Is Fox News moving to the center? That's the rather surprising question asked in this story in The Politico. The answer, on the surface, appears to be "sort of." There's a simple explanation for this, which we'll get to in a moment. But here's the essence of the story, which is about how true-blue conservatives are beginning to suspect that Fox is becoming just one more outpost of the liberal media:
The grumblers were picking up on a strategy that has been under way for some time — a "course correction," as Fox chief Roger Ailes put it last fall — with the network distancing itself from the tea party cheerleading that characterized the first two years of President Barack Obama's presidency. Lately, Fox has increasingly promoted its straight-news talent in the press and conducted some of the toughest interviews and debates of the Republican primary season. Just last week, it hired the openly gay liberal activist Sally Kohn as a contributor.
All along, Fox watchers warned that it risked alienating conservative true believers as it inched toward the center.
Well, consider them alienated.
My favorite part of this is the fevered conspiracy theories provided by people who were heretofore Fox's constituency. "They buckled under pressure from George Soros and his operatives to get rid of Glenn Beck," says longtime conservative nutbar Cliff Kincaid. Website commenters think Andrew Napolitano's low-rated program "Freedom Watch" got canceled because of Napolitano's support for Ron Paul. "More often these days I hear the language of the Left entering their news programs. Conservative points of view are becoming more rare on Fox and/or treated with scorn," says a RedState blogger. Um, yeah. Right.
The story doesn't mention the best explanation for these subtle but real changes at Fox: Everything Fox does is in the interest of the Republican party. Some conservatives may not like it when Karl Rove comes on and trashes Newt Gingrich, but he's not doing it because he's trying to move to the center, he's doing it because he knows a Gingrich nomination would be a disaster for the party to which he's devoted his professional life. Fox spent a couple of years promoting the Tea Party (and indeed, it would never have had the success it did without the network), but now they're distancing themselves from the guys in tricorner hats? Well, that change just happens to have come at a time when the Tea Party is increasingly viewed negatively by the public, and their extremism threatens to undermine the GOP brand. Fox doesn't want too much Ron Paul boosterism on its air? Guess who else wishes Paul would just go away: the Republican establishment. Fox reporters have conducted a few tough interviews with Republican presidential contenders? They're doing a job the party itself can't really do, vetting their candidates to make sure the most electable one emerges.
It has always been the case that Fox has been more partisan than ideological. It's more true of some of its personalities than others; if the RNC sent out a memo mistakenly praising Hugo Chavez tomorrow, that night Sean Hannity would be on the air saying that anyone who doesn't support Chavez hates America. But on the whole, the prevailing theme of Fox coverage has always been that Democrats suck, and everything would be better if we elected more Republicans. It's not monolithic -- when there are internal divisions within the Republican party, some of those divisions will be reflected in Fox's coverage. For instance, after you see Rove criticize Gingrich, you might see Sarah Palin come on and defend the former Speaker. But on the whole, the network is going to move in the direction that Roger Ailes believes is the most advantageous for the GOP.