Preface. This is a book review that has key excerpts of “Foxocracy”, by Tobin Smith, who worked at Fox for 14 years and was friends with Roger Ailes as well as the staff that decided what the propaganda of the day would be. He learned all about the psychology behind the show, including using techniques of Nazi propaganda.
What’s most alarming to me is that millions of families have been torn apart when members have gone down the foxhole, and that the show is addictive because like a sports and World Wrestling Entertainment, the right-wing newscasters win every time against liberal punching-bags. It’s a good feeling for the majority of fox viewers, many of them among the 54% of America’s working poor who are barely getting by.
The Trump WWE fans don’t care if the game is rigged, they know WWE is rigged, but are addicted to the fuzzy warm feelings they get when the good guy wins. So they also don’t mind being fooled by Fox, it makes them feel good. Top that off with a large percentage of Fox viewers being evangelists who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. Who could possibly be easier to fool? They don’t want facts, they don’t care about facts, they are cult members who will likely never snap out of it.
Short of getting Fox off the air because it’s harmful to viewers health (which Smith makes the case for below), you can take action now by boycotting FOX advertisers listed here: These are Fox News’ leading advertisers
Alice Friedemann www.energyskeptic.com author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report
Smith, T. 2020. Foxocracy: Inside the Network’s Playbook of Tribal Warfare. Diversion books.
Foxholes result in many cases the estrangement from family and longtime friends for tens of millions of Americans who are not similarly possessed with such zealous feelings of rage and revenge.
Under the pretense of being a news channel, Roger Ailes, his producers, and I created a new form of televised psychological warfare. Fox dupes the viewer into thinking they are watching “the news.” Fox made Republican Party propaganda infomercials disguised as talk show segments. The older, 94% white audience thought they were watching “the news” (and still do). The reason was the decades of conditioning they had from watching the previous form of televised news programming from the three political news networks—ABC, CBS, and NBC.
Alyson Camerota was a colleague of mine at Fox News for many years and co-host on Fox & Friends. She notes that for years the show’s producers would “cull far-right, crackpot websites” for content, and adds, “Never did I hear anyone worry about getting a second source. The single phrase I heard over and over was ‘This is going to outrage the audience!’ You inflame the viewers so that no one will turn away. Those were the Fox News standards.
The American Foxocracy is a $10 billion a year business model based solely on the fact that evolution failed to prepare our reptilian caveman brain to binge watch white tribal identity porn that activates and monetizes white tribal fear and hatred—and the $140 billion emotion surveillance and hyper-targeting social media industry then retargets and remonetizes that fear and hate to an audience thirty times bigger than Fox’s cable audience.
Roger Ailes never forgot the lesson: TV viewers love the feeling of watching their hero win. It’s well known in the TV industry that Ailes admitted he fixed the “debates” he produced for Richard Nixon in 1972—Roger was indeed the originator and master of the fixed outcome TV debate program.
The motive behind fixing a Fox News opinion program is no different than the motive behind fixing game shows in the 1950s (busted in 1959) or WWE wrestling matches after that (busted in 1994): to keep the audience emotionally engaged. The most popular game shows in the ’50s were the ones with winners who won multiple games. Game shows of the late 1950s were always produced with live audiences, and when a champion became a multi-show winner, the audience would not leave! Winners of The $64,000 Question became cult heroes.
The five key emotional pillars of the Fox News tribal warfare playbook are: 1) Existential white tribal fear 2) Bitter hatred and feelings of disrespect 3) Blasphemous outrage 4) Visceral bitter resentment 5) Victimhood and blame of “elites” and “others
From facebook likes, twitter, and other feedback, Fox News knows exactly what will enrage their most emotionally vulnerable users and will lead with these stories.
WWE, SPORTS TEAM ANALOGIES
You may think you already understand Fox News’s opinion programming; that it is nothing more than highly choreographed and rigged WWE-like performance art carefully designed to deliver a confirmation bias rich 24/7 tribal-validation feedback loop to its core tribal partisan base/addicts.
And just like a WWE wrestling match, FNC producers create and fix the outcome of their white tribal identity segments from back to front. They start by defining the viewers’ accepted tribal partisan ideology. Then they script and choreograph the order of the talking head opinion sequence to reach the ultimate conclusion. And just like a WWE or reality show producer, Fox News producers and hosts are trained to script and choreograph a carefully orchestrated set of what TV producers and executives like to call “moments”.
Make sure you hit the audience’s most powerful emotional triggers in a very precise sequence—and then squeeze out every possible ounce of drama or outrage possible before the conservative hit man drops the liberal opponent like an anvil to end the segment in a righteous victory for the Foxocracy.
You will understand and recognize this scripted eight-point emotional moment journey from fear to victory in a different light.
