I’m sort of obsessed with a new technology that allows television programmers to see real-time audience reaction. Until now, ratings were delivered either overnight, in the case of the networks who paid Neilsen a bundle to get audience measurements as soon as possible. Everyone else, cable, radio, local TV, etc., had to wait for the “book” to be published. First it was quarterly, then monthly.
The new tech is a game-changer. Ratings services put a handheld dial that is connected to the internet into a statistically valid number of sample homes screened by Zip Code and demographics including household income, age, and gender.
The most blatant example is Tucker Carlson‘s nightly show on the Fox News Channel. Fox programmers say that his show changed the moment they had access to dial technology, and the ratings bear them out: He’s through the roof. Using this new technology, the show has become our country’s id. It began with Carlson trying out phrases to see what moved the dial. If you’ve noticed a decidedly harder edge to his show, it’s not your imagination.
They’ve discovered that when he plays to his audience’s (on average, about 3 million primarily White men aged 65+) deepest fears, they ratchet the dial up. The “stickiest” content—the stuff most likely to move the dial—is highly polarizing: the theme of late is “us versus them.” It is understood that “us” is White Christian nationalists, and “them” is everybody else.
The journalists at Fox hate the notion that the audience is programming the station instead of them. Journalists, they maintain, are trained to be objective and thorough as they investigate news stories. The audience, they say, is untrained and easily moved by volatile statements about race, gender, and power.
Another running theme is the “Great Replacement Theory” that holds that White Christian men are being strategically replaced by Democrats who are shipping immigrants into the country with the goal of winning elections. (Frankly, I think this gives Democrats way too much credit for organization, planning, and execution.)
Part of his mastery of the medium is Carlson’s ability to deftly use replacement theory to justify some downright un-American views, and then preempt any pushback by disparaging anyone who might disagree: “I know that the left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term ‘replacement,’ if you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World,” he recently said on his show. “But they become hysterical because that’s what’s happening actually. Let’s just say it: That’s true.” It’s an interesting form of persuasion that only works when there’s no one on set to refute it, and as you may have noticed, he no longer books guests who might disagree with anything he says. Therefore, if he says it’s true, it must be true.
The New York Times did an exhaustive study (and let’s face it, having to watch five years of Tucker Carlson shows in a row would in fact be exhausting) that revealed, “400 instances where he talked about Democratic politicians and others seeking to force demographic change through immigration.”
The truth, as any demographer will tell you, is that based on birthrate and aging, Whites will lose majority status here over the next decades without any help from a political party. They call it “demographic destiny,” and it has more to do with math than politics.
Conservative columnist Bret Stephens: “The danger with replacement theory in its current form isn’t that a handful of its followers are crazy but that too many of them are sane.”
According to this AP/University of Chicago survey, “belief in replacement theory is much higher among OANN/Newsmax viewers (45 percent) and Fox News viewers (31 percent) than it is among CNN (13 percent) or MSNBC viewers (11 percent).”
“Invasion” is a word Carlson also uses frequently. Disturbing fact: It appears in the Buffalo grocery store shooter’s racist manifesto, and was uttered by the mass murderer who targeted Hispanics at that El Paso Walmart.
Maybe you trust Tucker Carlson and Fox News; maybe you trust Elon Musk to run Twitter; maybe you trust the New York Times. Australians trust each other. That is the deciding factor in their successful fight against both mass shootings and Covid. Americans no longer trust each other, and that is why solutions for both problems have eluded us.
The cynical search for ratings has been wed to the desire to cast over half of the populace as supporters of “dirty invaders” in an effort to undo majority rules and open, fair elections—cornerstones of our republic—to the degree that we’re not even sure that we like democracy anymore.
That’s the power of the dial.
©2022 Jon Sinton
VOL. 112, NO. 24 - June 15, 2022