Worshiping in the ‘church’ of Fox News?


Molly Worthen can’t even spell her own name, but she writes a pretty fair think piece.

I read this one in the NYT last month, and kept forgetting to share it with you. Today, with Roy Moore possibly being elected to the U.S. Senate, seems a good day to rectify that.

The piece gets a little dry toward the end, but I want to share with you this good part at the beginning:

Over the course of the week, as Roy Moore, the Republican senatorial candidate in Alabama, faced more allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with young women and teenagers, many evangelicals leapt to his defense.

Molly Worthen

Molly Worthen

To Ms. Schiess, this is one more sign that a new ritual has superseded Sunday worship and weeknight Bible studies: a profane devotional practice, with immense power to shape evangelicals’ beliefs. This “liturgy” is the nightly consumption of conservative cable news. Liberals love to complain about conservatives’ steady diet of misinformation through partisan media, but Ms. Schiess’s complaint is more profound: Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson aren’t just purveyors of distorted news, but high priests of a false religion.

“The reason Fox News is so formative is that it’s this repetitive, almost ritualistic thing that people do every night,” Ms. Schiess told me. “It forms in them particular fears and desires, an idea of America. This is convincing on a less than logical level, and the church is not communicating to them in that same way.”

It’s no secret that humans — religious and secular alike — often act on “less than logical” impulses. Social scientists have documented our tendency to reject reliable evidence if it challenges our beliefs. Hours of tearful victims’ testimony will not deter evangelicals who see Roy Moore as the latest Christian martyr persecuted by the liberal establishment. “Their loyalties are much more strongly formed by conservative media than their churches,” Ms. Schiess said. “That’s the challenge for church leaders today, I think — rediscovering rather ancient ideas about how to form our ultimate loyalty to God and his kingdom.” …

I’ve never been much of one for badmouthing Fox News, mainly because I haven’t seen it or other cable TV news programs enough to be confident in making firm judgments.

But there is definitely something out there motivating “evangelicals” to vote for people who seem to have little to nothing to do with Christianity, and I can’t see it being church.

Something is taking the place of the gospel in these people’s thought processes. Or perhaps I should say in their guts, grabbing and holding them on a “less than logical level.”

And there’s something about that ritual of constantly watching TV, night after night, year after year, and getting hit with the same messages hundreds and thousands of times.

I’m reminded of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, in which people hear the same statements over and over in the night until they accept the truth of such statements without thinking. Indeed, they become incapable of considering the possibility that such statements might be untrue:


(Never mind that “Idiots!” bit. Bernard had something of an inferiority complex, not being respected as much as an Alpha normally would be.)

These repetitions may be even more powerful in terms of engendering aversion, even revulsion. How else does one explain Republicans who knew better voting for Trump or a write-in, because they absolutely could not bring themselves to vote for the only person in a position to stop him?

Or how do you explain good people in Alabama who see the problem with Roy Moore, but — like Sen. Shelby — simply cannot bring themselves to vote for the Democrat (again, the only person who might stop Moore from disgracing Alabama, the Republican Party and the U.S. Senate)?

Anyway, I thought it was an intriguing line of thought: What good is an hour in church once a week compared to hours of indoctrination in another sort of faith, every night for years?

35 thoughts on “Worshiping in the ‘church’ of Fox News?

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    As you know, not all my cultural associations are literary. This line in the piece, “Worship, after all, is not just something that happens in church,” inevitably made me think of “Mean Streets:

    Anybody watching “Comrade Detective?” I started watching the first episode, and was delighted to catch the homage to this scene at the very beginning:

    You don’t become a good Communist by going to meetings or memorizing the manifesto.
    You do it on the streets.
    You do it with your fists.
    The rest is bulls__t and you know it….

  2. Barry

    If you are a News and politics commentator and don’t watch the single most forceful force in republican/trump motivation, you should.

    Millions of conservatives are heavily influenced by what is said on Fox News. I know this personally because I hear people parrot Fox News hosts at church every week. I personally had a conversation with someone at church Sunday and this person was repeating talking points they had heard on Fox last week. No alternate opinion was allowed. They didn’t want to hear an opposing view. To them there was no opposing view.

