Thursday, January 16, 2020

Books: Tobin Smith On The Inner Workings Of The "Foxocracy"

Foxocracy: Inside the Network's Playbook of Tribal Warfare
By Tobin Smith
Diversion Books; hardcover, 272 pages; $26.99

Tobin Smith had a fourteen-year tenure as a host of Fox News's weekly weekend business program Bulls & Bears, appearing in more than 2,000 panel segments, and was a guest-host of more than 60 episodes.

At Fox's Manhattan studios each week to tape the show, he would be 
called on by producers across the network to play the role of the "hitman," the person that would be counted on to make the final right-wing argument for the like-minded audience at home. 

While working with producers inside Fox and socializing with the staff at favorite watering holes after work, he learned the strategies they used to rig the outcomes of debate segments.

In his new, revealing tell-all, Foxocracy, Smith lifts the veil on the tactics Fox used to move 12 percent of independents to vote for Donald Trump in states that were previously Democratic strongholds. These are the same tactics that liberal and progressive candidates will be battling, once again, this election season.

Smith outlines secretive narrative development meant to ensure the disarmament of left-wing pundits and deliberate efforts to "addict" conservative viewers, active their hatred of the Left, and instill in them feelings of intellectual and cultural superiority. This was all part of an effort to make them think of their fellow Americans as enemies.

This is an expansion of a revealing article Smith wrote for in 2017, which was named one of the top pieces of journalism that year by Time magazine's media editor and had over 300,000 unique readers. In that piece and this engrossing book, Smith takes us inside the Foxhole, detailing meetings and specific conversations he had with executive producers and hosts who were hellbent on feeding the right's rage, fear, and tribal identity instincts.

Smith writes of the Fox News formula, "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. But I am going to help you really understand by opening the Fox News opinion-program producer's kimono and exposing the fixed-outcome strategy, tactics, and production process that I participated in during most of my fourteen years at Fox News.

Yes, like pro wrestling, Fox News had session-long narratives that require the good-guy hero protagonists ('the baby faces') to always win and the bad-guy antagonists ('the heels') to lose. The difference is the WWE audience knows the matches are rigged; in wrestling, the fans' suspension of disbelief is called kayfabe. (The concept of kayfabe offers a fascinating insight into the psychology of the Fox News addict as well, which I'll get deeper into later in the book.)

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 start 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.'

If you were listening inside a Fox News production studio or editing room, or you heard what I heard in my ear fro a producer before a show I hosted, you always heard directions like 'make it a moment' or 'make it land.' This instruction refers to any of the important moments in the segment's story line - an individual sentence, a sudden realization, or the split-second look before it looks like a physical fight might break out.

But invariably at Fox News the term 'moment' means the same thing: 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."

Smith also writes plenty of the the creator of Fox News and its chairman, admitting that he was "more than a little afraid of Roger Ailes, until his passing in May of 2017."

Foxocracy is one of the most engaging, honest accounts of America's highest-rated news channel (don't believe their claims that they're not mainstream) from someone who wrote that he "beame ashamed of what I had helped Fox News accomplish."

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