The viewer sees and/or hears the “Fox News Alert” or cold-open tribal heresy or threat (even though the opinion show is not a news program at all). The amygdala (your brain’s danger and risk assessment system) subconsciously decides that this is a fight-or-flight event and provides the viewer an adrenaline, cortisol, and epinephrine boost. The Fox host then purposely scares the crap out of or pisses off the viewer with sound-on-tape B-roll (known as a “SOT” in TV lingo) of a liberal politician/celebrity/talking head impugning, insulting, or mocking the viewer’s right-wing tribal belief system/orthodoxy. The viewer naturally enters active tribal mode, with the tribal brain kicking in. The viewer’s risk-assessing amygdala silently shouts, “Say it again, and I’ll punch you out!” The tribal enemy (aka libtard) stands his/her ground, repeating the pronouncement and tribal heresy with more authority. The right-wing host and paid contributor heroes step in, coming to the defense of the right-wing tribe, rhetorically punching the tribal enemy in the nose for the viewer. Boom! The fight-or-flight adrenaline rush the viewer got from the opening tribal threat is replaced with a nice big dose of the brain chemical dopamine. The dopamine sets the viewer into anticipation of another tribal victory. With the thrill of victory triggered by the validation of tribal orthodoxy and feelings of continued safety, the viewer’s brain now releases the good stuff—serotonin, the opiate-like chemical.
Repeat, repeat, and repeat. Imagine what happens to a 68-year-old viewer going through this highly choreographed fear-to-victory roller coaster thousands and thousands of times. Every seven or eight minutes you are made fearful and then made surer of the righteousness of your white conservative team, and it feels great to see and hear evidence that makes your team the winner and superior to your tribal enemy.
This why they don’t mind being grifted: For the average Fox News viewer, who feels they are in a constant mental state of siege, traumatic victimhood, and cultural persecution, their visit to Fox News’s tribalized right-wing righteousness confirmation bias mental health spa is the best part of their day.
The liberal crash dummy
The “left-winger” guest was a no-name non-threatening “DemoPublican” already way out of his/her league on the issue in the first place; in 14 years I never participated in an “opinion debate” segment that in any way was produced to be fair or in any way balanced.
The liberal crash dummy prop the segment producer booked to be sacrificed on the right-wing economic altar would open the segment with something like, “No one sophisticated in economics measures US inflation rates including the monthly price swings in gasoline/oil or commodities. What matters to the stock market is the inflation trend, and that trend is blah blah.” Then I would hit the liberal with my carefully constructed, scripted, and rehearsed rhetorical kill shot. The performance was to mix sarcasm and snark for the enemy liberal with a smile to support the mindset of the viewer at home. By this time, I had mastered the machine gun + machete liberal disembowelment strike and could do it in my sleep.
At home, the right-wing tribal partisan viewer cheered, “Yeah, baby! Way to go, Toby; screw that know-it-all liberal socialist! That segment happened a thousand times in my experience at Fox News. It was like the movie Groundhog Day—always the same.
When that hero on your screen is not just someone off the street but a man or woman the viewer knows and has trusted for years as a tribal blood brother, the viewer-pundit connection is visceral and ten times stronger. The Fox News analyst or contributor who delivers tribal victory for years becomes a hero to the FNC addict. That’s why Fox News has so many hosts and talking heads that have been in their positions for years and years: The more the viewer trusts them and the better their Q (likeability) scores, the more valuable they are to the rigged-outcome opinion segments.
If you are the host’s go-to hit man, it’s much more dramatic and visually compelling to rhetorically kill the libtard enemy face-to-face in-studio than from a satellite location. Most of our liberal guests were in New York City for the taping for that reason,
I once asked Ailes who the target audience was and he replied “White, fat, balding, age 55-to-dead. A red state Midwest conservative guy sitting at home in his favorite chair with a remote control surgically attached to his hand. After the producers and host scares the shit out of him, he wants to see you tear those smug condescending know-it-all East Coast liberals to pieces . . . limb by limb. These guys hate liberals because liberals hate America—they all hate capitalism—and they think anyone waving an American flag on the Fourth of July is a gap-toothed, slack-jawed hillbilly. They also think they are all better than you and guys like me. To them I’m a small towner hick from the sticks. Of course, they all went to a better college than me too. They are so smug and so much smarter and richer. “
Their hatred of liberalism and liberals and cultural PC-ism is bitter and visceral, too. They too have metastasized and bone-marrow-level hurt feelings from the disrespect and condescension they feel they get from every corner of liberal America. To them Fox News is like a campfire where they can safely huddle around and feel pride about themselves and their close pals.
