Fairly Balanced: Satire News for the Right

By Leigh Levato, Colton Hanna, Courtney Fleming, and Phoebe Flanigan

Background and Industrial Context
Operation and Background FOX News Channel (FNC) debuted in 1996 as a subsidiary of News Corporation, a corporate entity owned and directed by media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch created FNC through the takeover of a number of failing television stations. The network completely remodeled these failing programs to create the new FNC brand.
Rupert Murdoch (below) and CEO Roger Ailes (left)

Unlike the “Big Three” (ABC, CBS, and NBC) FOX Network originally dedicated its focus to its primetime line up instead of featuring a morning or daytime news program. Because FOX owns two channels, FOX and FOX News Channel, they were able to dedicate one whole channel to news programming while the other focused on primetime entertainment. Since its debut in 1996 and subsequent development by Murdoch and CEO Roger Ailes, FNC has become extremely successful. By 2002, FOX had outranked CNN in ratings and by 2010 it occupied all ten of the top ten spots of the Top News Programs list. The O’Riley Factor, Hannity, and Glenn Beck were listed as the top three news programs. Industrial Context The successful industrial framing of FNC can be attributed in large part to Roger Ailes, the CEO of FNC and a man well known for his ability to marry

politics and television. While Ailes has an extensive history in the development and operation of news networks (prior to assuming his role at FOX he was an executive producer for a number of shows on NBC and CBS), he is also known for his participation in the realm of conservative politics. Ailes acted as a media consultant throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s constructing media campaigns for Republican politicians from Reagan to Nixon to Giuliani. In 1984, he even helped produce a TV special called Television and the Presidency, which later became a multi-part series on FNC. Thus, though FOX describes itself as a “Fair and Balanced” news source, the political bent of the station is fairly overt. In catering to a conservative demographic rather than marketing to the general population as a whole, FNC breaks from the traditional television news model. Producers and advertisers are able to capitalize upon a narrowly delineated viewer base rather than attempting to appeal to news watchers as a whole. This allows advertisers to reach out to a relatively uniform target audience with a shared set of ideals and values that influence their consumer decisions—in short, it provides ready access to a specific market. While some have criticized FOX‟s approach as biased and deconstructive, it‟s also a brilliant marketing ploy that successfully connects a specific audience (and thus a specific consumer base) with advertisements and products catered towards their demographic. Branding FOX was one of the first companies to begin requiring the networks they owned to have their name located in a corner of the TV screen, such as FOX 5 in Atlanta, Washington D.C., and New York City, while programming they owned and operated was broadcast. In the 1990‟s this trend took off and other large networks began to use the same branding techniques. Since their debut in 1996, FOX News has had a significant impact on both the broadcasting community and the viewing community. A study conducted at Indiana University in 2007 found that the addition of FOX News to local cable systems between 1996 and 2000 likely influenced between 3 and 8 percent of viewers to vote Republican in 2000.

Partnerships FOX News partners with The YourCity.MD city health care platform and its medical experts are now posted on FOX News Health pages every day. The YourCity.MD experts provide FOX News with daily health stories, advice and tips on how to stay healthy. More recently, FOX News has established a partnership with Google. Though FOX News (via Glenn Beck) previously criticized Google for expressing an extreme left-wing bias in their background and ideology, in September of 2011 Fox News senior vice president announced that FNC would be partnering with Google in hosting the GOP debate. This partnership could potentially attract a wider range of followers to FOX than a partnership with an organization that simply parallels FNC‟s traditional agenda.

Audience Analysis
Interactivity and Advertising FOX News Network gives its audience an opportunity to engage in the topics their newscasters blog about. During their broadcasts they frequently ask their viewers to go online and comment on what they think about hit topics. Many of their anchors post blogs about topics that come up on their shows and viewers can comment on those blogs for a short while after they have been posted. Commenting on blog content closes automatically after three days from when it‟s published. FOX News followers are also able to connect with the channel online by requesting to receive breaking news alerts, daily headliners, breaking business news, and daily promo newsletter. They are also encouraged to engage with the network through common social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. The website offers further information for users to stay connected with FOX News through blogs, mobile devices, podcasts, radio, and a variety of applications to download onto smart phones and computers.

Common advertisements found on the FOX News website include information on Mormons, ads for the Official Obama Stress Head, Edward Jones Investments, and links to websites where you can see if you qualify for a federal student loan. FOX News also links to different products, businesses, and groups. The FOX News website has its own merchandise shop where followers and fans may purchase apparel, drink ware and gifts. For example, they can buy a “TV blanket” embroidered with the FOX News logo in their signature crimson color, the color often representing the Republican Party. Although FOX News does not claim to be a network supporting one political party over the other, through analyzing their site it is clear that the Network attracts many conservative individuals. Polls FOX News holds frequent polls on political, social, and popular topics. FOX News facilitates the extent to which their audience can voice and communicate their opinion by choosing to use either polls or allowing them to comment freely. More often than not opinions on political issues are acquired through taking audience polls. The network asks the audience to supply comments on more popular topics where they are able to write whatever they wish. Blogs The Entertainment blog allows FOX News subscribers to comment freely on pop-culture topics. The site posts controversial topics happening in the Hollywood scene and ask what their audience thinks of them. Commenting on the entertainment blog has few limitations as far as content and time limits, though comments on political blogs are removed shortly after the blog is published.

