Category Archives: Fox News

Trump epitomizes the “charismatic leader” where power is personal

By Christopher B. Daly

Nothing so aptly captures the phenomenon of Donald Trump as the social theory laid out more than a century ago by the German social thinker Max Weber. In Weber’s scheme of understanding power, Trump epitomizes a type known as the “charismatic leader.”

American politicians are sometimes described as charismatic by people who really want to use a word more like “charming.” But leaders like Trump are actually pretty rare in American political history.

Which means, in turn, that Trump is likely to present challenges to the journalists trying to cover him. Most of the national political press corps has never seen the like. On the one hand, Trump is a gift to the news media because he’s exciting; on the other, he does not fit nicely into any conventional category or narrative.

According to Weber, “charismatic authority” is different from traditional or legal sources

max weber

of authority. As the great German sociologist argued in “Politics as a Vocation,” the charismatic leader is followed because of his personal qualities. His success depends on “devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism, or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him.” In essence, a charismatic leader is endowed with special qualities because his followers believe he has those qualities. He is powerful because people think he’s powerful.

Trump’s authority is entirely personal. It is not connected to a party or a movement or a set of policies. It is all about him. His subliminal message to the convention and the television audience was: I will make you safe. It’s the rough equivalent of saying “I will walk you to school so no one will scare you.”

As a businessman, he is the “Lord of the Tower.” High inside Trump Tower, he rules over a privately held company. He is not like a CEO of a big publicly traded corporation. The modern corporate executive is a cog in a giant machine – made up of corporate boards, executive committees, finance committees, legal counsel, giant organizational charts, rules, policies, and guidelines. This environment produces CEOS who are risk-averse and who know that their time at the top is limited to about four or five years.

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credit: Orlando Sentinel

None of that pertains to Trump. He trusts only those people who work for him in Trump Tower. Any authority they have flows from him directly, in proportion to how close they are to him or how trusted. No one in the Trump camp exercises power independently or by virtue of a place in a bureaucracy. It’s all about personal relationships, as in a royal court or a cult.

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While Trump was rising last week, another career in American conservative politics was ending. Roger Ailes, the founding chief of Fox News, was ousted from his powerful position by his only boss, media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Like Trump, Ailes was a charismatic leader in the Weberian mold. For decades, Ailes ruled Fox News by fear, bullying, helping favorites, and attempting to exercise the droit de seigneur by “flirting” with the many attractive news readers he hired.

Trump and Ailes also shared a masterful instinct for managing the public’s resentment. Even if you never watch Fox News, you have probably heard phrases like these:

  • “liberal elites”
  • “the War on Christmas”
  • “mainstream media”
  • “radical Islamic terrorism”

These and similar conservative tropes (or “memes”) are all hobgoblins intended to amplify the fear and loathing felt by some Americans. Such memes reinforce the fear that something is slipping away and reinforce the loathing of those responsible – smart people, immigrants, jihadis, liberals.

Ailes toiled for decades inside the conservative meme factory – generating, refining, and broadcasting the idea that America used to be a great country until _______________________  (fill in the blank: secularism, feminism, political correctness, elites, blacks, gays, immigrants) came along and ruined everything. Like Trump, Ailes practiced a politics of restoration.

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Trump had a successful convention in one sense: he managed the almost impossible task of making a modern convention interesting. For decades, the national conventions have been highly scripted, fully produced pageants made for television. No surprises – and no real politics, either. Everything is decided beforehand.

As the Democratic National Convention unfolds in Philadelphia, watch for a dramatic contrast from last week’s show in Cleveland. Hillary Clinton is the opposite of a “chaos candidate” like Trump. He huddles with a small team of political novices and makes decisions at the last minute. In Hillary’s approach to politics, by contrast, professionals are respected, and qualities like steadiness, consistency, and predictably (which Trump disdains) are considered virtues.

She makes plans and sticks to them.  She limits access. Everything is vetted. There is a structure with veteran professionals staff all key positions, from speechwriting to finance to policy.

Not so with the charismatic candidate Trump. He harkens back to political insurgents like Huey Long or George Wallace – not (just) in his bigotry but in his personal approach. Trump has no bureaucracy around him. A reporter cannot go seek out Trump’s “foreign policy shop” and get briefings on his approach to the Mideast. First of all, there is no “shop.” Second, even if there were a shop, there is no policy. There will be a policy when Trump makes one up, and it will change when he feels like it. He may meet with Netanyahu, for example, and if they hit it off personally, then Israel is under U.S. protection. If they don’t hit it off, then all bets are off. What are Trump’s budget plans? Who would make up the Cabinet? No one has a clue. Reporters are hard pressed to find reliable sources.