    Ainsley Earhardt, formerly of WLTX, spends almost every morn8ng on Fox and Friends throwing out red meat to conservatives repeating phrases like “Christian” and “Patriot” to describe every single Trump supporter with the very obvious implication that if you don’t see it like Trump, you might not be a good Christian and probably are no patriot.

    It’s Dog Whistle 101 stuff and Fox has it down to a Science, including their red, white, and blue colored sets and graphics. That doesn’t even include their Saturday night, short cocktail dress wearing female hosts.

      1. Barry

        The only time I watch Fox is before 7am and a bit late in the afternoon.

        As I said, if you comment on politics and care to understand what motivates conservatives, ignoring Fox News isn’t a good idea.

        Conservatives are as motivated by the talking, biased folks on Fox as they are anything. It’s a cult with a good percentage of them.

        I have seen grown adults basically cursed out, in public, by stating that they didn’t like Fox News.

          1. Barry

            I understand that, but if you don’t watch it even to laugh at the bias, your missing the KEY factor in conservative motivation these days.

            The predictor for conservatives use to be church attendance, Now it’s Fox News watching habits.

            I just watched a commercial for Fox News. One of the hosts actually said “This is about Patriotism”

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          “ignoring Fox News isn’t a good idea”

          I don’t get cable. It’s not available to me.

          But even if I got those channels on my TV — here is only so much time in the day, only so much time in a life. Whenever I’ve seen it, cable TV “news” drives me crazy, regardless of the brand. I have enough aggravation.

          I read a lot. I encourage others to do the same…

          1. Barry

            That s fine if it’s not available to you.

            I am simply stating a fact: Cable News is watched by millions and the biased hosts at Fox can move polls and Republicans in Congress are afraid of them.

            Per Pew, 40% of Trump voters got their news from Fox News.

            In a paper titled “Bias in Cable News: Persuasion and Polarization,” Gregory J. Martin and Ali Yurukoglu (Standpford researchers) concluded that support from Fox News was capable of erasing as much as a 12-point lead by a Democratic candidate.




  3. Doug Ross

    In an average week, Fox News gets around 2.6 million viewers. Less than 1% of the population.. And the demographics are skewed largely to senior citizens. MSNBC and CNN get about 3 million combined. Most people with jobs and families don’t have time to watch talking heads try to hype their partisan blather.

    1. Barry

      Total viewers listed in tv ratings refers to how many are watching at any given minute. Fox leads all of cable tv most days in that category.

      What isn’t published is how many viewers watch at least a minute of a program. It’s estimated that almost 30 million people will watch a given minute of CNN at 8pm. It is estimated that the total for Fox is north of 40 million. It’s is called the Cume rating.

      And yes, Fox has the oldest audience in all of cable news. Several surveys have been done that also reveal they have the most uninformed audience too. Probably a reflection of the conspiracy theories often peddled by folks like Sean Hannity.

      1. Doug Ross

        I highly, highly doubt that 40 million number. That sounds like summing up all the viewers for all the shows. Do you have a link to back it up?

        Hannity gets about 2.5 million viewers… I’m sure there is a huge overlap of viewers with the shows before and after him. To extrapolate that out to 40 million is a huge leap.

        I can honestly state that I have never heard anyone say “Did you hear what Sean Hannity/Bill O’Reilly said last night on TV?” Never… not within my friends and acquaintances or at work… and I’ve worked pretty much all over the country in the past twenty years. The supposed influence of Fox is vastly overrated. Now, back in the day, people WOULD talk about Rush Limbaugh.. but he also hasn’t been relevant in a decade.

        1. Doug Ross

          And anyway, MSNBC and CNN do the same thing Fox does, just from the other partisan side. So it all balances out in terms of where each group of lemmings gets their daily dose of talking points spoonfed to them.

          1. Bart

            You can add HLN to the list. Amazing how many lemmings watch the so-called cable news networks. It is more difficult to glean through the various sources to find a few that will provide the least biased or slanted news and not add in their disapproving looks and furrowed eyebrow touch to something they clearly don’t agree with politically.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              And THAT is the problem with getting your news from TV, regardless of the outlet. Human being’s faces.