Today the Fox News talk show segments really just work one overall macro narrative grift: “Retro American culture and religion (and guns—always guns) are under a massive existential siege by hordes of Metro American liberals and immigrants. If we don’t go to tribal war against those viperous left-wing socialists and immigrants of color who constantly disrespect you/your culture/our God, you are going to lose what is left of your crumbling grip on economic and white cultural power.
Fox News started the $10 billion a year tribal identity porn industry in America and others followed. Today’s America features a huge commercial digital media industry that monetizes cultural and political fear and hatred by staging gladiatorial cage matches featuring well-dressed proxies of Metro vs. Retro America as cathartic and ego-gratifying entertainment products.
The Human Toll
The damage of culturally and/or politically tribalized and desocialized Foxhole dads, moms, sisters, and brothers is atomized—it happens one family at a time. It’s like that Nigerian Prince email scam where a person gets an email from a “Nigerian Prince” who desperately needs to get money out of Nigeria, and if you will just send him your bank account number, he will send you $2.5 million.
When someone falls for that grift and becomes a walking, talking Foxhole—no one talks about it! That is the beauty of that grift—it was kept quiet for decades by the people that were grifted because they were embarrassed to admit they got taken!
pollster Frank Luntz measured how deep the disease of tribalized partisan identity had become in America: over 80 million people.
This has resulted in an uncountable number of divorces. Tens of millions of important and emotionally nurturing friendships and family relationships have been poisoned. A growing number of senior-aged Americans suffering from chronic and deadly isolation following the loss of nurturing family relationships and friendships poisoned by their constant hyper-partisan zealotry.
Public health data states that the top reason for elder estrangement is “pushing away family and friends.” For many, isolation leads to a chronic loneliness that (according to the latest research) brings them up to a 60 percent higher risk of premature death.
Resentment is “the feeling of indignation in reaction to a real or perceived slight, a sense of insult or inadequacy caused by the actions, comments, or simple existence of someone or something else. You experience resentment when you feel that you’re not getting your fair share while someone else is getting more than their fair share. And boy oh boy, does cultural and political tribal resentment trigger feelings of hate, anger, and outrage—the addictive trifecta of tribal partisan pornography. Short-term resentment actually helps to boost self-esteem by allowing Fox viewers to blame others for their problems.
Resentment is highly toxic. A 2011 clinical review of the emotional and physiological effects of anger and resentment on the body showed that chronic bitterness can slow metabolism, immune-system function, and organ function.
In the old pre-internet days, it used to take decades to create a wild-eyed foam-at-the-mouth hyperpartisan—you know—that crazy uncle who sees a conspiracy behind everything and won’t shut up about it. Today that radicalization process takes only a few years—or even months.
Fox News tribal identity addiction falls into the category that addiction professionals call a “process addiction.” Neuroscience has proven that when anyone with a process addiction partakes in his/her binge behavior of choice—whether that behavior is eating, using the internet, gambling, consuming sexual pornography, or watching Fox News’s partisan opinion programming—the reaction in the brain is the same.
It’s the swing and range of emotions from impending threat of doom and then a real glimmer of hope that is the Foxhole spiral which hooks the viewers’ attention, gains their interest, creates desire for a tribal victory, and activates the involuntary reflex of self-esteem-building chemicals with a righteous tribal victory.
Social media makes matters even worse
In Facebook and Google/YouTube’s case, they know exactly which segment of Fox News white tribal identity porn is engaging best in real time across two hundred forty million Americans. This hyper-targeting is one of the intended consequences of this so-called surveillance capitalism industry. But this emotional predation on social media platforms produced consequences that their twenty-something-aged founders never thought about while they were coding their algorithms (can you say “Russian trolls” or “social media addiction?”). And they perform this emotional predation with zero cost for the content and zero liability for any of the unintended consequences—even when a white supremacist radicalized by online hate groups commits mass murder livestreamed on his Facebook page for the entire world to see– zero liability! Every click and like and share is just another data point hoovered up into their engagement assessment and targeting machine.
A book publisher and author can be sued for libel if they knowingly make a false claim about someone or some company—they can be sued for “irreparable harm and emotional damages.” But if that irreparable harm and very real emotional damage came from social media distribution, no dice—Facebook is allowed to monetize as much fear and hate porn as they possibly can—so they do.
That it literally has changed the outcome of American presidential elections and destroyed millions of family and friend relationships should no longer be surprising—because the whole activating and amplifying white tribal identity grift was the big idea of Fox News from the beginning.
Making more tribally activated and angry Americans is the explicit business model of Planet Fox. After twenty-five years of practice, Fox News’s radioactive right-wing partisan brain dust is now being absorbed into the emotional brains of one hundred million people per month for the sole purpose of monetizing the attention of their angry, lonely, and disaffected victims with ads and content licensing fees.
