Racial Resentment and Fox News

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In the New York Times today, Thomas Edsall presents some evidence that racial resentment has increased in the Obama era, especially among Republicans. Jamelle Bouie comments:

Edsall sees this as a crucial through-line in the ongoing story of GOP extremism. Growing racial resentment has deepened the conservatism of right-wing Republicans, and contributed to their total rejection of President Obama and the Democratic Party in 2010 and 2012.

It’s worth noting the real disputes over the racial resentment scale. Over the years, a growing group of political scientists have questioned the actual influence of ideology on anti-black attitudes….In this narrative, opposition to race-conscious policies has less to do with outright animus, and more with a belief in equal opportunity and a desire to treat people fairly.

But the divide between racism and ideology isn’t so neat—as has been true throughout American history, beliefs about race are hard to separate from political ideology.

No, it’s not neat at all, and Jamelle’s post is worth a read. But I’d like to suggest a subtly different explanation for the apparent rise in racial resentment over the past few years. This comes from a long email a friend sent me about various options the conservative movement has for boosting its electoral fortunes, and in particular, various options Fox News has for helping out on this score:

Certainly one suggestion would be to replace the morning crew (they’re stale, unreformed, a standard SNL joke, and a limitless font of offensiveness) and cut out the -ist comments that emanate daily from their shows. And maybe stop being a one-stop shop for inane stories featurning everyday black people doing or saying dumb things. This is a huge attraction to Fox. (When conservative colleagues / family mention Fox to me, it’s usually in the context of a wide-eyed explanation of a story on Fox showing how stupid minorities or minority individuals are.)

This stuff really animates the base and Fox knows it. It’s bigotry porn. And it just helps to makes conservatives radioactive to the groups that Republicans need to broaden their appeal. So, if you want to rebrand and broaden the appeal of Fox (and the Republicans) while keeping it conservative, aggressively ditching the cheap and not so veiled bigotry might be a productive place to start. I’m open to hearing arguments that bigotry is not an intrinsic value of the conservative ideology (and God knows Goldberg, Lowry, Ponnuru, Douthat, Brooks, Frum and others breathlessly try to advance this argument despite actual and continuing evidence to the contrary), but that’s a big sales job. But a necessary one.

Is this “ideology”? Is it pandering? Is it pure commercialism? It’s not easy to say. In the end, it’s sort of a mushy blend of all those things. But I’d submit that to the extent we’ve truly seen an increase in racial resentment, a good part of it is due not to either pure ideology or to pure racial animus per se, but to active editorial decisions made by Fox News. The summer of hate in 2010 was the most jaw-dropping example of this, but in more modest form it’s been visible during Obama’s entire first term. And of course, Drudge and Rush Limbaugh play the same game.

When does it end?


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