FOX needs a conservative counterpart to Up with Chris Hayes

If FOX sought to fill this void, they would win at least one new viewer. And if FOX needs a host, I’m available….

Regular readers might surmise that I’m a fan of MSNBC’s Up with Chris Hayes Saturday and Sunday morning talk show. You might assume I watch because I (mostly) share the host’s liberal views. I do, but that’s not why I tune in. I watch because the show provides a rare opportunity to hear people of diverse views speaking substance–and actually learn from and listen to each other across various political and ideological divides.

Not coincidentally, few guests arrive under the vague identifications “Democratic strategist” or “Republican strategist” to parrot partisan talking points. Many guests are left-liberals or policy experts such as Donald Berwick talking about health reform, climate change, immigration, voter ID laws, gay marriage, and other concerns. Yet the show features others–for example Avik Roy, Reihan Salam, and Josh Barro–who reside in different places on the ideological spectrum. Moreover, serious conservatives and libertarians appear as more than weak rhetorical foils for the host. They are allowed to speak their piece, and (often) to keep the host or other guests honest when they get sloppy or caricature opposing views.

Up with Chris Hayes is recognizably liberal in the choice of topics and in various other ways. If you’re liberal, you’ll find ideologically congenial experts to provide reliable information on the fine print on many issues. If you’re moderate or conservative, you’ll see what smart liberal activists and policy wonks believe about key issues, and what the important counterarguments are likely to be. I’m not sure this model would prove commercially viable five times a week in prime time. It fills a critical void Sunday morning.

What strikes me is the dearth of conservative-leaning shows built on the same model. Most FOX discussion shows are virtually unwatchable—not because they’re conservative, but because they offer so little intellectual nutrition to their core audience. Sticking to our home topic of health policy, legitimate conservative experts such as James Capretta and Tevi Troy are drowned out by less honest or reputable figures such as Betsy McCaughey and Dick Morris. The typical conservative FOX viewer is thus fed Pravda-style misleading information about what the Affordable Care Act really entails. The typical non-conservative FOX viewer—to the extent non-conservatives tune in at all—have no way of knowing what reputable Republican or conservative policy analysts are really thinking, or, indeed, who these experts really are.

From a stark political perspective, this television wonk-gap may not have much mattered since 2008. The core partisan mission of FOX news was to mobilize, by any means necessary, political opposition to the Obama administration. When you’re counterpunching from an ideologically narrow opposition perspective, you don’t have the same imperative to form coalitions or to make the numbers add up. On the other hand, FOX’s approach certainly played a role in forcing GOP primary candidates further to the right, and thus nudged Governor Romney further away from the general election median voter.

Leading up to 2016, though, the costs of this model may be more apparent. Republicans are seeking to rethink and to rebrand party positions on matters ranging from immigration to universal health coverage. At some point, Republicans will recapture the presidency and enjoy a short political window during which they might enact their own core priorities into law. The substance will actually matter. So will the rhetorical framing and policy conversation Republicans cultivate in upcoming years.

A high-quality talk show is hardly Republicans’ most important unchecked box here. Yet its absence remains telling.

One more thing. If FOX sought to fill this void, I promise they would win at least one new viewer. And FOX—if you need a host, I’m available.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

26 thoughts on “FOX needs a conservative counterpart to Up with Chris Hayes”

  1. Well, Harold, I do look forward to seeing your show on Fox. Will it be on Saturday mornings?

    But, IMHO, the Republicans are not going to win the presidency ever again. Because, among other things, they can’t structure a general election winning coalition around the positions that a candidate has to take to succeed in the Republican primaries.

    Most likely, the Republicans will collapse in one way or another and another party will form in its place (the Plutocrats? [how do I insert a smiley face here?]). Or some very different party will take over the name of the deceased Republicans (the RINO party?).

  2. “What strikes me is the dearth of conservative-leaning shows built on the same model. ”

    MSNBC is a leftish-leaning news organization. Their business model is to inform their viewers with facts.

    Fox is a right-wing propaganda machine. It’s not their mission to inform, but to indoctrinate. You don’t do that with the facts, you do that with demagoguery.

    1. The actual data would not appear to support your position, unless maybe you figure that it was just objectivity that lead MSNBC to run ZERO positive stories about Romney, and ZERO negative stories about Obama.

      1. so not even joe scarbourough found anything positive to say about romney nor anything negative to say about obama? really? i find the dearth of negative stories about obama more unlikely, after all, even your most positive comments around here about romney have been in the nature of backhanded compliments.

