12 May 2010

The Brilliance of Fox News and How We Can Learn From Them

No, I am not trying to trick anyone.  Fox News is a brilliant organization.  They have packaged a form of news that people not only consume, but regurgitate to their friends and family.  They go out and organize political rallies and campaign for the candidates that they hope will carry their values.

Fox News tells people, “we report, you decide.”  The brilliance starts with this slogan.  By announcing that they simply report stories, Fox News sets itself up to be the place where Joe Friday would be proud to work.  Just the facts, ‘fair and balanced’ reporting just says what is going on in the world today.  They are free from bias.  Of course this is misinformation and is what makes their ploy so smart.

The average viewer of Fox News will believe that this is a place for honesty and truth.  With the acceptance that what appears before them is the truth, Fox News is in the position to say anything they want.  Most of the time Fox News is telling its viewer that it is being fair and giving the full picture.  Megyn Kelly says that there are two sides to every story and she will report them both.  Bill O’Rilley is the King over the realm of ‘no spin.’  Greta takes you ‘on the record’ and you have ‘friends’ every morning on Fox News.  Glenn Beck will pour over the facts and say that he is a philosopher and a historian. 

All the while, small suggestions are made about other news sources.  They tell the viewer to question everyone else because they are biased.  Starting to notice a trend?  Fox News begins every show and segment with deflection and finger pointing.  In the court of public opinion, reasonable doubt is a conviction.  Fox News has created this doubt in their media competitors and has flourished because of it.

Now, they have created a position where every attack is refuted by saying that the attacker is biased.  Attackers are portrayed as stifling facts and reason and trying to keep hold of their brainwashing tactics.  While the transition from Bush to Obama has helped things along, it is not just this event which has allowed for Glenn Beck to become a superhero and Fox News to grow in popularity.  The brand has been building for some time now and most ignored it because people with sense thought it to be silly and useless.

So, we have come to a point where Glenn Beck can tell people to leave their churches if they hear the phrase “social justice,” Obama can be considered a Socialist, and all forms of media, save one, are evil.  The Obama administration has attempted to take on Fox News with little success.  Jon Stewart does a song and dance against Bernie Goldberg, people laugh, and the audience for Fox News gets stronger. 

So what does this have to do with aid and development?  The growth of the industry and awareness in the 80’s and 90’s was made up of starving children in rags with flies covering their faces surrounded by half-built homes and no adults.  In order to gain acceptance, the industry played on the heartstrings of Americans and convinced people that there was something terrible going on across the world that only they could help by donating to some place like Feed the Children.  Now, 20+ years later, we are left with a public who still believes that we must save the African children by sending our used crayons or tshirts.  The information exists, but there is a large force working against those who are trying to increase education.

So, much like dealing with Fox News, how can people who actually understand the intricacies of development reach a large audience and transform a thought pattern that is so ingrained.  Snark seems to be the favored weapon of choice (one which I love to read and use on occasion, but also is the weapon of the unsuccessful opposition of Fox News), but it has yet to make much more than a small dent. 

As frustrating as it is, it appears to be a part of American psyche to take in what we are told or what we see.  So maybe we should take some cues from Fox News or really Feed the Children.  They have created a climate for their own successes by being shameless and just.  I do not quite know how to be shameless when remaining mindful of the dignity of the people discussed in aid and development, but there has to be a better way to reach a larger audience.  How do we un-teach Sean Penn and Jessica Simpson?  How do we make it so someone who wants to donate a bunch of t shirts does not decide to start an NGO?

Nobody has seemed to know the solution to those questions, but maybe we need to look to what we are opposing and see them as opportunities to learn.