As social scientist Crispin Sartwell shares in his recent Wall Street Journal article, detesting your political enemies is an immensely satisfying feeling. Why? Sartwell writes, “Because the compensatory pleasures of hatred—in particular its enhancement of self-esteem—are underrated. Hatred is self-congratulatory. It involves expressing superiority to its objects, and patting yourself on the back for not being them. When you declare your opponents to be obviously evil and stupid, you are congratulating not only yourself but the people who agree with you for being intelligent and good.
Cognitive psychologists tell us motivated cognition is the act of innately deciding what you want to believe and then using your cognitive reasoning power to build a case in your mind that proves your belief.
Humans primarily use our unique ability to reason in order to figure out how best to ingratiate and integrate ourselves into our chosen tribe. Turns out our ability to band together and work together for shared goals (like kill those pesky Vikings who kept invading my native Scottish home in the old days) was a primary weapon of survival.
But we might as well call this cognitive phenomenon “motivated ignorance.” In 2019 not much has changed in our brains from our caveman ancestors. We still primarily use our brain to keep in good standing with our selected tribe—not so much for protection now but to feel the warm emotions of belonging to a like-minded tribe. We also want to avoid the pain of cognitive dissonance (the extreme discomfort felt when those who hold core beliefs are presented with evidence that disproves those beliefs). For the tribalized Fox News viewer or proud Deplorable, new contrary evidence simply cannot be processed or accepted—it does not pass through your cognitive dissonance force field.
Many of these Foxhole addicts feel they are actively and not just vicariously participating in a culture war by watching their partisan blood brothers and sisters on Fox News and Foxnews.com fighting the righteous and heroic fight on their TV screen or digital device against the hated liberals/ libtards/ socialists who they viscerally feel attack and threaten their virtue. Disrespect their culture. Are trying to take away their way of making a living. Disparage their inerrant Evangelical Bible. Insult their immortal savior Jesus Christ. And, of course, are manically driven to confiscate the guns that they own, in part, as an insurance policy against the coming civil war they are told a hundred times each week by conservative media is coming to America “soon.”
No one seems to understand how and why they need to slow down and detoxify these Foxhole fever victims to a healthy level where they can reengage with their estranged family and friends.
The effect on right-wing Republican Brains, health, and lifespan
Fox News’s experiment in clandestine emotional predation and manipulation “jumped the rails” and morphed into an emotional plague. Two things happened to this powerful white tribal identity content that they never thought would happen or ever dreamed would happen: One is emotionally vulnerable senior aged cable viewers (the current median age of Fox News viewers is 68) who already on average watched 7.2 hours of television per day started binge-watching Fox News seven to eight minute white tribal attack ads disguised as a “political or cultural debate” for 3-5 hours every day. Neither the producers nor I ever considered what would happen to a person’s state-of-mind and general behavior if an older person marinated their brain in thousands of hours per year of the most emotionally powerful televised attack ads and GOP propaganda instead of just a few random minutes of attack ads during election seasons. And then the biggest unexpected and emotionally powerful event of all: What would happen if a new technology called “social media” took their already emotionally powerful hyperpartisan attack ads and diced the most emotionally engaging ones (which they knew to target from their emotional surveillance data) into three-minute digital grenades that would saturate bomb one hundred million people every month via social media streaming?
Their life expectancy (depending on age and where they live) is about 15 years less than a person the same age living behind my gated neighborhood in Metro America.
The tribal identity porn spiral is similar to the softcore-to-hardcore sexual porn spiral. They both deliver the same powerful and pleasurable neurochemicals we humans have in our massive brains. if you are a committed conservative, how do you feel the nanosecond you see a picture of Hillary or Obama? If you are a committed liberal or NeverTrump conservative, how do you feel the nanosecond you see Mr. Trump speaking?
Our human psychology has a backdoor, and it is very hackable—by fear. Fear suggests loss. Fear involuntarily causes stress. Fear paints a picture of necessary response; thus, stress also involuntarily induces a strong desire to do something. But much of Fox News induced stress is nonactionable—you can’t throw a brick through the TV,
You can’t drive down to the Mexican border with a shotgun and protect America from invasion. You can’t even stop those “wetbacks” from hanging around the back of Home Depot and stealing good American jobs or fly to China and get your steel foundry job or auto assembly job back
Psychologists I consulted with on this book say this amount of constant and unresolved fear and stress can create a condition that’s a cousin to a PTSD. For tens of millions of self-identified “proud conservatives/ Deplorables/Republicans”—especially ones over age fifty-five living in the 2,626 counties in Retro America that voted Trump—the unintended consequence of them living constantly inside the digital Foxocracy are almost all mentally and physically negative. So yes—for Fox News and its incarnate offspring Donald Trump and Trumpism, “fear is a business strategy—it does keep people watching.
