Newsmax and One America News Network.
For the addicted Trump ultras, it’s a way of forcing Fox to make a choice. Judging by the rhetoric of Trump and his supporters in Washington this week, they reckon Fox is making the wrong one.
All that “it’s their fault!” from the Fox faces is an attempt to avoid that choice — to find a safe footing in the shifting sands post-Trump, where they can unite their audience against the real enemy: fact-based media and “the left”.
A snap poll by YouGov yesterday revealed the existential threat to Fox: 45% of Republicans strongly or somewhat support the storming of the Capitol. About 43% oppose. Among those who’ve been absorbing the steady diet of outrage about voter fraud, support rises to 56%.
In business theory, when your market fragments, you diversify your offering. Fox is trying that out, freeing their daytime news programs to be more truth-based, while leaving their prime time morning and night commentariat to pump the outrage (aka the Australian Sky model).
In further diversification, (as Cam Wilson has been reporting in Business Insider), the Sky after dark outrage — including on the US election result — is being repackaged on YouTube and Facebook into the US and international market, providing a new product offering: international validation for voter fraud claims.
Fox’s finger-pointing at other media is not all wrong. Standard media practice has been found inadequate for Trump. The scale of events overwhelmed journalists, with stories evolving from being shocking to noteworthy to be shrugged off over a week. While the serious national media (The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR) and digital media (like Vox) strived to keep focus, as events rolled into TV network news and the shrinking numbers of local mastheads, journalistic practice acted to normalise Trump and normalise the way Trump practises politics.
Being yet one more step further down the train, Australian news media sanded down the rough edges of the Trump story even further to straight reporting mixed up with a “those whacky Americans” trope. (Noteworthy exception: Matt Bevan’s ABC podcast America, If You’re Listening.)
It encouraged Morrison to lend a hand at normalisation (and cultural importation) such as the thumbs-ups besties pic (circulated again yesterday by the ALP) or accepting Trump’s award of the Legion of Merit.
But yesterday the journalistic shock built rather than declined, as the crowd evolved from demonstrators to protesters to rioters to insurrectionists, and Trump from bystander to figure-head to instigator.
Just as quick was the shift on Facebook and Twitter, where Trump went from cautiously labelled to banned within 24 hours.
After four years, it was the whiplash the media needed. As Paul Keating famously said, elections do change things.