Fox News is many things, but “Fair and Balanced” has never been one of them. I used to find it bewildering that a cable news channel that so obviously plays the role of Republican mouthpiece had the gall to pretend to be unbiased - and that viewers bought it. Eventually I acknowledged that trolling the rest of the mainstream media with such shamelessness was also the brilliance of the network’s strategy.
It was reported this week that Fox News stopped using its longtime slogan of “Fair and Balanced” and has switched to “Most watched. Most trusted”. Apparently the network stopped using the phrase in all on-air marketing and promotion in August 2016, but only now have Fox spokespeople confirmed it. Consider the move a minor attempt at tweaking the channel’s public face after the departure of chairman Roger Ailes over sexual harassment allegations.
While Ailes was the mastermind behind the scenes, Fox has also suffered major losses in the exit of on-air stars like Megyn Kelly, Bill O’Reilly, and Greta Van Susteren. The nature of the coverage, however, has stayed the same. That’s why for the most part, so have the ratings.
All three of the big cable networks have made gains since last November. Increases after an election year are usually unheard of, but then again, there is nothing usual about the current political climate and a White House occupied by Donald Trump. MSNBC has made huge primetime gains, winning the coveted 25-54 demographic, but Fox News technically remains the most watched cable network in total viewers.
But what if Fox News lost that spot? Would they have to adjust the new slogan of “Most Watched”? That question is rhetorical. Accuracy is not what viewers are tuning in for. These days, people like to have their own worldview reaffirmed and we’ve just accepted it as normal.
The real question is how Americans decide who is the “most trusted”. Numerous studies have shown that one of the most divisive factors in our society right now is partisan ideology. If we find out that a neighbor, or colleague or romantic interest belongs to a different political party, can we trust them? Or what if they prefer a different cable news channel than we do?
Increasingly, it feels like we have become so skeptical of anyone who sees the world in a different light that there is no hope for bridging that gap. I wish it weren’t the case, and I hope to be proven wrong, but what will the breaking point be?