The latest data from ten separate neurological research projects on fear-induced trauma since 2005 has proven that fear works especially well with self-identified conservatives because they are neurologically hardwired with up to 25 percent more intense reaction to fearful images.
Let’s all admit that when nearly a third of American adults have stopped speaking to hopelessly estranged parents, brothers, sisters, and longtime friends, we have a large and genuine cultural crisis (and a public health crisis too) in America of our own making.
When it comes to emotional intensity, TV is ten times more emotionally impactful than radio because humans communicate emotions through facial expressions and gestures, not voice (conservative radio jocks aren’t singing!). Fox News addicts suffering from desocialized Foxhole syndrome truly are not consciously aware that their desocialized behavior is the primary cause for their estrangement from family and friends. In fact, my research shows quite the opposite: These poor folks can’t for the life of them understand how they gave birth to or became friends with “such idiot libtards. Pollster Frank Luntz’s reports that nearly 33% of American adults report they are estranged from at least one close family member or friend over “irreconcilable political differences.”
How to enrage a Fox viewer
The 2007–2009 Great Recession, which brutally destroyed the finances and primary wealth repository for many of FNC’s 95% white Retro American viewers (their home equity). Viewers accurately perceived Metro Americans and elites and Wall Street got bailed out by the federal government while they were left to the wolves to fend for themselves. Embers of socioeconomic and class resentment were, by Fox News, fanned into raging fires (remember the Tea Party? Who put dozens of angry white Tea Party leaders on the air for thousands of hours? Fox News).
Many fox viewers are in the working poor: 115 million Americans, two-thirds of American households
The economic torpedoing of both Retro and parts of Metro America created a new, vast, and uniquely American socioeconomic class—America’s working poverty class. Forty-two percent of Americans don’t make $15 an hour. Forty-five percent of America’s 155 million households can’t scrape up more than $400 in cash liquidity in a pinch. Seventy-two percent of all American households live paycheck to paycheck. About 90% of Americans have experienced stagnant or declining wages since 1980.
Working poverty households—ALICE Households (Asset Light, Income Constrained, and Working.)—are defined as having a household income above the poverty line but below the median household income of $62,000. They are juggling (and sometimes missing) one or two payments a month of basic minimum middle-class life. This means they are one lost job, one injury, or one auto accident away from moving in with a relative or going on State/Federal assistance. This means about 115 million Americans now experience chronic economic trauma. If you add the additional 14 million households in actual poverty, twenty-first-century capitalism is not working for nearly two-thirds of American households.
The descending income and wealth of the American working poverty class fueled the ascension of Fox News’s powerful tribal blame, resentment, and victimization narratives—which in turn fueled the ascension of the Donald Trump’s Presidential Apprentice TV reality show.
Nazi and past propaganda consequences
There have always been serious unintended consequences from media-based tribal identity activation and amplification spirals.
The sinking of the USS Maine on the night of February 15, 1898, supposedly from hitting a Spanish mine hidden in Havana, Cuba’s harbor, created the opportunity to unleash a huge moral panic storyline that lasted months. “Remember the Maine!” was headline news in newspaper articles that urged the United States to “do the only moral thing we can do” and go to war against Spain. Because of that newspaper-driven moral panic, we did go to war with Spain. We also destroyed seven-eighths of Spain’s navy (of which one unintended consequence was the Spanish Civil War in the early 1930s).
Radio preacher Coughlin became disenchanted with Roosevelt’s leadership and began to espouse extreme right-wing views. By the late 1930s, he’d become an outright Fascist sympathizer with an audience of more than thirty million every week. He was eventually forced off the air in 1939 because of his pro-Fascist and anti-Semitic rhetoric.
TV was once regulated, it should be again
Electronic tribal identity capitalism started with the dawn of radio and was first mastered (not surprisingly) by Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. After seeing the immense political power and cultural impact of radio the Nazis used, Congress did not wait to regulate TV
Congress passed strict laws that highly regulated television content via local spectrum licenses that had strong “follow our public affairs debate rules to the letter or you lose your valuable TV license” teeth. The three national TV networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, were even prevented from owning more than a few local “affiliates” to ensure that no political partisanship bled onto the American airwaves. But Congress did more than just regulate. They also established a public interest standard that mandated companies using the public’s airwaves produce a significant amount of noncommercial “public affairs” content for the good of the citizens. They also mandated a Fairness Doctrine “label” that required news media journalists to seek out credible representatives of different viewpoints and political power for this clearly labeled editorial content. Both political sides had to be represented by spokespeople of reasonably equal political gravitas. All the political or cultural back and forth—ironically labeled the “fair and balanced” rule—had to be included in one or more continuing segments and not one-minute sound bites. These public affairs editorial interviews had no commercial advertising and up until the late 1970s were performed live.
