Vox recently published an article putting forth a rather interesting theory about conservative-leaning news outlets like Fox News. In the article, the author claims that Fox’s reportage, along with that of other right-leaning media, resembles a “serialized TV drama” in which viewers are treated to a narrative designed to influence and entertain them.
The interesting aspect of this particular article is that there is much truth to the notion that conservative outlets craft their news reporting in the fashion of a narrative. But the writer is also intellectually dishonest in her assessment; she intimates that this trend has not been prevalent in the left-leaning media, which is demonstrably false.
Emily Van Der Werf, the author of the piece, lays out her argument be comparing Fox News’ programming to a soap opera. “If you spend a whole week watching five consecutive nights of a given Fox News program, especially in the network’s primetime lineup, you may notice something unusual,” she wrote. “It’s structured like a soap opera. ‘Storylines’ — the president’s strength in battling Covid-19, say — are layered throughout the week in a way where they can temporarily pause with a ‘payoff’ on Thursday or Friday that will carry viewers forward into the next week.”
She continues, suggesting that: “This serialization keeps viewers hooked, which is good for the network’s ratings. But it also creates an irresponsible view of how the world operates.”
Van Der Werf also uses other examples of storytelling in right-wing media. She points to Antifa, a far-left activist group known for engaging in rioting and other forms of political violence. Describing how Fox News covers the movement, she wrote: “Across a week, it will run, roughly, ‘Antifa is bad’; ‘Antifa is a threat to Republicans’; ‘Antifa is a threat to America’; ‘Antifa is a domestic terrorist organization and should be classified as such.’ You can easily swap in any other left-leaning movement or cause in place of ‘antifa.’ The story beats are always the same.”
The author then claims that these stories are framed in a way that will “require viewers to keep tuning in to see how the proposed solution plays out.” She asserts that this motif is also prevalent “everywhere on television, from soap operas to professional wrestling to primetime prestige series like Game of Thrones.”
The article goes on to single out commentator and founder of The Blaze, Glenn Beck, as the inventor of this supposedly new trend. Van Der Werf writes: “Beck transformed what had been a pretty easy to understand story of Republicans vs. Democrats into an elaborate global conspiracy to rival the aliens from The X-Files or the DHARMA Initiative from Lost.”
Is This A New Trend?
Van Der Werf is not wholly wrong in the arguments she laid out in her piece. But there was an element that was conspicuously absent from her assessment. Anyone who is intellectually honest will concede that progressive media outlets have been engaging in this “news as narrative” approach for decades as well.
During President George W. Bush’s administration, the establishment media frequently portrayed him as their ultimate villain who cruelly sent troops overseas to kill brown people. Despite rallying around him in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, they quickly had a change of heart when it suited them politically.
But what about when Barack Obama was elected president? We saw the same tendency when the corporate press lauded Obama as the savior that the nation needs after a disastrous Bush presidency. They were reluctant to criticize him but quick to label those who opposed him as racist.
The media turned the Tea Party into vicious bigots who only took issue with Obama’s policies because they couldn’t stand the sight of a black man in the Oval Office. These were people to be feared; they were perfect villains.
Even now, under the current president, the corporate press has crafted a multitude of narratives designed to make Trump look like both a James Bond villain and a bumbling buffoon who bungles his way through his presidency like Inspector Gadget. Media outlets such as CNN, The New York Times, and others have woven, like master storytellers, a series of absurd tales about the president and his supporters.
First, he was a secret Russian spy, doing the bidding of President Vladimir Putin – a Kremlin-controlled Manchurian candidate, if you will. Then, he was a raging bigot who believed that Nazis were “fine people.” The Fourth Estate works around the clock to cast Trump as a Hitlerian figure who wants to kick brown people out of the country and forge a great, white ethnostate. If one didn’t know any better, one would assume that Trump is building an American version of the Third Reich.
The “News as Narrative” tendency is not exclusive to the right by a longshot, and Van Der Werf likely knows this. She could have simply described this trend as a problem on both sides and looked at possible solutions. But it is clear that she and her ilk don’t take issue with this type of journalism; They only wish they could be more effective at using it themselves.
Read more from Jeff Charles.