        1. Most journalistic bias expresses itself in the selection of subject, rather than outright lies. You simply omit coverage of things harmful to your favorites, and helpful to those you oppose. The evidence demonstrates that MSNBC carries this to a considerably greater extreme than FOX, and this his hardly to say that FOX is innocent on that score. Just that MSNBC is considerably, measurably worse.

          “Fair and balanced”? Hardly. But if Fox had adopted Rush’s slogan, “I’m not balanced, I AM the ‘balance’.” it wouldn’t have been too far from the truth.

          But I hardly ever find myself watching FOX, can’t stand the imbecility. (Do I ever miss “Firing Line!) The only exception was during the Republican convention, when you needed to go to FOX to see what was actually happening.

    2. I’m more with Brett on this one. I don’t think that MSNBC and Fox are symmetrical. Maddow is asymmetrical, but most of the rest of the MSNBC cast are partisan bloviators. Unlike the Fox cast, they prefer spinning to lying. And MSNBC has a Republican bloviator, while Fox only pretends to have Democratic bloviators. But partisan bloviation is partisan bloviation.

  3. I would like to see the kind of show you describe. Right-wing intellectuals like Charles Krauthammer shouldn’t be relegated to making appearances as part of an opinion panel or a weekly segment on The O’Reilly Factor. The one show on FOX News that I think comes closest to what you’re describing is Red Eye w/ Greg Gutfeld. Their panel routinely features erudite Conservatives with varying policy niches and the occasional liberal commentator, though the left-wing views expressed on the program often come from entertainers and pundits who aren’t on par with, say, a Kevin Williamson or John Bolton.

    That being said, when you make bat-s**t insane assertions like “The core partisan mission of FOX news was to mobilize, by any means necessary, political opposition to the Obama administration,” you severly limit your ability to appeal to those who don’t share your political persuasion. Next time you have a good idea, maybe try offering it without the crazy.

    1. there was no crazy in that statement. in fact i regard it as understatement if anything. not only has their obvious core mission been to mobilize opposition to the obama administration but they have functioned as nothing less than the propaganda wing of the republican party for at least the past 12 years. next time you want to off a compliment for an idea, maybe try offering it without the mendacious.

    2. Did you just say Red Eye comes closest to Up With Chris Hayes? I shudder to think it because Red Eye is absolutely horrible. That’s Fox’s attempt to make a show for younger people and it fails miserably.

      Gutfeld attempts to be satirical and funny and perhaps less bombastic and doomsday-ish as someone like Hannity can be, but he is still peddling in low comedy at best. He is not hoping to inform. He’s hoping to entertain his fellow travelers. You might compare him to Lawrence O’Donnell who relishes the embarrassments of the Right. I still think Lawrence generally tries to stick with the facts, but he enjoys the entertainment aspect of his job a bit much for my taste.

      Chris Hayes is nothing of the sort. He’s clearly attempting to heighten the level of discourse and increase the reliance on data driven analysis while keeping things civil. Red Eye is not a similar show in any way.

    3. you lost me at ‘right-wing intellectuals like…Krauthammer’ as being serious discussion, and then I realized (realised) that it’s good Internet Performance Art, though.

  4. FOX News is run by Roger Ailes, who was a campaign strategist for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush.

    The quote you deride has a modifier, partisan (“The core partisan mission…”).

    FOX has other missions. Claiming the core partisan mission was defeating Obama is arguable but not insane.

    Perhaps you object to “by any means necessary”. You can watch Fox News for months and never hear that there were surpluses under Clinton, that federal employment rose under GWB and fell under Obama, that among peer-reviewed studies of global warming only about 1 in 1000 claim no human causation, that Medicare costs less than private insurance. On the contrary you will hear a lot about these subjects that suggests or states the opposite. By any means necessary is an overstatement, but not “bat-s**t insane” when describing an organization that holds its ostensible mission in contempt.

    “bat-s**t insane” and “by any means necessary” are comparably overwrought.

  5. I concede that “by any means necessary” was a bit of hyperbole–though some of the more egregious FOX shows invite the description. For the record, some MSNBC shows are more partisan than I care to see. I don’t watch TV in search of partisan solidarity. Not sure I am anyone’s core demographic.

  6. “The core partisan mission of FOX news was to mobilize, by any means necessary, political opposition to the Obama administration.”

    Well maybe, but another view is that the core partisan mission is to make as much money as possible, and who cares if the country goes down the sewer. They’ve targeted an audience with a particular ideological slant, and save them something that they wanted and weren’t getting from other news sources.