TV regulation worked. The rates and size of political polarization and tribalized partisanship (according to social and political scientists) stayed within normal healthy ranges (that is, a normal percentage range of political hyperpartisans on both sides).
But regulation began to change in the 1980s when national cable TV, the personal computer (which brought in the real information distribution and communication disruptor the World Wide Web in 1994), and the introduction of wireless digital voice and text communication devices were invented.
The FCC finally figured out the WWE fixed outcome wrestling “match” scam in 1994 and made them change their name to “entertainment” and disclose their “wrestling match” charade. The FCC figured out the fixed game shows in the late 1950s and shut them down. The FCC even kicked most televangelists off network TV stations and UHF channels (who then just regrouped to form Christian cable TV channels). Why has the FCC not called out and fixed the Fox News “fair and balanced” rigged opinion debate scam?
the Fairness Doctrine was created by the Congress in 1949 because they were so afraid that if one of the three major national networks were to be owned or controlled by a “political partisan,” that network could imbue its left or right political and cultural view on a third of America and have undue influence on our democratic election process.
The removal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 was like the FDA removal of the two-day dosage of OxyContin. That regulatory shift set the table for the Fox News scam
FOX, Evangelism, and right-wing radio: a country within a country
Fox News has to compete with conservative radio’s forty million daily listeners and the Evangelical megachurch evangelists and televangelist culture warriors who reach the one-in-four Americans who self-identify as “Evangelical Christians.
We now have for all intents and purposes a completely separate country-within-a-country that is digitally interconnected with God, guns, megachurches, and political, cultural, and religious evangelists and Fox News televangelists spreading the good word of white nationalism. That self-reinforcing Foxhole spiral feedback loop now includes Bible study, Sunday services, and the White House briefing room too.
In the past it could take much of a lifetime or more for a real and not imagined existential tribal enemy narrative to take hold. The tribal enemy narrative had to be passed down from clergy to grandparent to parents to children and then a cultural spark was required to ignite ethnic or cultural or political tribalism before it became activated, and this digital tribal identity activation spiral is not only happening in America. From the “Spring Awakening” in the Middle East, the UK’s Brexit, the rise of white tribal supremacy groups in Europe, and even to the digital recruitment of tens of thousands of ISIS jihadists, evidence of the tribal identity activation power of digital fear and hate tribalism propaganda is in nearly every country in the world.
The Fox Audience: white men, retirees, the working poor – prone to believing conspiracy theories
It’s mainly white men because they are generally more culturally resentful and more prideful than older women, plus they have fewer close friend relationships. The evening audience is the core Fox News base—they are the (for the most part) more white working and lower middle class or retirees that are addicted to Fox News. Their main TV is on Fox News all day—we know this from the Nielsen reports.
The actual act of believing in conspiracy theories is a psychological construct for these folks to seize back some semblance of control of their lives. It inflates their sense of importance—ring a bell? The self-worth building attraction is the key: By believing the conspiracy, it makes those people feel they are privy to “special knowledge” that the rest of the world is “too blind,” “too dumb,” or “too corrupt” to understand.
Many Fox viewers are vulnerable to believing conspiracy theories. What drives conspiracy theory behavior and makes conspiracy cult leaders so powerful is the psychological profile of conspiracy theory fans—that they are among the most low self-esteem people on earth. The conspiracies they hold onto are a tribal belief system or psychological construct created to mentally survive in a world they perceive to be haphazard, scary, and unfair.
Key Word: “unfair.” Ever hear or read that term “unfair” in a speech or tweet from Donald J. Trump? Since his POTUS announcement in July 2015, he has spoken or tweeted the word “unfair” over one 1500 times. So yes, dear friends—the behavior of the president of the United States and most powerful person in the world is the epitome of the classic conspiracy theory nut profile.
How to be a successful Fox host
You gotta talk, act, and think like you are a religious cult leader. The most successful Fox News hosts have literally become leaders of their own Evangelical denomination that meets every weeknight at the same time. Their audience worships at the altar of the host’s version of conservatism because conservatism in America is just a nice way of hiding the fact that tribal right-wing political fundamentalism is more like a religious cult than anything else.
My executive producer once told me “to act like a cult leader/televangelist and write your scripts like you are a cult leader and only you have the answers to your audience’s questions and fears. To kill it here at Fox News prime time, you have to understand the subconscious ID of the audience and get into their unconscious need for feeling pleasure and feeling better about themselves.”
Partisan tribal social identification is more important to everyday people than political ideology. When you understand the incredible power and potency of partisan identity politics, I could get anyone to believe just about anything I said as long as they identified me as a fellow conservative partisan.