              Of course, their sour looks may simply reflect sour dispositions, but it affects your perception of the news.

              I don’t usually watch TV news, but my wife does, and you know who bugs me when I walk through the room and see him? Lester Holt. No matter what he’s reporting, he seems to have half a smile on his face. Or half a smirk. And it makes me wonder, What’s the joke?

              It’s probably me and not him, but it points to a problem with TV: Our human brains have evolved to read, or TRY to read, human faces, and that pollutes the information being relayed.

              READ, people. You have the best reporting in the world at your fingertips, until you hit a pay wall. And the TV stations have started providing written versions of stories on their sites, too. There’s no excuse not to read, unless you can’t…

              1. Bart

                Body language, facial expressions, and words, especially when an emphasis is placed on key words can and will have an impact and effect on the listener/viewer by the messenger. All can affect the outcome of a story or news report depending on how it is delivered, visibly and verbally.

                The subliminal messages are not an accident or unintended when broadcast from Fox, MSNBC, CNN, and other cable networks airing political opinion shows disguised as news. Perhaps one of the worst offenders ever is Bill O’Reilly followed closely by Rachael Maddow and Sean Hannity. These offenders are the very reason I no longer watch any of the low-rent faux media outlets.

                1. Doug Ross

                  I think Maddow actually believes her snarky drivel. Hannity and O’Reilly are more about playing a role and pushing buttons.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    The few times I’ve heard Rachel, two things have happened: I’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to her mind work, and I’ve disagreed with her completely.

                    But then, I’m that way. I enjoy a well-presented argument whether I’m on board or not. I enjoy the editorial pages of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal equally (but I confess a preference for The Washington Post over both). I don’t have to agree to appreciate a good argument.

                    And I find it difficult to understand people who have to agree with someone to appreciate what they have to say. That’s alien to me…

              2. Richard

                If Lester Holt bothers you, wait until Craig Melvin takes over for Matt Lauer on the Today Show. Melvin was cocky at WIS, can you imagine what he’ll be like as Mr. Morning Show? We’ll all be wishing for Bryant Gumbal to come back.

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            I’m not going to argue with you because I don’t watch them, but from that I read about them and what little I’ve seen, the only one where you have a point is MSNBC.

            The thing is, Doug, Fox EXISTS to push a worldview. It’s their niche, their gimmick, their business plan. I’ve seen and read little that indicates that about CNN. But MSNBC — I have no idea, but I’ve heard bad things…

            1. Doug Ross

              There was a time when CNN was less biased… that pretty much ended during the Bush years. They were easy on Obama for eight years.

                1. Barry

                  Jake Tapper on CNN was brutal on the Obama administration. He is also brutal on Trump.

                  You can even go back far enough and read his tweets about the Obama administration.

                  Fox News opinion hosts are there to push Trump and cheer trump. Several c9nfer with him off the air to advise him.

                  Fox and Friends in the morning is pure State TV. They exist to prop up Trump’s ego.

          3. Barry

            I don’t put msnbc or cnn in the same category as Fox. Both are biased but their entire organization isn’t bulit to push a s8ngle agenda. Fox is built to push an agenda.

            Fox host Sean Hannity talks to Trump once a week and is an admitted informal advisor.

            Fox also peddles in conspiracy theories.

  4. Doug Ross

    That’s silly analysis. Saying 34 million people may have watched Anderson Cooper for one minute is meaningless. That number would include me – I’ve stopped for a minute on Anderson Cooper’s show while flipping channels. Doesn’t mean it influenced me in any way. Fox News surely impacts SOME people, a couple million who watch it regularly… mostly older, mostly white, mostly male, mostly already leaning Republican. They are preaching to the converted, not bringing in many new converts (some, but not many).

    The fact that people in your small circle watch Fox News says more about you and them than about the country as a whole. How diverse is that group in terms of age, race, background of where they were born and lived?

    1. Barry

      Many people flip the channels back and forth in the evening,watching a minute or so of a program before switching to another. That isnt unusual at all. A lot of Americans do that every day.

      Whether it influences you is totally irrelevant. Fox bias influences enough to move polls.

