“I would rather have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs.” — Jim DeMint
The above quote defines one of the major movements within the Republican Party, particularly crucial as the party redefines itself (I know, I’m only the one millionth person to say it.) Some people think the mindset is great- no worries about Senators Specter and Snowe sticking it to the party, or the eight Republicans who gave cap-and-trade its passage in the House. On the one hand, my idealogically conservative side agrees. On the other, of course, is the fact that thirty principled conservatives can a) disagree on where to be conservative (i.e., taking a stand on social vs. fiscal vs. military issues and legislation), and b) not pass much, if anything, or find themselves able to slow too much bad legislation down.
Beyond the Republican Party, however, conservatives are also pulling a DeMint, in a most important arena: television. In particular, by congregating on Fox News and NOT on other television stations. This became very clear when, on September 10, it came out that John Stossel was leaving ABC for Fox. Following in the footsteps of Chris Wallace, Michael Clemente, Brit Hume- three former ABC guys- Karl Rove, Dana Perino, Glenn Beck and other influential conservative names, Stossel is making a smart decision for himself. After 28 years surrounded by the liberal media “elite”, he can finally take his libertarian views where they will be appreciated. Again, a great decision for Stossel- and a bad one for a conservative recovery in America.
According to Nielsen, Stossel was getting over six million viewers as the host of 20/20 in the last quarter of last year. This is nearly twice the viewership of Bill O’Reilly, long-time king of cable news, who averages around 3.4 million viewers per night. However, while O’Reilly is primarily “speaking to the choir,” Stossel is speaking to a much wider audience. Whether they want to or not, non-conservatives are getting the viewpoint of a libertarian every time they turn on 20/20 for news, analysis, fluff shows and whatever else its viewers look for. With O’Reilly, you are mostly getting O’Reilly, and that’s the primary reason one goes to Fox News at 8 p.m.
Similarly, Glenn Beck has jumped to Fox over the last year, and he has become a powerhouse in the ratings world. Whereas at CNN he was averaging far fewer than one million viewers per night, he recently surpassed O’Reilly in the 25-54 year old demographic, a tremendous accomplishment, and has kept his numbers high for months, even passing over three million viewers recently. While Beck’s recent career move is somewhat the opposite of Stossel’s- at least, regarding ratings and the range of influence- it still concentrates Beck’s tremendous (if controversial and sometimes over-the-top) talent to Fox News viewers, as opposed to CNN viewers, who are generally less conservative. Again, Beck is speaking only to the choir, where at CNN he would likely get more non-conservative viewers simply by association.
Fox News has gone over the top since the moment the 2008 presidential election results were in. I began watching “Fox & Friends” during my internship at The Heritage Foundation last fall, and enjoyed their coverage of news and events…until November 5. Too, while I watch little TV in general, I check Foxnews.com several times a day, and have found their already-slanted (if accurate) news to be increasingly more slanted and sensational. Clearly, however, given their skyrocketing ratings, what they are doing is working. Like a bastion in a losing war, conservatives are flocking to Fox, and I cannot blame them, given the liberal biases in most mainstream news sources.
The problem comes when, five years from now, all the conservatives are at Fox (except for Pat Buchanan and Lou Dobbs, who may very well be retired, and Joe Scarborough, who seems to enjoy being on MSNBC). While conservatives will be having the time of their lives watching Stossel, Cavuto, O’Reilly, Hannity and the rest, the liberals on MSNBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC and the entire rest of television news will be unchallenged in their biases and viewpoints. There will be no John Stossel to call out liberals on ABC, or Lou Dobbs and Glenn Beck to challenge CNN from the ranks. These voices will all be at Fox. With as tough a time as we have keeping our message on track and in the ears of Americans, is this really the best way for conservatives to get their message out? I think not.
The Internet gives conservatives the opportunity to get their voices out- there is no question about that. However, that makes it very simple for ideological viewers to go only where they want to get their slant on news, opinion, etc. HotAir.com, Townhall.com, MichelleMalkin.com, NewMajority.com and even smaller sites such as thelobbyist.net provide a great service to conservatives and America- but with millions watching television and getting just the liberal viewpoint if conservative media personalities continue to flock to Fox, the next few years of elections will be very tough on conservatives.
As RJ Caster put it at thelobbyist.net, “Conservative is a state of mind, being a Republican is a vehicle.” The Republican Party is finding out which would-be leader of the party is correct about where it needs to go- David Frum, Jim DeMint, Michael Steele, among others, are fighting for the honor- but as a separate entity conservatives need to decide what tactic(s) will best serve them, their philosophies and their goals. Thirty conservative senators and a conservative news station making a killing in the ratings is a wonderful thing- but not at the expense of the country. Fixated as we seem to be on our dominance in a small part of the world of television, conservatives are keeping a great eye on the ever-present jab…and missing the overhand right coming in for the knockout.