Most people don’t watch tribal TV (or vote for that matter) for what they ideologically want. They watch tribal TV to validate and revalidate who they are, and for the binary that proves once again their chosen tribe is the light and the other tribe is darkness. That moral righteousness and superiority is self-esteem gold.
A high percentage of Fox viewers are Evangelical or Pentecostal
Richard Hofstadter recognized that evangelical leaders were playing a significant role in right-wing movements of his time, but he noticed that a ‘fundamentalist’ style of mind was not confined to matters of religious doctrine. It affected opinions about secular affairs, especially political battles. Hofstadter associated that mentality with a ‘Manichean [the ancient religion based on its belief in a binary world only comprised of darkness and light] and apocalyptic’ mode of thought. He noticed that right-wing spokesmen applied the methods and messages of evangelical revivalists to U.S. politics. Agitated partisans on the right talked about epic clashes between good and evil, and they recommended extraordinary measures to resist liberalism. The American way of life was at stake, they argued. Compromise was unsatisfactory; the situation required militancy. Nothing but complete victory would do.
Modern conservatism is political fundamentalism + tribalism + cult.
The American Foxocracy tribal right-wing media ecosystems conspiracy fantasies work because (a) an ignorant info-siloed audience is easily duped—as recent research shows Fox News viewers know less about the news than people who don’t watch news at all.
Fox viewers will believe whatever the fox tribe is selling because of their tribal identity
In a political race, what you are selling is free membership into your candidate’s tribe and the pitch is ‘In my tribe, you and your family will be safer than the other tribe economically, physically, spiritually, culturally, and racially. In the other tribe, you will be less safe. In the other tribe, you will be dangerously exposed to unnecessary risk.
Dear voter, you and I have to keep that other tribe from power—by any means. This election is existential; your safety and your families’ safety are at risk if we don’t.’
The idea that people vote for or don’t vote for what they ‘want’ is wrong. What they vote for is who they feel they are—who they consider their home team to be. White conservatives are proud tribe members, so they believe in all the same orthodoxy and liturgy they hear over and over and over again. If you know a person is a self-identified ‘conservative’—you also know where they stand on guns, on abortion, on the military, on taxes, on immigration, yadda yadda.
The geriatric Fox News audience is unified under one global emotional umbrella: They viscerally feel the country they morally, culturally, politically, and economically understand isn’t here anymore. They are both pissed off about it and, at the same time, scared existentially shitless about this sorry state of affairs they viscerally feel and perceive.
Fox News viewers constantly rate as knowing less about American news than Americans who watch zero televised news.
What happened when the author told Fox watchers they were being conned, suckered
After I told thousands of these true believers in the lecture halls and Q&A sessions time and time again that they (like the proverbial poker game) were being played as suckers in Fox News’s fake fair-and-balanced opinion panel grift and all we were doing was a seven-minute pro wrestling match in $2,000 Brioni suits, they: Didn’t care. Or didn’t believe me. Or didn’t understand the concept of grifting.
Why didn’t they care? Why were they not outraged in the slightest about being lied to and manipulated by me and Fox News and monetized to the tune of billions of dollars every year in profits? Why do these same mostly Evangelical people not care a lick about the integrity or mendacity or immoral behavior of the person they undoubtedly voted for POTUS in 2016?
Almost 80 percent of Fox News viewers think Sean Hannity is a “journalist. That’s how a great grift works—the person being grifted doesn’t know it, doesn’t want to believe it.
Fox viewers most likely to share fake news on social media
Recent social media sharing data shows that the worst forwarders of truly fake news (from Russian trolls, etc.) are—wait for it—people over 55!
July 2015. On my office TV I watched in astonishment as a real life WWE Hall of Fame grifter and longtime, hard core binge-watching Foxhole (the same certifiable crazy blowhard ignoramus I, as a guest anchor, had interviewed multiple times for Fox Business) glided down a gold-tinged escalator in Trump Tower NYC just like the old Gorgeous George pro wrestling character I had watched as a kid. I watched, mortified, as this real estate mogul who had inherited every advantage and now had become a low-rent reality TV grifter—the one and thankfully only Donald J. Trump—morphed into a professional Foxhole. Trump performed a flawless twenty-minute Fox News opinion host impersonation to the entire world—and without a Fox News opinion segment producer!
Trump’s only deviation from our emotional grift was to dispense with the coded racial language and metaphors used at Fox News and actually call Mexicans “rapists and murderers!
He morphed into a Fox News opinion televangelist clone and was channeling the highly trained conservative populist performance artist Pat Buchanan too. As a candidate, he said things and used words that if I used them on the air, I would have been fired. He used every Roger Ailes/Fox News production trick you’ll find in this book. And since this book that you are reading did not exist, he had amazingly absorbed the entire Fox News tribal warfare playbook via osmosis—and I am sure ten thousand hours of “executive time” watching Fox News.
