By 1993, when Bill Clinton took office, with a political victory that surprised and alarmed the plutocrats and billionaires who had supported the Republican Party since the 1970s, the media had become somewhat more relaxed about politician’s lives. At one point, a Senator or Governor’s personal life, unless he flaunted it in public, was largely off limits to the media. Presidential peccadilloes, like the rumors of JFKs activities, and Eisenhower’s personal aide during the war, went unreported.
Then, in 1980, we elected a President who had not only been divorced but had been part of the Hollywood scene long before he had been a Conservative. Because his life as a celebrity and a movie star was pretty much an open book, mores moved a little to the Left as politics moved a little to the Right. In 1987, that same President abandoned the Fairness Doctrine, requiring opposing viewpoints to be aired on radio and television. This seemed to simultaneously lift the lid from the limits of good taste. At least for the Right Wing radio hosts like the vulgar and obscene Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage. Normal morality and good taste were tossed out the window like old clothes, out-of-fashion and objects of ridicule.
As the Clinton era progressed and the Fox News Channel audience of white men over 65 years of age grew, attacks on the Clintons increased. In 1992, in his continuing effort to create division in the American public, Roger Ailes joined Rush Limbaugh to produce a syndicated television program in addition to the Limbaugh national radio show. While television advertisers were still reluctant to accept Limbaugh and Ailes’ freewheeling combination of lies and insults and occasional salacious comments, the program did maintain itself for about 4 years with advertisers who would put up with Limbaugh’s crudeness or totally supported it. During that time, the content was non-stop ridicule, lie and divide, attacking the Clintons and any of their supporters among the Democrats. The program was set up like an infomercial, with a pre-screened audience of Limbaugh supporters. It was basically Limbaugh’s propaganda in full view and the studio audience laughed and cheered on cue.
President Clinton continued suspect personal behavior did not help the Democrats defending him. Despite being the topic of many wild accusations and exaggerations (lies) Clinton’s personal life did contain some truthful allegations or at least some that were never fully explained. With the revelations of the Monica Lewinsky affair, the atmosphere became totally toxic. Limbaugh and the other Right Wing radio hosts as well as Fox News Channel, were given a gift. They used it to make the Clintons’ lives chaotic and sent the Democratic party into total disarray. The Republicans in Congress spent every single hour working to Impeach him.
At one point, the well known and acerbic, but until then well respected columnist, William Safire, with only limited information impulsively called Hillary Clinton, a “liar.” At the time she was working diligently to come up with a solution to the price rises of 15% or more annually being charged by the insurance companies. That reaction began what would eventually become open season on calling anyone a liar by simply maintaining that on one day you said A and on another day you said B, which became the apparent standard for lying, according to the Right Wing radio and TV hosts. For the Right Wing, post Limbaugh and now post Safire, someone was a “liar” or implied that someone lied, merely by stating that on Monday he said it was raining and then on Wednesday, said that it might have been just misting.
Ridicule became commonplace in this era, testing the limits of civility. Rush Limbaugh, for example, referred to the 12-year-old Chelsea Clinton, who was somewhat ungainly in her younger years, as the White House “dog.” Then, on television, while speaking of her, he literally showed a picture of a dog. He created the term “Feminazi’ for feminists and every kind of imaginable slur relating to a women’s weight or age or appearance, calling some female activists, “thunder cows.” He eventually became so emboldened with his self-importance that he referred to a young Georgetown law student and activist for the availability of birth control as a “slut” and a “prostitute.”
As the Clinton economy gathered momentum and the “dot-com” technological revolution took hold, unemployment dropped below 5%, Republicans began to panic. They had never seen approval numbers like those for Clinton, even with numerous attacks on his morality from women in Arkansas and invented scandals, like the so-called “Troopergate” or “Whitewater,” the investigation of a real estate investment by the Clintons, on which the Republican Senate spent more than $200 million.
The economy progressed and the recession disappeared and a long-term climb in the economy became obvious. Despite Republican efforts and those of Right Wing radio, like Rush Limbaugh, Clinton became increasingly popular. With no end in sight for an economy growing at a record pace, the Republicans decided that anything was fair game. Rush Limbaugh, literally became the leading Republican by attacking the Clintons, or attacking Liberals, college professionals, gays, Lesbians, AIDS, women, even climate change. Limbaugh had a guaranteed radio audience of 10 to 15 million, in some cases the only program they could hear at that time period. He became popular with the disgruntled, and those who had no access or sought no access to the real television news media or most major newspapers. Limbaugh could attack people with comments of the kind that would make people cringe if they were in public rather at home or in the car. Clear Channel provided something like 700 radio stations and sold his syndicated program to hundreds of others.
