I just watched Jon Stewart’s contentious (to say the least) interview with Chris Wallace on Fox from earlier today, and had to revisit comments from my interview several weeks ago with my friend Scot Faulkner — a lifelong conservative activist who now is head of the Dreyfus Initiative, a nonpartisan, non-profit organization looking to promote civics education (public, parochial, and home schooling) that furthers civil discourse about our country’s history and future.
There is not some daylight, but not much, between what Scot told me and how Stewart skewered Wallace. Fox has become an echo chamber, a quasi-propagandistic island where there is little to no serious debate or exchange of different viewpoints. “Fox is bad for conservatism,” Faulkner told me. “We need to engage the other side, we need to engage the voters…Fox on the right, MSNBC on the left — you have people who are so bitter to each other…so polarizing and vicious, to the point of crafting parallel realities.”
Those parallel realities stand in the way of political progress, which depends on discourse. As I have written repeatedly, the conservative movement and its media voices have devolved from the model favored by its modern godfather William F. Buckley Jr. and his Firing Line to CNN’s Crossfire (also lambasted by Stewart) and now the Fox echo chamber. One of the last bastions of serious, conservative intellectual exchange is not much noticed in the media — and often improperly portrayed as part of the right wing conspiracy: The Federalist Society. In what I’ve written on the Federalists when researching my Ph.D., I had the chance to ask then-Senator Hillary Clinton, who coined that conspiracy phrase, about the Federalist Society. In hindsight she took a different view, complementing the Federalists for their intellectual dedication and organizational commitment.
I cannot say, nor do I suspect Sec. Clinton would say, similar things about the crowd on Fox. As Faulkner pointed out in my extended interview with him on POLITICO, the Fox effect has recently given us such political sad stories as Newt Gingrich, who was resurrected by Sean Hannity in the farthest thing from a process of serious political engagement; on Fox, Hannity was Gingrich’s “golden retriever.”
And when Gingrich goes on Meet the Press, he encounters someone who wasn’t a golden retriever.
Fox is bad for conservatism. Just as other networks, like MSNBC with its own crop of over-the-top programming, is bad for progressivism. Both are bad for the broader political discourse. I’m happy to have Jon Stewart out there making the case; I’d like to also see more principled conservatives like Scot Faulkner making the case.
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