“I said some years ago that the genius of Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes was to have discovered a niche market in American broadcasting—half the American people,” Charles Krauthammer once observed. “The reason Fox News has thrived and grown is because it offers a vibrant and honest alternative to those who could not abide yet another day of the news delivered to them beneath layer after layer of often undisguised liberalism.”
Since Fox’s creation in the mid-90s, the media has become less and less interested in disguising its liberalism, which has, ironically, ensured Fox’s continued success. Certainly, the escalating polarization is lamentable and it seems particularly pronounced among older Americans. My parents watch a lot of Fox News, as do my in-laws. Frankly, the majority of people over 60 that I know watch a lot of Fox News. However, are Fox News viewers victims of a “conspiracy” to brainwash them? That’s literally what a new documentary by Jen Senko—“The Brainwashing of My Dad”—is claiming:
If it seems surprising to you that older viewers watch a lot of Fox News, you should probably take care to let your eyes gradually adjust to the light once you finally venture out of your cave. Fox is easily the highest-rated cable news channel, and older voters skew conservative. But it’s also fair to say that interest in politics generally increases with age. The demographic base for subscribers to political magazines—Right and Left—always skews older.
Projecting Their Aggression onto the Right
Sure, there are times when I wish my parents weren’t so obsessed with politics. Then again, I wish so much of my life wasn’t consumed by politics, and I write about the topic professionally. Indeed, part of the problem is that contemporary progressivism ensures that politics consumes everything, no matter how trivial—from what shirt a rocket scientist wears at a press conference to daring to call yourself “American.”
They then whinge that those who express exasperation by having to refute this nonsense are obsessed. But believe it or not, it’s possible for people—even within the same family!—to disagree without classifying dissenting opinions as evidence of a pathology. Yet, according to this highly sympathetic Daily Beast write-up—“How Fox News Made My Dad Crazy”—that’s the entire premise of the documentary:
In a new documentary unveiled this week at Michael Moore’s film festival, one filmmaker takes aim at the ‘vast right-wing conspiracy’ Hillary once put on blast. The Brainwashing Of My Dad also warns of how generations of Americans have been tricked into an angry cult-like devotion to a new conservative lord and savior: Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.
Her case study? Her own dad.
Now, maybe Senko’s dad did become obsessed, and maybe he really is not well. But if that’s the case, her father’s issues can’t be projected on to half the country. It also doesn’t seem like Senko is at all interested in evaluating things from her father’s perspective. Senko describes her dad as a “nonpolitical Kennedy Democrat.” In other words, he supported the Catholic pro-life guy who slashed marginal tax rates, fought the commies aggressively, and would otherwise be a completely unwelcome figure among today’s liberals, both culturally and politically.
Indeed, among today’s Democrats Thomas Jefferson is persona non grata, while the current liberal Democratic president of the United States shared an office with a left-wing domestic terrorist for years. Yet, Senko seems convinced that the rapid cultural and political shifts in the country are the product of a vast right-wing conspiracy.
Who’s Afraid of Fox News? This Gal
So Senko trots out a host of liberal bugaboos that she’s convinced are revealing and novel, even though they’ve been standard liberal agitprop for the last 15 years. The Powell Memo is cited as the founding document of the vast right-wing Conspiracy. Of course, at the time the Powell Memo was written in the early ’70s, liberals were doing plenty of their own conspiring to radicalize the political debate. And progressives have done plenty of backroom plotting since then, even citing the Powell Memo as their direct inspiration.
Senko informs us Fox News personalities “use hand gestures to subliminally connect with their viewers.” She claims the GOP has used language to manipulate voters. That’s true of every politician, but hilariously, she seems to think use of the word “climate change” over “global warming” is a GOP plot. (Frank Luntz did write memo to Republicans endorsing the term, but it’s a phrase that dates back to the ’50s and even climate-change advocates say the idea Republicans convinced everyone to adopt new terminology is bunkum.)
Not only that, George Lakoff, a Berkeley linguist who has long advised Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats on how to manipulate language to their own end is used as a talking head in Senko’s film. (Other unimpeachable experts on right-wing conspiracies such as Media Matters’ David Brock, Noam Chomsky, and liberal talk-radio host Thom Hartmann also make appearances.) Lakoff is so oblivious to his insanely biased academic pettifogging, in 2009 he was asked about the anger being expressed in congressional town halls over Obamacare being rammed through in the face of overwhelming public opposition, and he said this: “I think it is very hard because [Democrats] don’t have the message machine the Republicans do. The Democrats still believe in Enlightenment reason: If you just tell people the truth, they will come to the right conclusion.”
Senko made more or less the same argument to the Daily Beast. “Centrists and liberals and progressives have to wake up and smell the fucking coffee,” she said. “We’ve all sort of been polite. Liberals, progressives, we want to be fair—but it’s not about being fair, it’s about being objective. So I really hope to make people aware of this. Oh my God, it’s the media, stupid.”
Exploiting Dad Is Totally Okay to Make a Political Point
Senko’s claim that liberals are getting rolled because they’re the only ones playing by the rules is particularly rich coming from a documentary, a form of media that has come under repeated scrutiny for distortions and liberal bias. Not one sentence later: “Senko, incidentally, calls herself a Progressive and is throwing her weight behind Bernie Sanders. ‘I’m tired of seeing Democrats allowing themselves to be slapped in the face, allowing and adopting the language that people like Frank Luntz came up with for the Republicans,’ she said. ‘Just being aware is a huge step. It’s going to change conversations.’”
Rarely does a single word do so much to demolish an entire argument, let alone all the work Senko has put into this documentary over the last number of years. Whereas Senko’s father’s right-wing politics are the result of being brainwashed by a media conspiracy, Senko is “incidentally” a progressive. (Elsewhere, the Daily Beast describes her as an “ex-hippie.”) But nothing about this documentary is incidental. Senko has quite deliberately made a film that invites the public to pass judgment on her own aging father. She thinks her father’s obsessed with politics, but all he did was rant and rave to people he thought loved him enough to be sympathetic. It’s his own daughter who’s fine with humiliating him in the national press so long as it “changes conversations” in a way that helps Sanders get elected and stick it to the Rethuglicans.
Senko needs to take a long, hard look at what she’s done, and ask herself a simple question: Which member of her family has really been brainwashed?