      And your statement about them preaching to the choir misses the point. Of course they are largely doing that but their take on a subject or a politician is feared by Republican elected members. Their promotion of a candidate or issue is one thing. Ignoring a candidate or dismissing legislation or taking a negative view of it is another.

      “By careful design and staging Fox News manipulated (and ultimately addicted) the most vulnerable people in America to the most powerful drug cocktail ever: Visceral gut feelings of existential outrage relieved by the most powerful emotions of all . . . the thrill of your tribe’s victory over its enemy and the ultimate triumph of good over evil.” – Tobin Smith, 14 year Fox News contributor, and part time Fox Business Host


      1. Doug Ross

        “Many people flip the channels back and forth in the evening,watching a minute or so of a program before switching to another. That isnt unusual at all.”

        Yes, it is very unusual. The numbers still don’t total 40 million. And if watching a minute of a TV show means anything, that would make me a master chef, an expert on home improvement, a baseball manager, a financial analyst, and a Top Model. Only the last one is true.

          1. Doug Ross

            Better than “Barry” from “Afraid to use my name-Ville”.

            The “research” you offered had so many holes in it, it isn’t even worth discussing. Throwing numbers out there doesn’t make it correct. They ignore all other variables that could impact voting.

      2. Bart

        Thanks for the link Barry. Read the article about Ailes and don’t disagree with the content. But what is missing is that the other cable outlets followed the same blueprint but aimed their appeal to a different audience. MSNBC went all in with their programming and they threw red meat at their audience the same way Fox did. Al Sharpton as a serious political host? Schultz likewise?

        No, the females on the other cable networks didn’t have the same appeal but in their own way, they dressed to suit the targeted audience. But, the other cable networks are now following the same pattern as Fox did in the beginning. I don’t watch the programs but I do flip through channels at times. My wife watches HLN in the morning and Robin Meade is not an unattractive host and some of the more liberal leaning channels are featuring more and more attractive female reporters and hosts. ESPN, while not a news network, has seemingly embraced the tactics Ailes introduced years ago.

        If the other cable networks had not started to use the same tactics, then the story would have feet but they had to compete and in order to compete, they adapted and modified the same marketing approach as Ailes and Fox used.

        Reading some of the comments left me with one take away. Tobin Smith is seeking money using a crowdfunding site so he can write a book and perhaps make a movie about his 14 years at Fox. A link to the site was included in almost every reply he posted. One camp will always welcomes defectors from the other camp as long as they are useful.

        Agree or not, successful marketing is a success because it targets specific audiences and addresses and supplies a need. The rapid changes in social attitudes and economic concerns will have an impact on an older audience because the change from what is familiar to something new or alien is frightening and the fear of change is a powerful emotion for most older members of our society.

        Leap forward another 20 – 30 years and the 35 – 55 demographic of today will be susceptible to a Roger Ailes type marketing strategy that will appeal to and play on their fears.

        In the quest to gain viewing audiences, networks will copy what others are doing if it is successful.

        I am a fan of great quotes and one of my favorites is from Godfather II when Michael Corelone told Senator Pat Geary, “We’re are both part of the same hypocrisy, senator, but never think it applies to my family .”

        1. Barry

          Fox is a success. That isn’t an issue. Their audience is mostly white men over 60.

          The median age of a primetime Fox News viewer is 68, according to Nielsen. That means half of the channel’s viewers are older than 68. CNN’s median primetime viewer, meanwhile, is 59.

          It’s not hard to see the Fox formula and understand why the women of Fox have to wear cocktail dresses with slits and sit on couches where those same men can see their legs.

          “Television is particularly popular among men, people who didn’t go to college, and people over the age of 70, which is a great description of a predictable conservative. (Retired seniors watch more than 50 hours of television a week.) Indeed, this older male group is not only ready-made for cable-television-viewing; it comes prepackaged with extremely conservative views. Over the last three general-election cycles, the 65-and-up group voted for the GOP presidential candidate by an average of 9 percentage points.” https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/08/the-twilight-of-fox-news/497684/

          1. Bart

            Like it was pointed out, each cable outlet programs to attract a certain demographic and no matter if it is a Fox or MSNBC, they follow the same outline but using different hosts and how their personal appearance is on the screen and their choice of topics to keep their viewers.

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