The Orchestra Pit Theory

Today is April 1st, better known the world over as “April Fools’ Day.”  So when I first saw this screen grab, I had a quiet chuckle.  It’s clearly a joke!  Except it’s not.

3 "Mexican" countries

But the joke which is Fox (I won’t cheapen journalism by calling it “Fox News”), is like a decades’-long prank.

Richard Nixon's successful 1968 presidential campaign was helped greatly by a young media consultant named Roger Ailes.  He capitalized on Nixon’s racist appeal to white southerners fearing the burgeoning civil rights movement known as the “Southern Strategy” to sell Nixon by appealing to the inherent racism in the average, white, WASPy American, a move chronicled in The Selling of the President 1968 by Joe McGinniss.

And to give you some idea, thoughtful reader, of how Ailes, like Donald Trump, is an opportunist appealing to our worst instincts rather than a true-believer in what he is selling, in 1993, he became president of CNBC after successfully assisting Lee Atwater to craft a media strategy that guided George H. W. Bush to victory in the Republican primaries and later his come-from-behind victory over Michael Dukakis for president in 1987.  At CNBC, he created the "America's Talking" channel, which would eventually become MSNBC, the bastion of left-leaning television journalism, before being tapped by Rupert Murdoch in 1996 to become the CEO of Fox News on the other end of the ideological spectrum.

Ailes is credited with what is called “The Orchestra Pit Theory" of sensationalist political coverage in the news media, which originated with his quip:

If you have two guys on a stage and one guy says, "I have a solution to the Middle East problem," and the other guy falls in the orchestra pit, who do you think is going to be on the evening news?

April 1st

There is a market for people willing to peddle conspiracy theories and outright racism and xenophobia like Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Lou Dobbs, and Jeanine Pirro.  Ailes saw this and capitalized on it by sensationalizing it — “caravans of invading immigrants from south of our southern border,” a mysterious “deep state” attempting a soft coup d’état aimed at undermining President Trump’s administration from within, the “war on Christmas,” the rise of the “snowflakes.”

The joke, and it’s no April Fools’ Day prank, is on the people who look to Fox for news and instead get a steady diet of bigotry and jingoism, elevated now because the president of the United States is Fox's biggest fan (and promoter) and is making policy that affects us all based on Fox on-air personalities’ opinions.

We could have a good, hearty laugh if their ignorance and hatred wasn’t so dangerous and didn’t have devastating consequences for the world.

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