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Has Fox News’ Ratings Dominance Led To More Government Spending?

There is no question that, as opinion media has evolved over the last decade, Fox News has become the dominant voice in the new and changing environment. And since the majority of Fox News opinion journalists are conservatives, one could easily argue that this been a great development for conservative efforts, particularly the GOP. But not so fast – just weeks after catching some rhetorical flak from David Frum and Senator Tom Coburn, now NY Times’ conservative columnist Ross Douthat is piling on.

In a smart, and certainly provocative piece, Douthat asks “Does Conservatism Need Fox News?” and openly wonders just how beneficial a strong conservative voice in the media has been – in practice – for the conservative movement. While Douthat first posits that “the last eighteen months have been enormously successful for conservatives,” he then qualifies the success as primarily political in nature, then pointing out that liberal policies have continued to flourish in the same time. (Side note – not sure how the election of President Obama fits within that “enormous success” that Douthat mentions.)

But the doozy that stands out in his piece is the following passage (emphasis mine):

So the record of conservative success in the era of “conservative Big Media” seems mixed at best. In the age Before Fox News, on the other hand (B.F.N., to historians), the American Right managed to lower taxes, slow government’s growth to a crawl, whip inflation, and deregulate important swathes of the American economy, among other Reagan-era accomplishments. The Berlin Wall came down, and then the Soviet Union fell, even though conservatives were forced to follow both stories in the mainstream media, rather than hearing about them from Sean Hannity. So too in the 1990s: Rudy Giuliani saved New York, Clintoncare was defeated, and a Republican Congress passed welfare reform without any assistance from Fox News. (Indeed, if you were feeling particularly unfair, you could probably make a chart linking Fox’s rising ratings to the renewed growth of government spending under Bush and Obama.)

There are some apparent syllogistic flaws suggested in this thinking – namely, that any of these historic moments may not have happened had dominant Fox News been on the air at the time. But it’s the last line that truly raises eyebrows, particularly as the GOP continues to define itself in the coming mid-term election. Judged purely by federal spending, the Bush years weren’t exactly conservative years, though all the while pundits promoting that mission became household names worth millions of dollars. It’s clearly not a cause and effect relationship, but rather a correlative one (at least that’s what Douthat appears to be suggesting.) And as the mid-term elections quickly approach, a suggestion that many are likely to take seriously.

As for whether or not its unfair to make the very specific suggestion linking Fox’s rising ratings to the renewed growth of government spending under Bush and Obama, Andrew Sullivan writes:

I don’t think that’s particularly unfair. Under Bush, the conservative media machine’s partisan loyalty enabled the GOP to put domestic spending on steroids, launch two enormously expensive unending wars, drastically increase the power of the executive to trample on civil liberties, and added a huge unfunded entitlement, Medicare D. So while Fox was giddily celebrating power, conservatism was busy abandoning whatever policy principles it once had.

Pretty strong words, particularly for someone who considers himself to be a libertarian conservative. And while these sorts of rhetorical questions are terrific for opinion journalists, they serve solely to raise questions, not really answer them. So perhaps more instructive is that we now have a third conservative thought leader (presuming you include Frum and Coburn in that rubric) questioning if Fox News is really good for the conservative movement.

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