Fox News was always more populist than conservative, and that's okay with me

I opened my Facebook account this morning to see yet another meme posted about something awful on Fox News, some Fox commentator saying something obnoxious, according to the meme poster. I’ve seen a lot of these over the years, but here’s what’s different about them now: this was posted by a fellow conservative. Someone whose other posts indicate a shared outlook on less government, Bill of Rights respect, and smart, muscular foreign policy.

It used to be that these memes and other criticisms of Fox News would rise up from the Orc-like snark mills of the Daily Kos and MoveOn crowds (where “Faux News” is the beloved moniker for the network). Now I’m reading critiques and jeers about Fox News from conservatives.

I started to notice it when the Trumpians were upset with Megyn Kelly’s grilling of their hero in the first debate on his anti-women statements over the years. And I scratched my head at their outrage. Did they think her job was to ask soft questions just because he is running for a Republican office?

Lately, the outrage comes from conservatives upset with how much coverage Fox gives to Donald Trump, when he’s not really a conservative. Well, on that, I can agree, but with this qualifier: all media outlets give Donald Trump too much free air time. Fox is no different in that regard. And if you want to see some slavish kid-glove treatment of The Donald, catch some MSNBC in the morning. Sure, Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough yuck it up over his antics, but if Scarborough interviews him, he’s not nearly as tough on him as Megyn Kelly justifiably was.

I also can’t get all het up at Fox when commentators like Sean Hannity jump the shark with blind adoration of misogynist Trump. Oh, I can get het up about Hannity himself. But not with Fox. They’re not selling Sean Hannity’s show to the public as a hard news show. It’s commentary. That means it will feature material that suits the interests and biases of the host.

All this outrage and criticism has planted a question in my mind: Do Fox News viewers believe Fox’s job is to toe the conservative line, whichever way certain viewers define it? It has surprised and bewildered me to realize that, yes, some viewers of Fox do see it as little more than a propaganda arm of the conservative movement. In other words, they see it the same way its liberal critics have always viewed it.

But I’ve never viewed Fox as a conservative champion, even if its shows do cover material from a conservative point of view more often than not. Here’s why: Fox News has always been more populist than conservative, catering more to the popular, ordinary folks’ ideas of what’s important than to what conservatives want to hear and see all the time. It just so happens that conservative and populist overlap a lot.

The commentators like Hannity and O’Reilly have never been my favorite part of Fox News anyway. My must-watch Fox show is Special Report in the evening which delivers on several levels for my taste: straightforward reporting on stories I think are important (Catherine Herridge’s reporting on the Hillary Clinton email scandal has been outstanding and often contains breaking news no other media outlet snags), and the most civil panel discussion on the air, hands down, featuring conservative thinkers plus at least one so-called mainstream or liberal reporter.

So, my advice to Fox critics on the right is this: Calm down. It never was a conservative organ, and it shouldn’t be. It’s more populist than anything. I’m happy there is a news outlet that doesn’t sneer at middle America and ordinary folks the way most other broadcast and cable news networks do.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist.