In mid-2007 the New York Times ran a survey from political website “The Hotline”, which had set out to track “face time”: the amount of time in the previous six months that the 18 Democrat and Republican candidates had appeared on NBS, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox or MSNBC. Some 3,363 minutes of interviews were tallied, and the Times ended up with a table showing how each of the 18 candidates had fared in terms of air time, being interviewed on the six networks, excluding news reports or taking part on panels. Inevitably, it was portrayed as a bubble diagram.
Continued from Part 1:
Yet something seemed to be going on in the Face Time totals that wasn’t explained by a Giuliani fixation. For one thing the 115 minutes that Fox News had given Giuliani was less than the time MSNBC had given Democrats Joe Biden (132 minutes), Christopher Dodd (128 minutes) and Republican Mike Huckabee (118 minutes).
In fact Fox News provided significantly less air time to presidential candidates than either CNN or MSNBC. To look deeper into what the survey showed, however, you needed to go back to the original figures that the graphic was based upon.
If you regroup the results (as above) in terms of Republican and Democrat candidates the first things that strikes you is that the non-Fox networks—ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and MSNBC—all gave more face time to Democrat candidates than to Republicans.
CBS was closest to even treatment with a 52.3 per cent of time going to Democrats. The other networks ran between 56.8 per cent and 60.6 per cent Democrats.
And yet overall the results for the whole table were much closer to equality. The total breakdown for all networks was 51.1 per cent Democrat against 48.9 per cent Republican.
The single factor that produced this correction was that Fox News devoted 85 per cent of its air time to Republican candidates. Some of this effect reflected decisions by some of the Democrat candidates not to appear on Fox but even without this the result looks wildly skewed.
This perhaps is just reinventing the wheel. Shock horror, Fox News favours Republicans. And, another shock, Mainstream Media favours Democrats.
It’s important to remember the limitations of this particular survey and what it does and doesn’t measure. But there are some standout results that look quite odd.
For starters, look at the results for Republican candidate Fred Thompson. NBC gave him 16 minutes. None of the other networks gave him any air time except Fox, which gave him 101 minutes.
Giuliani is a standout not just because Fox gave him most air time—115 minutes—but because no one else did much. The five non-Fox networks gave him a total of 81 minutes.
Or you could look at John McCain, the most popular Republican candidate for the non-Fox networks (and the eventual Republican presidential nominee), with 285 minutes. Fox just gave McCain 59 minutes, which put him in the back of the pack.
There’s another way of looking at this. It is to divide the result into two groups, Fox News and the Rest.
This is the way mainstream media excluding Fox News apportioned Face Time:
John McCain is the stand-out, as we have noted, Fred Thompson comes in last. Among Democrats Joe Biden and Barack Obama lead, with Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel at the bottom.
Compare this the Fox News rankings:
As previously noted, Giuliani and Fred Thompson take out the top spots. Kucinich is the top Democrat. It’s not a perfect fit, but there’s a sense that the Fox News results have inverted the results of the other networks. Their least favoured Democrats and Republicans become Fox News and Roger Ailes’ hot favourites.
There’s another way of expressing this. Fox News played a key role in “balancing” the debate to roughly equal fair time overall, by giving 85 per cent of its air time to Republicans, which compensates for more Democrat coverage on the other networks.
But it’s not just a balancing exercise here, because Fox News is not just giving 85 per cent of its coverage to Republicans, it is particular Republicans it is promoting.
It is a particular kind of Republican party that Roger Ailes is fostering. And Fox News gives that kind of Republican an overwhelming voice, at the expense of other Republican voices.
That’s the first thing. The second thing is that the brand of conservative politics that Ailes and Fox News fosters is the opposite end of the pole from the views represented in mainstream media.
Or you could put it like this: Ailes and Fox are promoting a brand of sectarian conservatism which is of least interest and appeal to the rest of the community.
They are promoting those political candidates that have the least prospects of getting elected.
There are only two likely ways such an approach can play out. Either Fox News moves the country, and refashions a popular form of conservative politics. Or it goes some of the way there but in the end polarises the country and ends up with an alienated rump of unhappy campers.
That was the game plan in 2007. Shift forward five years and you have another mismatch between a candidate who can win an election, and one who can appease the Fox News-led brand of the party. The excruciating series of debates between Republican cnadidates which became an exercise in showcasing Fox News.
Romney’s pick-up in the last month has been because he has dumped most of the baggage that the right had saddled him with.
And whether or not that works in the end, it’s hard not to think that most Republicans will believe there must have been a better alternative outcome. And along with that an unrecognised, diaphanous resolve that things should change, that in the next presidential election cycle they will do things better.
It’s a resolve that thins to complete invisibility with the news that Roger Ailes has just signed a new contract that will see him running Fox News for another four years. Which means that he will have a major role in determining who runs America until at least 2020.
He may have to weather a few recriminations after this election day. But normal programming will resume shortly.