The Fox News Fallacy

It’s Blinding the Democrats to Real Problems

The Fox News Fallacy is having a dire effect on many Democrats. This is the idea that if Fox News (substitute here the conservative bête noire of your choice if you prefer) criticizes the Democrats for X then there must be absolutely nothing to X and the job of Democrats is to assert that loudly and often. The problem is that an issue is not necessarily completely invalid just because Fox News mentions it. That depends on the issue. If there is something to the issue and persuadable voters have real concerns, you will not allay those concerns by embracing the Fox News Fallacy. In fact, you'll probably intensify them by giving such voters the impression that Democrats simply don't care about their concerns and will do nothing to address them. That will undermine the Democrats’ ability to respond to predictable attacks against their candidates in 2022 and raise the likelihood of a midterm debacle.

Crime is a great example of this. Initially dismissed as simply an artifact of the Covid shutdown that was being vastly exaggerated by Fox News and the like for their nefarious purposes, it is now apparent that the spike in violent crime is quite real and that voters are very, very concerned about it. According to recent data from the Democratic-oriented Navigator Research, more Americans overall, including among independents and Hispanics, now believe violent crime is a “major crisis” than believe that about the coronavirus pandemic or any other area of concern. Moreover, majorities of even Democrats now believe violent crime is a major crisis and concerns are sky-high among black voters (70 percent say it’s a major crisis). Similarly, the latest USA Today/Ipsos poll (June 29-July 6) finds crime and gun violence topping the list of issues that worry Americans.

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The public response leans heavily in the direction of more policing, not less, countering the defund the police approach that was promulgated by many on the Democratic left and still holds considerable sway in those quarters. The same USA Today poll found 77 percent support for deploying more police to street patrols and 70 percent support for increasing police department budgets. In contrast, defund the police clocks in at just 22 percent support and is even opposed by black respondents 60-38.

Concern about public safety is especially high in urban areas, particularly among nonwhites. In heavily black Detroit, a USA Today/Suffolk University//Detroit Free Press poll found:

Amid a jump in violent crime in this and other cities nationwide, Detroit residents report being much more worried about public safety than about police misconduct…By an overwhelming 9-1, they would feel safer with more cops on the street, not fewer…

In Detroit, 1 in 5 residents (19%) cited public safety as the biggest issue facing the city, second only to education, named by 23%. On a list of eight concerns, police reform ranked last, at 4%.

The poll found a significant racial divide on the question. Black residents ranked crime at the top of their list of concerns: 24% cited public safety, and just 3% named police reform.

But white residents were a bit more concerned about police reform than public safety, 12% compared with 10%.

The former UK prime minister, Tony Blair, had a very successful slogan: “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”. Democrats would be well-advised to adopt a similar approach. Fox News may exaggerate, Fox News may have highly partisan political purposes. But they are not making the crime problem up.

Another example of the Fox News Fallacy is the immigration issue. The Biden administration has resisted—still resists—calling the situation at the Mexican border a “crisis” and initially insisted that the surge at the border would go away on its own as the hot weather season arrived. This was the line most Democrats adhered to, invoking the idea that the issue was more a Fox News talking point than a real problem.

It is now apparent that the border surge is not going away anytime soon and that the perceived liberalization of the border regime under the Biden administration has indeed spurred more migrants to try their luck at their border. And it is not going away with the hot weather. Maria Sacchetti and Nick Miroff of the Washington Post report:

Officials have made more than 1 million apprehensions at the southwest border this fiscal year as of June, and 210,000 more individuals probably crossed in July, [David Shahoulian, assistant secretary for border and immigration policy at the Department of Homeland Security] said, calling the preliminary tally “the highest monthly encounter number since Fiscal Year 2000.”

“July also likely included a record number of unaccompanied child encounters, exceeding 19,000, and the second-highest number of family unit encounters, at around 80,000,” which is close to the peak in May 2019.

