WaPo's Wemple Explains How The “Great Conservative Tradition” Of Bemoaning Media Bias Has Now Backfired On Fox

Washington Post's Erik Wemple pointed out the irony in how “accusations of media bias,” a ploy often used by Fox to boost “its own ratings” and undermine criticisms against conservatives, are what Donald Trump claims is motivating his boycott of Thursday's GOP primary debate.

During a January 26 press conference GOP presidential front runner Donald Trump announced that he will not participate in Thursday night's Fox News-hosted GOP presidential primary debate, because of alleged bias against him by Fox News host and debate moderator, Megyn Kelly.

Fox has given Trump over 24 hours of free airtime since May, significantly more than his fellow GOP candidates and has furnished several of the talking points Trump uses on the campaign trail. However, the network has stood by Kelly and several Fox News figures have attacked Trump over his decision to pull out of the debate.

Despite the massive amount of coverage given to Trump's campaign, Trump still maintains there is a bias against him, using a tactic Fox News helped create. As The Washington Post's Erik Wemple wrote in a January 26 blog post, Trump's accusations of media bias against him mirror the “great conservative tradition” of accusing the media of an anti-Republican bias. According to Wemple, Trump has taken advantage of the media bias trope to deflect “just about anything that has been critical of him”, and now, he is using this narrative against the network that helped create it, making “the ironies here circular.” (emphasis original):

Tempting though it is to game out the PR and political calculations between Fox News and Trump, there's something bigger going down here. Momentous, even: The right-wing penchant for nonstop media criticism is swerving across the median, zigzagging around the road, about to wrap itself around that oak tree around the curve. Like other planks of the conservative canon -- e.g., foreign-policy hawkishness -- it has been invoked and ultimately abused by Trump. Such that it can no longer stand on its own.

See any good -- or bad -- conservative politician on the stump, and listen for the broadsides against the liberal mainstream media. They don't give Republicans a chance; they distort things; they give weight to trivial stories that harm conservatives and ignore big stories that favor them -- it's a viewpoint that stretches back at least to a seminal anti-MSM speech by Spiro Agnew in 1969.


Into this tradition of media criticism stomped Trump's presidential campaign. Whereas previous practitioners of the critique looked for quite specific signs of bias in the media, Trump has found bias or misconduct in just about anything that has been critical of him. He has railed against Politico for pointing out various truths; he has railed against CNN and just about every other broadcaster for the bias of not showing the full extent of his crowds; he has ripped pundits -- and Post columnists -- such as Charles Krauthammer and George F. Will for reasons that haven't stuck with the Erik Wemple Blog; he has gone back and forth on whether Chuck Todd of NBC News is a nice guy; and so on.

All of which tees up the Kelly thing. "Megyn Kelly's really biased against me," said Trump in an Instagram video. “She knows that, I know that, everybody knows that. Do you really think she can be fair at a debate?” (Bold text added to highlight another clumsy Trump effort to co-opt a great conservative tradition.)


The ironies here are circular. Over the years, Fox News has boosted its own ratings by frequently airing accusations of media bias. Now its ratings -- at least for Thursday night's debate -- stand to suffer over just such an accusation. Everyone tunes in to see just how Trump will bring out the worst in those who surround him. And the National Review got tossed from hosting a February debate because it dared to exercise its prerogative as an opinion journal to editorialize against Trump.