It is a common professional technique for today’s radio and TV talk show hosts to attack a policy argument by finding its weakest or most extreme proponents and then focusing all their firepower on them. By avoiding the legitimate sources of the grievance, the show’s hosts escape a cost/benefit analysis of the policy and misdirect their viewers through a manufactured sense of outrage.
Nowhere is this tendency more prevalent than on Fox News. In the recent scandals in Ferguson and now in New York City with Eric Garner, Fox News has slanted its coverage of the situation by focusing on the role of Al Sharpton instead of the fact that a young black teenager lay dead in the middle of the road for up to five hours.
Instead the coverage focused on Al Sharpton, Tawana Brawley and the fact that Sharpton owes millions in back taxes. This coverage avoids the very real grievances of black communities and their mistreatment by police departments around the nation. Instead, the hosts discuss Al Sharpton’s role as a spokesperson, and they attempt to impugn the entire movement by depicting his role in it.
Admittedly, MSNBC occasionally pursues a similar tack with Rush Limbaugh, but in a much less pronounced manner, and they use him to illustrate policy instead of obscure it. Instead of focusing their outrage at the actions of individuals, Fox would do better if it made a policy argument to support the conservative viewpoint similar to the way George Will or Pat Buchanan marshall facts and observations. It’s not guaranteed to convince everyone, but at least you can be informed by a different perspective on the matter.