He spoke simply, at the fifth-grade level I was taught to use by Fox producers
Trump gave his mostly Fox News audience what they had only dreamed of: permission to break free. “Thank you, Jesus!” they exclaimed—and strangest of all, the most religious part of the Foxocracy really did say “Thank you, Jesus and God, for giving us this thrice married, porn star banging, pathological liar and all-around sociopath Donald Trump!
I also could not help but notice that the #MAGA/“Lock Her Up” T-shirt wearing folks spoke exactly like Trump.
They had binge-watched thousands of hours of fake Fox News “debates.” Those stadiums were packed with a lot of Foxholes. They also had been preconditioned for Trumpism from forty years of listening to right-wing talk radio in their cars and trucks. They loved all the “trumped up” accusations and half-baked truths he was slinging because he validated and normalized what they already had come to subjectively believe as objective “facts” for decades.
More important, they wanted to believe his delusions and illusions as objective fact, like WWE wrestling fans do. Trump’s Deplorables were on the same page because they spoke the same language, and he was selling a more intense version of the shows they’d been binge-watching on FNC for twenty years.
What I never expected was that the audience would soon number some 65 million, or 35% of all American voters in 2016.
One consequence was that the “failing” New York Times reached $1 billion in digital-only subscriptions in 2019. When Trump first went down the escalator in Trump Tower, they were losing money.
He said everything I could not say on TV—overtly racist things on live TV and on Twitter. If I had said these things, it would have gotten me fired or kicked off Twitter.
People over 55 became the fastest-growing audience for Facebook and Twitter. Unfriending Deplorable “Trumpers” in a blaze of sanctimonious glory became its own glorious sporting event.
They did not care about his profound mental, professional, and moral deficiencies. They called the Washington Post and CNN and the New York Times and NBC and other media outlets “fake news” and “enemies of the people” as if they were all of a sudden living in some neofascist banana republic.
And then—just like Jesus of Nazareth—the Donald of Queens disciples did come and join him—although he taught them quite a different set of the Beatitudes except the 11th one—“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
They had finally found their profane anti-PC and anti-Obama messiah, and to mix metaphors, they flocked to see his unscripted shit show just to hear him say something that they knew their hated PC crowd would find outrageous
I hoped I could help prove to anyone that would listen that Trump’s shtick was just a nuclear-powered version of a Fox News host but with the added risk of an actual nuclear disaster.
2017-1-18 Forty percent of Americans who said they voted for Donald Trump said they relied on Fox News as their main source of election news before Nov. 8, a stark contrast with Americans who said they voted for Hillary Clinton, only 3 percent of whom relied on the cable news channel as their main source of election-related news. The findings, from a study released by the Pew Research Center.
Although 37 percent of Republicans overall said that almost nothing could dissuade them from approving of Trump, more than half of Republicans whose primary news source is Fox News held that view. By contrast, only about 3 in 10 Republicans whose primary news source is something other than Fox were as solid in their support of Trump. Even Republicans without a college degree, a bastion of Trump’s support in 2016, and white evangelical Protestants were less likely to say that they expected to stick with Trump no matter what.
Matthews, D. 2017. A stunning new study shows that Fox News is more powerful than we ever imagined. Vox.
Across a variety of political and cultural attitudes, Republicans who report getting their news from Fox are significantly to the right of Republicans who don’t. Emory University political scientist Gregory Martin and Stanford economist Ali Yurukoglu estimate that if Fox News hadn’t existed, the Republican presidential candidate’s share of the two-party vote would have been 3.59 points lower in 2004 and 6.34 points lower in 2008. For context, that would’ve made John Kerry the 2004 popular vote winner, and turned Barack Obama’s 2008 victory into a landslide where he got 60 percent of the two-party vote.
In 2000, they estimate that 58 percent of Fox viewers who were initially Democrats changed to supporting the Republican candidate by the end of the election cycle; in 2004, the persuasion rate was 27%, and 28% in 2008. MSNBC, by contrast, only persuaded 8 percent of initial Republicans to vote Democratic in the 2008 cycle.
You might also want to see the documentary film by Jen Senko, which is free on Amazon prime whose description reads: “The Brainwashing of My Dad” explores the radical change of her once Democratic father to an angry right-wing fanatic after his immersion in talk radio and Fox News. She discovers this to be a powerful phenomenon that has divided families across the nation.” My own father was a Rush Limbo ditto-head and it tore our family apart for a while, but fortunately he snapped out of it because he went to both the democratic and republican clubs at a local senior center. But very few people who get sucked into the right-wing extremism cult ever emerge.