In covering Trump, the media have a further problem: they feel obligated to treat Trump with a straight face. Their professional code prevents them from writing and saying many things that they know to be true.

Moreover, the press gets no down time with Trump. Even when he has retreated to Trump Tower, he could still feel the urge to tweet out some message or insult or provocation at any time, creating a brand-new controversy and “winning” that news cycle.

Trump likes to talk about law and order. But in his style, he is the candidate of chaos. Fasten your seatbelt.

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Media Earthquake: the end of the Roger Ailes era at Fox News

By Christopher B. Daly

“If you would strike at a prince, you must kill him.”  –Niccolo Machiavelli

The fall of Roger Ailes is an ephocal event in the history of modern news media. For a man who delivers more than $1 billion in annual profit to his boss and who delivers the top viewer ratings in cable TV news to be fired certainly marks the end of an era.

Carlson : NYDaily NewsHis departure today was brought about by the charges of sexual harrassment filed in court by Fox News on-air star Gretchen Carlson. (Before there was Megyn Kelly, there was Gretchen.)

Variety's Power of Women New York luncheon - Arrivals

Megyn Kelly Credit: Dennis Van Tine

 

Ailes was a king-maker who became a powerful prince himself within the kingdom of American conservatism. By assembling a loyal audience for Fox News, Ailes performed several important services for resurgent conservatism:

–Fox News attacked the rest of the news media

–Fox News provided an outlet for conservatives (including climate deniers, conspiracy theorists, and conservative ideologues who could not get on the air otherwise)

–Fox News hounded the Clintons and Obama while endorsing and defending George W. Bush

–Fox News cultivated and sustained Bill O’Reilly (and stood by him when O’Reilly had his own problems with a sexual harrasment claim).

–Fox News, by selling ads for gold bullion, attorneys for the plaintiff’s bar, and many other products, delivered a consistent profit stream to Murdoch’s News Corp.

The back story is well told in the 2014 biography of Ailes by the journalist Gabriel Sherman. The book is titled “The Loudest Voice in the Room” and subtitled “How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News and Divided a Country.” Sherman, a national correspondent for New York Magazine whose recent daily reporting has driven and shaped the coverage of Ailes, lays out the rise of Ailes from the day the young tv producer met Richard Nixon in 1967 and lectured the veteran politician on the power of television.

Ailes went on to work for Nixon, then became an impresario of conservative media. He had a big role in the rise of conservative talk-show champ Rush Limbaugh, then teamed up with conservative media mogul to found Fox News in 1996.

Fox News is the embodiment of Roger Ailes. He is responsible for the shrewd and deeply cynical slogans “Fair and balanced” and “We report/you decide.” Never mind that neither slogan was true. They served the purpose of assembling an audience of American conservatives who consider Fox a national message board.

Ailes harrangued the mainstream media for being liberal, while building the most ideological news operation on the air, all the while denying that he was doing so.

What brought him down was his failure to make an alliance with Murdoch’s sons, who are the future of News Corp. The sons may be less conservative than their father and, as members of a younger generation, they certainly have far less tolerance for the towel-slapping, know-nothing ethos of the Fox News morning show. On that show, whose co-hosts regularly humiliated Gretchen Carlson, who may have more i.q. points than Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade combined. They harped regularly on her looks, her wardrobe, and her hotness.

Under Ailes, Fox News had a history of hiring attractive women and placing them in front of the cameras in ways that displayed their physical attributes. Even in an industry like television, which is obsessed with visuals, Fox News stood out for its use of news babes. Turns out, Ailes — who resembles the late Sidney Greenstreet minus the charm — was “flirting” with them and implying that they should put out for him.

In the end, it would appear, the man who ruled by fear was brought down by one brave woman.

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Why is it so hard to talk about Charleston?

By Christopher B. Daly

What happened in Charleston this week meets the literal definition of terrorism.

Here’s a dictionary definition (from Dictionary.com):

noun

1.

the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.