The Rush Limbaugh television experiment, though brief, proved to Roger Ailes that there was a television audience for Right Wing television programming. In 1996, when the Limbaugh program ended, Ailes persuaded Rupert Murdoch to finance the Fox News Channel and to let him run it almost without supervision. Ailes hired a gang of misfit Right Wing television commentators whose only qualifications were that they would say anything for money. Ailes turned the news into sex, suspicion and sensationalism, airing every single conspiracy theory they could invent. Any little misstep or even a mistaken comment could cause a day-long harangue about that Congressman or Senator’s loyalty or corrupt practices or morality. Fox News began as a “gotcha” entertainment program masquerading as a presentation of the news, just as Ailes had done with Joe Coors, and it has never stopped being that petty, often insane, presentation of the news, occasionally reporting events (like 9/11) but always presenting a follow up analysis that somehow implicated Democrats in the worst aspects of the situation.
Ailes was a master of audience manipulation. He knew that pretty blondes with skirts up to the top of their thighs would get the attention of Middle Class white men. And it did. Not one audience member in a thousand could tell you the names or identify the other two “newsmen” on either side of the blonde in the Fox morning news lineup. The news portion was simply news delivered with some sex and some sensationalism, and always with some attempt to diminish the Democrats. It was astonishing that later in the life of Fox News that these female “newscasters” came out and complained that they had been sexually abused. It was somewhat surprising, as any woman who was not blind or deaf understood the Ailes’ formula of “entertainment-first” TV. He hadn’t changed the formula since his days with Nixon. Keep it short. Get to the point. Show a little sex. Above all, hold on to your non-thinking, white, male audience.
By the time the Bush-Cheney administration arrived, Fox News Channel was a broader, better directed effort at discrediting Democrats, always using the deliberately insulting term “Democrat” Party instead of the correct term “Democratic” Party. Almost immediately, Fox News Channel began to protect Bush and Cheney’s neglect of the Clinton anti-terrorist program leading to the 9/11 disaster.
Bush had ignored the daily anti-terrorist briefings from the CIA. He then ignored the special mid-August 2001 warning from the CIA and Clinton’s anti-terrorist Chief, Richard Clarke about heightened concerns from the Intelligence community about an attack on the U. S. Fox, however, used the aftermath of the 3,000 lives lost to make a special, if scurrilous and short-lived, attack on Clinton, who had set up the anti-terrorism watch and who, though unsuccessful, had tried numerous times to catch or kill Osama Bin Laden.
Fox News continued through the Bush Administration, pushing for the Iraq War. They promoted the idea of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and promoted the idea of going to war. At the same time, they supported Republican lies about the economy and deregulation of banking rules. Bush-Cheney deficits were draining $400 billion a year over budget from the assets of government.
Because of the two Bush tax cuts, and lower revenues, much of the borrowing was from the government’s one strong income resource—Social Security. Americans continued to pay in to Social Security in the same amounts, providing about a trillion dollars a year. But to pay tax cuts for the rich, the government now borrowed $400 billion a year. So the huge surpluses of Social Security began to dwindle, not because Social Security paid out more than it took in—it didn’t—but because Republicans borrowed from the annual net positive balance of Social Security. Over time, those trillions of dollars were spent to pay for national budget deficits—basically taking money from Social Security and giving the money to the very wealthy in the form of tax cuts. .
During the Bush era, Fox News supported the Bush-Cheney Administration’s false accusation that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction.” It promoted the idea of Iraq’s lawlessness and the brutality of its leader. Saddam Hussein was a bad and brutal dictator, but it would not have required a war, bombing innocent citizens, displacing millions, ruining the historic culture of a country and killing thousands upon thousands of people to remove him. This is what the rest of the world knew, but Dick Cheney ignored, having already drawn up a map of the oil fields and distributed it among major oil companies. Fox News backed Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld—now regarded legally by some advanced countries to be war criminals—and called our allies, who would not support this crime—traitors.
Fox News even defended the leak of secret information about a CIA operative because her husband had said that it was very unlikely that Iraq had nuclear materials from which to make a bomb. It condemned other countries of the world who did not support our effort, which were almost all of the countries that had supported the earlier war by Bush Sr. against Iraq. French fries, Fox News commentators famously said, should now be called “freedom fries.” Fox News later in the decade worked against the people domestically, too. They ignored all the signs of heightened activity in real estate speculation and in laxity in regulation of the stock market that led to a financial collapse. They protected the Wall Street purveyors of fraudulent securities, minimized the Great Recession and supported both torture of prisoners and illegal wiretapping of U.S. citizens by the NSA. And while supporting a war that needlessly killed 4,500 Americans, injured 25, 000 more, killed at least 250,000 innocent Iraqi citizens and displaced at least 5 million more, they promoted “Patriotism.”
After the Bush Administration totally devastated the U.S. economy with 700,000 jobs being lost every day, and companies closing and a bill of $780 billion handed to Congress to keep the banks open, Fox not only did not praise President Obama for turning things around in 6 short months, then growing the economy every quarter for 8 straight years. On the contrary, Obama became a huge target of the Right and it was no-holds-barred, vicious and racist. But the Obama era is another story, a worse story of propaganda used to promote racism used to promote election fraud and Right Wing political dominance.