Ten Miles Square


December 10, 2012 12:15 PM FOX Needs a Conservative Counterpart to Up with Chris Hayes

By Harold Pollack

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.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

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Harold Pollack is the Helen Ross Professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.


  • Michael on December 10, 2012 1:59 PM:

    Up! with Chris Hayes (and, The Melissa Harris Perry Show) are two of my favorite television shows-period. I guess one could call me a liberal or progressive (according to the political spectrum), but I value honesty and intellectual rigor over ideology.
    I routinely rise at 7:30 A.M. on Saturday and Sunday (and, I set my dvr on the off chance thay I might oversleep) to watch, listen, learn and yell at the television (in affirmation, disagreement or to raise a point that someone missed). Fox News needs a lot of things, some truth and intellectual honesty for starters. I seriously doubt (based upon what I have heard-I actually never watch that network) that the viewing public will be treated to anything along the quality of either Up! or MHP...

  • Raoul on December 10, 2012 2:25 PM:

    Consider this hackery if you like, but I disagree. I think FOX should continue its useless epistemic closure and bogus programming.

    The longer they suck, the worse off the right wing will be for a couple of decades. If we're really lucky, FOX will seriously damage the whole Ailes/Murdoch concept fatally and they'll go down the drain.

    There are conservative outlets that do honest journalism and strive for challenge and testing of their ideas. Let them grow, rather than rewarding that corrupt old bag Murdoch.

  • RussellB_in_LA on December 11, 2012 10:42 AM:

    Woulda coulda shoulda. Smart people (that is, people who like to hear about the "fine print") do not comprise FOX News' target demographic -- remember, it was founded as the anti-CNN, at a time when presumably smart people watched that channel (and before its degeneration into Slightly-Less-FOXy) -- and contributing to (as opposed to dictating) the terms of political debate is not its business model.

  • Mitch on December 11, 2012 1:31 PM:

    "Most FOX discussion shows are virtually unwatchable—not because they’re conservative, but because they offer so little intellectual nutrition to their core audience."

    I have seen no evidence that there is ANY desire for "intellectual nutrition" in modern American conservatism. They have only dogma—eternal truths that cannot be challenged and must never be questioned. This is not a bug; it is a feature.

    The modern GOP doesn't do policy, not in the way that the Democratic Party does. Dems examine policy and attempt to refine their views in light of the evidence. The GOP completely rejects evidence-based reasoning; so what makes you think that they have ANY desire to see a show about detailed analysis of any issues?

    They do not. They want to have their faith reinforced. They want to hear people who agree with what they already believe. They do not want to examine their ideology; they do not want to consider alternatives. At best, they want to figure out ways to repackage their goals so that they SOUND better to the general electorate. The few "legitimate conservative experts" don't have power, and do not influence the course that their party is taking.

    Do you think that the American conservatives have any interest at all in listening to "people of diverse views speaking substance–and actually learn from and listen to each other across various political and ideological divides", really? Really?

    If so, then show me the evidence. Because from all that I have seen the GOP is currently not at all interested in diverse views, or in learning anything at all. They already claim to know all of the answers.

    To believe otherwise is dangerously naive, to say the least.