Here’s the FBI’s definition:

“Domestic terrorism” means activities with the following three characteristics:

  • Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
  • Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and
  • Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.

So, why do the media find it so difficult to call it an act of domestic terrorism?

The NYTimes was willing to discuss the issue but not to use the term in its main coverage.

The most extreme case (as so often happens) involved Fox News. The Thursday morning episode of the show “Fox and Friends” hit a new low — in which the hosts and guests strained to frame the violent assault by a white man seeking to take his country back as an assault on religion and an attack on Christians. Wha?

Here’s a brilliant analysis by Larry Wilmore, who is getting better by the week. (courtesy of Comedy Central and TPM).gctqv5mtkz5pr8y6j2bi

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BU Prof: The Benghazi tragedy was caused by the CIA station chief

By Christopher B. Daly

Get ready: the Benghazi controversy is about to get a big new dose of fuel. My friend and B.U. colleague Mitch Zuckoff has a new book coming out next week that tells the story of the tragic assault on the U.S. compound in Libya from the perspective of five American commandoes who were there. The five men have teamed up with Zuckoff to write their jpegeyewitness account in a book titled “13 Hours.”

The release of the book is already reviving the arguments over who was to blame for the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others during the assault on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi in 2012. Most Republicans (including the Republican Party news outlet known as Fox News) are hoping to lay the blame on Hilary Clinton, on the grounds that she was U.S. Secretary of State at the time and therefore responsible for every bad thing that happened anywhere in the world during her entire tenure. The Republicans would like to use this tragedy to damage her politically as she gears up to run for president in 2016.

Most Democrats, meanwhile, would like to just see the whole thing disappear.

Most journalists, like Mitch, would like to get to the bottom of exactly what happened. Operating in a fact-based world, journalists (and historians, for that matter) need to establish a reliable, factual sequence of events before we can even have a political discussion. That’s what has been largely missing. Based on knowing Mitch Zuckoff for almost 30 years and working with him when we were both reporters at the AP and working with him since we have both been journalism professors at B.U., I can say that I would expect his version to be definitive. 

The debate is flaring up, as you can see from these accounts from MSNBC, the Washington Post, and the NYTimes (which somehow “obtained” an advance copy of Mitch’s book). Fox News jumped with a “special report” by Bret Baier. The book’s release also just happens to coincide with the start of hearings into Benghazi by a special House committee. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

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News comes from far away. . .

By Christopher B. Daly

Do we get too much information about distant conflicts, or too little?

The New York Times offers two very different answers.

One comes from Anjan Sundaram, a former stringer for The Associated Press in Congo. So, he should know. He laments the withdrawal of American correspondents from many countries, the shuttering of overseas bureaus, and a general decline in the coverage of wars, violence, and the politics of many nations.

News organizations need to work more closely with stringers. Make no mistake: Life as a stringer, even for those eager to report from abroad, is daunting. It’s dangerous, the pay is low and there is little support. For years after I left Congo, my position with The A.P. remained — as it is now — vacant. The news from Congo suffers as a result, as does our understanding of that country, and ultimately ourselves.

The other view comes from my Boston University colleague David Carr, the Times‘ media columnist. In his Media Equation piece today, Carr describes the sensation of information-overload that he has been experiencing lately as social media bring him a flood of data about a rocket war in Gaza, plane crashes, and the other disasters.

Geopolitics and the ubiquity of social media have made the world a smaller, seemingly gorier place. If Vietnam brought war into the living room, the last few weeks have put it at our fingertips. On our phones, news alerts full of body counts bubble into our inbox, Facebook feeds are populated by appeals for help or action on behalf of victims, while Twitter boils with up-to-the-second reporting, some by professionals and some by citizens, from scenes of disaster and chaos.

In my view, they are both right, at least to a degree. Sundaram is correct that many U.S. news organizations have retreated (usually for economic reasons) from their commitment to covering international news. In particular, they have lost the budgets to pay for keeping full-time staffers in locations around the world that are not boiling over. I’m talking here about trained journalists who have the time to become multi-lingual, to learn about other cultures and societies, to develop good sources, and to roam about developing a good first-hand sense of the place they are covering. These are the kind of people you want to be able to in a crisis, to explain a self-immolation in Tibet, or a riot in Indonesia, or a drug war in Central America. And, yes, there are too few of those.

