Late last month, New York magazine published a really good piece by Frank Rich that made the argument that it might be time to ignore Fox News. That the network, like the reactionary viewpoint it champions 24/7, may seem powerful at the moment but there's no denying that it's staring down the barrel of demographic extinction. The median age of Fox's audience is 68 and it's not replenishing the viewers who die off simply because it exists only to terrify old white people into believing that their country is being taken away from them by progressives and their "new" way of looking at America and the world.
I agreed with Rich's assessment that there's no choice but to let Fox News's point-of-view literally die. Maybe that's because on a personal level my own father is one of the seemingly rare Fox News viewers who watches the network only occasionally, as part of a "fully balanced" diet of varied news sources. I don't have to deal face to face with a crazy conservative relative who lives and breathes whatever Fox tells him to, and therefore can't see the immediate damage the network's nonstop avalanche of bullshit can do to those who submit to it.
But there's a pretty good column over at Salon right now -- yes, I'm recommending Salon -- written by someone who does understand the damage Fox News can do in massive quantities. Edwin Lyngar's take is that abandoning those aging, largely white Americans who get their entire worldview from Fox means abandoning his own father, who has immersed himself so fully in Fox News's alternate reality that he's apparently hardly recognizable anymore.
The salient part of the piece:
I do not blame or condemn my father for his opinions. If you consumed a daily diet of right-wing fury, erroneously labeled “news,” you could very likely end up in the same place. Again, this is all by design. Let’s call it the Fox News effect. Take sweet, kindly senior citizens and feed them a steady stream of demagoguery and repetition, all wrapped in the laughable slogan of “fair and balanced.” Even watching the commercials on Fox, one is treated to sales pitches for gold and emergency food rations, the product cornerstones of the paranoid. To some people the idea of retirees yelling at the television all day may seem funny, but this isn’t a joke. We’re losing the nation’s grandparents, and it’s an American tragedy.
People talk about the imminent “death” of Fox News itself, because of an ever-aging demographic. Again, Frank Rich makes this case, but I think his argument is dubious. Certainly the audience is graying to oblivion, but it’s a cold comfort to those of us who watch our parents or grandparents drown in an incessant downpour of outrage. We will only see the “End of Fox News” when my father and his contemporaries die. I do not want to watch my father and his entire generation spend their remaining years enraged at utter nonsense.
It's tough to argue with the points Lyngar makes. In the abstract, it's easy for people like me to say, "Screw it, they're dying off anyway," but when the ones dying off -- those wasting their golden years filled with rage over what they see as the destruction of their way of life -- are your loved ones, I suppose it's an entirely different story.
The end result is still the same: Fox News's die-hard audience won't be around much longer. But for those who have to live with them while they're still here -- who call them father, grandfather, uncle and so on -- that's not exactly a comforting thought.
(This piece has been corrected. I originally wrote that the average age of Fox News's audience was 68, not the median age. Sorry for the oversight.)