Online Presence The online presence of FOX News is a large part of their brand. All of the information that is broadcast on television is available in some form through

the website, whether that be a blog, an article, a video, or e-mail news alerts. The content available online is actually greater than the content available on the network on any given day. Discussions Online you can find endless conversations taking place that question the agenda and motivation for FOX News Network. One forum presented the question, “Do you think FOX News shows any bias in its reporting?” The comments posted in response to this question were quite varied. It tends to work out that those in support of the network are avid followers and fans. Meanwhile, those who oppose the network are not followers and claim that FOX News does not simply report the news; they report only what they know their conservative audience wants to see and hear. Most people who are not Republicans refer to other networks or sources to get the news. However, there are many people who claim they are conservatives who only view FOX News for entertainment purposes and do not rely on the network when they are looking for truth in the news. Some bloggers who commented on the topic of FOX News claimed, “FOX News is a business and through the genius of Roger Ailes, they have found a way to keep a devoted audience by telling them everything they want to hear, with no regard to facts. The problem is they claim to be a news organization.” While many admit to the success of the network, they express that it is worth discussing the idea that FOX News does not simply address current events, but that they cater to the conservative viewers that their thriving enterprise depends upon for revenues.

Show Analysis: The O’Reilly Factor
Overview A major contributor to FOX News since its inception in 1996, Bill O‟Reilly is one of the channel‟s most recognized and most controversial news personalities. His political punditry on The Factor presents “an unequaled blend of news analysis and hard-hitting investigative reporting dropped into what Bill reminds us nightly is „The No Spin Zone,‟” (CITE). Together, these qualities make his show one of the most profitable programs in American cable news history.

Besides his nightly cable news show, O‟Reilly also writes a weekly column featured in more than 300 newspapers, has established a strong radio and internet presence, and is the author of a number of bestselling books— his most recent an autobiography titled A Bold, Fresh Piece of Humanity. Fast Facts
    Weekdays at 8pm, 11pm, and 5am EST #1 cable news show on television for more than a decade Airs in more than 30 countries worldwide No party lines, no distortion, no spin political coverage—no show tackles tough issues like „The Factor‟!

Genre The O’Reilly Factor is a political “infotainment” talk-show geared towards entertainment as well as news reporting. Style The show is divided into a number of segments that appear as follows:  Talking Points Memo—Commentary on current events and the general state of the nation.  Top Story—Coverage of the top story of the day.  Impact—Focuses on issues of crime and the law.  Unresolved Problem—O‟Reilly brings insight to problems that aren‟t being sufficiently covered by the liberal mainstream media.  Personal Story—Interview of an author, a newsmaker, or the interviewer of a recent newsmaker.  Factor Follow-Up—An issue from a previous episode is revisited.  Back of the Book—O‟Reilly touches briefly upon one of a variety of topics and themes before the end of the show. Often this segment is geared toward pop culture.  Factor Mail—O‟Reilly reads from e-mails sent to him by his viewers.

 Pinheads and Patriots—O‟Reilly praises those he considers Patriots while chastising Pinheads.  Word of the Day—O‟Reilly uses a lesser-known word, encouraging his viewers to seek out its meaning themselves. Beside these regular segments, O‟Reilly also incorporates a number of rotating pieces as a means of addressing events deemed relevant by the production team. Production Method Twice a week, O‟Reilly and his producers meet to discuss potential topics. A producer then researches the story, presents information to O‟Reilly, and finds guests for the show. Guests are pre-interviewed and the show is scripted. The O’Reilly Factor is taped between 5pm and 7pm EST before being broadcast throughout the evening. While it is usually prerecorded, O‟Reilly also makes live appearances in the case of special events or breaking news. Tone O‟Reilly uses an aggressive and informal tone to incite emotional energy among his viewers. His rhetorical strategy is characterized by straightforward language, divisive presentation of contemporary issues, and skeptical attitude towards government and “the liberal agenda.” According to a study done by Conway et al. from Indiana University, O‟Reilly further employs a number of recognized propaganda techniques, most notably „name calling‟ and „glittering generalities,‟ to frame messages couched in fear-based dichotomies of good and evil to his audience. Target Audience On its website, FOX describes The Factor as a show that “uncovers news items from the established wisdom and goes against the grain of the more traditional interview style programs, [...] cuts through the rhetoric,” and pushes beyond the headlines by “featur[ing] issues from local markets that do not find the national spotlight on other newscasts.”

