Friday, April 8, 2011

Turn It Off?

I was going to mention later today that I have a new column up over at TNR arguing that contrary to the expectations of many Republicans (and, although I didn't mention it there, a fair number of pundits) the existence of Fox News (b. 1996) during a shutdown now won't help the Republicans win the spin war compared to the absence of GOP-aligned cable TV news in 1995-1996. Most people don't watch partisan media, and those who do self-select so that the main people who are watching FNC are those who already believe that Barack Obama is a Kenyan anti-colonial socialist.

But I did want to make sure that everyone saw a very smart response from Paul Waldman, who talks about one group of Democrats who actually do watch Fox News: those on Capitol Hill and the White House. Waldman worries that while Dems certainly wouldn't buy the arguments of Fox hosts on policy, they very well might mistakenly believe Fox reports that public opinion is lining up squarely on the GOP's side. He advises them to turn the damn thing off. Good advise!

Of course, the broader point, as Matt Yglesias has said, is that Washingtonians watch all cable network news far more than ordinary people do -- and they would in general be far better off not doing so.

I'll add one other sense is that if we do get a shutdown (still unclear as I write), this is one of those things for which immediate polling may turn out to be quite misleading. I don't have a link right now, but my memory is that during the 1995-1996 shutdown it took some time for the Democrats to win the spin war, even after Newt Gingrich's famous tantrum. That's not to say that the Democrats would definitely win this time; it's just that instant "who's fault?" polls may not prove to predict how people will feel about the shutdown, or about the politicians involved, several weeks or months down the line. So both parties should certainly be polling as any shutdown goes along, but they should be very careful about trusting surface results.

And, yeah, they should turn off the cable news nets -- especially Democrats and Fox News.


  1. Big differences from last time:

    1. DOD is included in non-payment
    2. No Gingrich
    3. Larger number of agencies
    4. Not Christmas
    5. Obama is off-the-charts passive

    Your take -- Obama need to be the parent in the front seat -- has a lot of merit. I think if avoids a shutdown that play worked.

    Once DC is shut down, you need a different game.

    I would love to see Obama announce tonight that this is embarrassing, if Congress can't get it act together by Monday, he is ordered FAA to stop working and, oh, yes, USDA inspectors are also off work. No planes, no meat, no eggs and no milk should end this very quickly and show who has the big stick.

  2. Ooooh - shut down the FAA and ground the airlines! I love that one!

    Who does it inconvenience? Not most of the general public - as charlie said above, this is not Christmas, nor Thanksgiving, or any other big travel season. Mainly it inconveniences the well to do, who fly more, and especially it inconveniences business, a key (arguably the key) GOP constituency.

    Meat, milk, and eggs are a different matter. Even working class people eat.

  3. You write

    "The network[Fox News], it seems, does little to change opinions..."

    but this paper

    uses a natural experiment to conclude

    "Our estimates imply that Fox News convinced 3 to 28 percent of its viewers to vote Republican, depending on the audience measure."


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