But that’s not the same issue David Carr was identifying. He is describing the flood of images, information, and opinions that come streaming at Americans from the hotspot of the week. And yes, he’s right about. In a country or region that America is paying attention to, the flow of news is usually pretty abundant. That doesn’t mean that it’s always very useful, only that there is a lot of it.

This general problem was identified almost a century ago by Walter Lippmann — journalist, author, and media theorist — in his landmark book about journalism, propaganda, and politics, Public Opinion.

News comes from a distance; it comes helter-skelter, in inconceivable imgresconfusion; it deals with matters that are not easily understood; it arrives and is assimilated by busy and tired people who must take what is given to them.

That is, for passive news consumers, the picture of the rest of the world is fragmentary, random, and often blurred or blacked out. I dare say that I am not the only avid consumer of U.S. news reporting who could not tell you a single meaningful thing about Indonesia (the fourth most populous country on Earth and the largest Muslim-majority nation). I don’t know anything about it, because no U.S. news organization has a single full-time correspondent there. I cannot say I am bombarded by social media (or any other kind) about Indonesia. But if something should happen there that draws the attention of the United States, we can be sure the firehose will be turned on, and we will start to absorb a torrent of images, facts, and opinions. Until our attention shifts.

Thurber-Lippmann screenshot

by James Thurber

 

 

 

 

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Inside the Meme Factory: Hilary edition

By Christopher B. Daly 

Unlike some people, I enjoyed Ken Auletta’s recent piece in the New Yorker, which was ostensibly about Hilary Clinton’s problems with the news media. (Yes, Fox and the like: she has her problems with reporters, too.)  I don’t know whether is right about her media problems, and frankly, this far out from the election, I don’t give a hoot.

What I enjoyed in his piece was his swerve into the history of right-wing media and his documenting of what I call “the Meme Factory” — that interlocking directorate of conservative media, think tanks, and other institutions built since WWII with huge donations from the right. Auletta delves into the doings of Matthew Continetti — who is something of a third-generation of conservatives who have been building a parallel set of media institutions. (Continetti was mentored by Bill Kristol, who is, in turn, a direct descendant of one of the major builders of conservative media and think tanks of the 20th century, Irving Kristol.) Continetti founded a non-profit news operation called the Washington Free Beacon. (It’s like a normal DC-focused news website, but every article serves a conservative purpose.)

Hillary Clinton once famously complained that she and her husband were the targets of a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” That’s only half-true. There is a vast (and growing) network of right-wing institutions that are mutually reinforcing. Their existence is no accident. But it is a touch paranoid to refer to all those people and institutions as a “conspiracy.” They do not need to conspire to carry out their mission.

Clinton is also wide of the mark in another sense. While it is true that all of the people on the right hate her and her husband and strive unceasingly to destroy them, it is not true that they are her only problem. If Scaife and Murdoch and Limbaugh and the whole gang were to suddenly vanish, Hillary Clinton would not enjoy the glide into the White House that she may envision.

 

 

 

 

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A pox on “A pox on both their houses”

By Christopher B. Daly 

I spend a lot of my waking hours at the intersection of Journalism and History, two empirical fields that share a lot of DNA. It’s an interesting place to hang out, and I wish more of the residents of each street would roam around more on the other street.

Today, a story in TPM about an item on a blog known as the 20Committee, nicely frames an issue that highlights one of the distinctions between the disciplines of journalism and history. The upshot is that journalists do us all a disservice when, in the name of non-partisanship or “fairness,” they throw up their hands and blame Democrats and Republicans equally for behaving in ways that are partisan, counter-productive, hypocritical or the like. As a former political journalist myself, I know this phenomenon well, and I know where it comes from: it is an adaptation to the pressure many American journalists feel to write as if they have no stake in the outcome, to show an aloof indifference to cause or candidate or party.

Many journalists, particularly in the mainstream media who work in the reporting tradition, apply this technique to coverage of hard problems like Obamacare or fracking or political spending. This is the problem often referred to as “false equivalence” or “false balance.”

But, I would submit, no historian who studies our current period in the future would be caught dead doing that. Every historian of our present situation will look at essentially the same facts and will exercise judgment.

[I will further predict that 95 percent of them will conclude that our current messes are the fault of Republicans. But, to use another favorite journalistic evasion, Only time will tell.]

Shutterstock/ Christos Georghiou

Shutterstock/
Christos Georghiou

 

 

 

 

 

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