This presentation of the program as one that A) a goes against the traditional media, B) uses an objective and independent stance to cut through political rhetoric, and C) values local as well as global perspectives appeals explicitly to a conservative audience who consider themselves alienated by other news media outlets. The Factor, then, is one of several particularly bright flames on the FNC network drawing a conservative market with disposable income toward their advertising counterparts.

The Pitch
Clear and Present Need Based on the success of satire news shows, Fairly Balanced is a comedy sketch show that presents the “news” with a heavy dose of sarcasm and a self-proclaimed conservative skew. Given the popularity of shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, If FOX News wants to stay on top of the ratings, they need an answer and competitor for the liberal slant that Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert provide for Comedy Central. Stewart and Colbert have made a living and, more importantly, a name for themselves and their network by making fun of FOX News and their pundits. Not only would Fairly Balanced appeal to a conservative audience, but the comedic late night format would also attract a younger demographic that would otherwise turn to networks other than FOX News (ie-comedy central) after their primetime programming ends.

While ideas for shows with a similar concept have not always been successful (including the short-lived ½ Hour News Hour) today‟s unsteady political climate calls for a show that points out the follies of our current system. This style of comedy news, however, is currently dominated by programs with a liberal agenda and Fairly Balanced would fill the conservative void.

Proposal and Structure We propose Fairly Balanced, a conservative satire news show hosted by Dennis Miller or a similar conservative figure. Basically the show would function in a similar vein as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, attracting those audiences while maintaining the current audiences of Hannity and The O’Reilly Factor. Fairly Balanced would be a 30 minute satire news variety show that starts with a presentation of the daily news in a comical, Weekend-Update-type forum, followed by a few alternating bits or gags, and finally ending with a guest appearance that is either entertainment or politically based. We think Dennis would be the perfect host with his history on SNL with weekend update, his appearances on Hannity and O‟Reilly, and his current news radio talk show.

The title of the show is a pun on the FOX News‟ slogan “Fair and Balanced.” We chose it because it pokes fun at the news media while maintaining cohesiveness with FOX News. Based on the title, the faithful FOX audience will know not to take it so seriously. One of the segments that we would like to have on the show would be the Report Retort (pronounced with silent t‟s). In these segments we would have Bill O‟Reilly or whichever pundit Steven Colbert made fun of recently come on the show and talk with Dennis and come up with a witty or funny retort to Colbert‟s antics. Basically this is our method of stealing viewership from Comedy Central and also getting Comedy Central to advertise our show. An added benefit of this segment would be getting Hannity and O‟Reilly viewers to watch our show. Other bits might include segments like Ask a Hippie or Ask a Pinko with viewer submitted questions and the conservative anchor asking the questions/leading the discussion. The questions could range from pertinent political issues to random irrelevant questions. An over the top liberal character showing what an extreme view looks like would appease the conservative viewers while hopefully giving more liberal viewers an opportunity to laugh at themselves. We could also have seasonal bits poking fun at things such as the liberal political correctness associated with Christmas and time-specific sketches that played off of current events and people in the news. Another ongoing bit would be Adventures with Ben or ‘We the People’ with Benjamin Franklin. Acting as a kind of out-of-place news anchor, Ben Franklin would be the mascot for the show. He would go on location to interview political figures at political debates and/or functions. We think it would be funny for him to have an extensive knowledge of the current political climate while maintaining a wonderment of 21st century technology. We would sic him on liberal politicians and have him be very accusatory of their actions. The gag is Ben showing how certain liberal politics pervert how Ben and the founding fathers envisioned the United States. This is the impetus for our ad campaign. We were thinking of using the tag line, “Watch Out Liberals, Ben‟s Back,” but this seemed too aggressive for widening an independent audience.

Another possible bit would be the Political Weather Forecast. It would use a green screen and a superimposed map in the style of a weather forecast but looking at the political climate. The “weather man” could predict “storms” and examine issues on which the country is staunchly divided. Scheduling Given Dennis‟s history with Hannity and O‟Reilly and our desire to attract audiences from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, we feel that the perfect time for the show would be every night after Hannity. This time slot will attract the viewers that have just watched Hannity and also be closely scheduled with the other opinion shows on the network. Conclusion While FOX News maintains the top 10 spots for most watched cable television from the 24-54 demographic, we feel that we can reach a younger, college audience whose views with match the proposed show. This will serve to maintain those top 10 spots as the 54 year-olds go by the wayside and the new 24 year-old come to take their place. This show will serve as the perfect middle ground of political satire and political commentary. It will fill a small niche that no one has yet filled by drawing from opposing sides of the spectrum. This is intended to be a lighthearted show that either gets viewers into the network or keeps the current ones.

NOTE: All of the materials presented in this document are part of an assignment for WRTG 3020 at the University of Colorado.