    The model has plenty of precedents in the talk-radio market, the most prominent of which is Rush Limbaugh.

    1. It’s certainly a plausible theory, after all NewsCorp has no problem making money on the FOX Network, whether it was from “When Animals Attack”, “Married With Children”, “The Simpsons” or “American Idol”. Shows of any (or no) ideological values are judged only by the bottom line. (At least I assume that’s why FOX Sports continues to inflict Joe Buck on the nation all these years, but I digress.)

      It’s possible that FOX ‘News’ Channel is allowed to find its own way because they have the biggest audience among cable news. But Murdoch using assets like FOX Entertainment and BSkyB to help him finance money-losing newspapers on both sided of the Atlantic tend to argue against the theory. As does hiring a former chairman of the RNC to oversee the FNC enterprise.

      1. News Corp is a publicly traded corporation, so their main objective has to be making money.

        Any political agenda is secondary.

  7. It may be possible. But as Charles Blow recently pointed out in regard to most professors leaning left – “Furthermore, a 2005 study found that just 11 percent of college professors identified as Republican and 15 percent identified as conservative. Some argue that this simply represents a liberal bias in academia. But just as strong a case could be made that people who absorb facts easily don’t suffer fools gladly.”

    1. Oh I just gotta say it: “Reality has a well known liberal bias.”
      Sorry but it was just sitting there.

    2. More like, “liberals in power don’t suffer conservatives gladly”; It’s not hard to find examples of outright censorship of conservative views in academia. The way ‘liberals’ behave in the universities is one of the things which causes me to be so scared about their ever getting anywhere near that level of dominance in government.

  8. Humans have a well-known bias against facts and toward what they already believe. For example, look at our unwillingness to believe that sugar does not cause hyperactivity in kids (despite many good studies that demonstrate this.)

    Any time a newscaster or media personality is data-driven or fact oriented, they’re labeled “progressive” or “liberal,” and are dismissed as being “biased.” But in fact, don’t we *need* newscasters biased toward truth, and toward factual information?

  9. A speculation. American movement conservatism has been resistant to change for at least 40 years. ¨Human kind / Cannot bear very muchg reality¨ – T.S. Eliot. But does the same apply to its current echo-chamber, Fox News, a commercial organisation first?

    One scenario is certainly its continuance as the guardian of the closed epistemic loop of conservatism. But there are also two ways it could collapse, quite rapidly:
    – Rupert Murdoch dies or quits as News Corp. patriarch, and the heirs dump the network or sack Ailes as an embarrassment. Oedipus = Rex!
    – Following some predictable events like son-of-Sandy, the successful implementation of ACA, an improving economy, grid parity with cheap solar PV, etc., less committed viewers peel off. The network either follows them towards the centre, losing the true believers; or doubles down with the true believers, accelerating the haemorrhage of the centrists. Either way, it´s a positive-feedback loop to losing audience, ad income, commercial viability, and Beltway influence.

    1. Murdoch’s heirs going a different way leading to the collapse of FNC is plausible. IMO your second suggestion is likely not. Reason being that while FOX is the most watched cable news outlet, it’s a big fish, small pond thing. O’Reilly isn’t getting the ratings of “Duck Dynasty”, much less “Law and Order SVU”, much less “Survivor”.

      If FNC changes, it figures to be the deep-thinking Republican pooh-bahs convincing Roger Ailes that he’s not helping – the core FNC audience aren’t going to be the ones moving to the center, regardless of how liberal the country turns. People who catch Shepard Smith over coffee at Denny’s are not the ones watching the prime-time bloviators. I don’t believe there is a substantive number of FOX-watching centrists to hemorrhage.

        1. Who said anything about the Beltway? (actually, I said the folks really calling the shots for the Republican effort – who may or may not live in DC) I said people that would ask Ailes to back off the nuttiness, if they saw electoral benefits in FNC moderating. FOX has no pull on the Beltway, but there may be top-level conservatives that have pull with a former RNC chairman.

  10. Up with Chris is the best political talk show I’ve ever seen. It’s clear that he cautions his guests against interrupting each other, spouting boilerplate and being stupidly partisan. His choice of guests is also a delight since it is loaded with brilliant young people who know things.

    I encourage everyone to watch it all the time. Please. It must stay on.

    And, by the way, Melissa Harris Perry is terrific, too.

    1. Weak irony aside, I too have a problem with Chris droning on and on and interrupting constantly. I pretty much can’t watch it. But it is weak brew to try and marginalize him the way you did. Jus’ sayin’.

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