In a just-released Morning Consult poll, Biden’s approval rating on immigration stands at 37 percent approval/52 percent disapproval (30/54 among independents), consistent with other recent polls. Democrats would do well to remember that public opinion polling over the years has consistently shown overwhelming majorities in favor of more spending and emphasis on border security. Here is another issue that is being exploited by Fox News but is still a real problem Democrats need to address.

Finally, here’s one that's increasingly in the news these days: "critical race theory" (CRT), a term originating in academic legal theory that has been shorthanded by the right as a catch-all for the intrusion of race essentialism into teacher training, school curricula and the like. The Fox News Fallacy is very strong here as the standard Democratic comeback is simply to assert that any voters, including parents, who are concerned about "CRT" are manipulated by Fox News and are opposing benign pedagogical practices like teaching about slavery, Jim Crow, the Tulsa race massacre, redlining and so on. The not so subtle implication is that such voters are racists since who else would be opposed to simply teaching such historical facts?

But this misrepresents the concerns of many parents and what the whole CRT controversy is really about. A serious engagement with the issue demands a deeper and more accurate understanding of the roots of the controversy. Sociologist Ilana Redstone provides some clarifying analysis:

CRT’s critics are often portrayed as wanting to “whitewash” history and deny the reality of slavery. If the problem were that simple, the criticisms would indeed be worthy of the dismissal they often receive. Yet, there are serious concerns about CRT that are rarely aired and that have nothing to do with these points. As a result, confusion and misinformation abound and tension continues to mount.

Before making a few clarifying points, it’s worth noting that the vast majority of teachers and DEI trainers are not sitting down with students or groups announcing a lesson on CRT. More often than not, the name “CRT” never comes up at all. However, a CRT-based perspective is quietly shaping the conversation anyway. Its impact can be seen in conversations about race, power, identity, intent, privilege, and in an insistence on seeing the world through its lens....

CRT is a theoretical perspective that asserts that race is always about inequality and domination. CRT has a few main tenets…

1. Colorblind racism—Deemphasizing the role of race and racism, including to focus on concepts of merit, is itself a manifestation of racism.

2. Interest convergence—Members of the dominant group will only support equality when it’s in their best interest to do so.

3. Race and racism are always tied together. Race is a construct meant to preserve white dominance over people of color, while making it seem like life is about meritocracy.

4. Inattention to systemic racism—An unwillingness to recognize the full force of systemic racism as determining disparities between groups is a denial of the reality of racism today (and evidence of ignorance at best and racism at worst)….

[W]hile rightly shining a light on racism as a problem, CRT leaves no space for non-racist reasons to see the world—or, in this case, the causes of inequality—differently.

This is a good summary of basic CRT-inspired ideas that have arrived in educational systems (and of course many other places). It is easy to see why parents might worry about such ideas, regardless of what they're called, influencing educational practices. These worries cannot be bludgeoned away by saying CRT has no influence and parents just don't want their kids taught about slavery. Parents are far more worried about their children being arrayed into hierarchies of privilege and oppression and encouraged to see everything through a racial lens than they are concerned with their children learning about historical incidents and practices of racism.

A recent Politico report on the CRT controversy in Virginia underscores this:

The stakes aren’t lost on Amanda Litman, founder of the Democratic organization Run for Something, which works to elect school board members and other local officials: “This is a perfect storm of something that can appeal to, or draw back in, some of the suburban parents that might have voted Republican in 2016, Democrat in 2018 and 2020, but could be drawn back to the Republican Party in 2022.”

“We’re trying to argue ‘No, you’re mis-defining critical race theory,’ and that’s not the point,” Litman added. “The point is that people are scared about what their kids are learning.”...

Polling suggests that the majority of voters still aren’t aware of critical race theory….As of mid-June, fully a third of voters told pollsters from the firm YouGov they hadn’t heard of critical race theory, and only a third of voters said they’d both heard of it and had a good idea of its meaning. But opinions among those who’d heard of it were sharply negative. Fifty-three percent said they were “very unfavorable” of it while only 23 percent said they were “very favorable.”

People who identified as Republican and had heard of critical race theory were especially negative: 85 percent termed their views “very unfavorable.” But the same was true of 71 percent of independents, the group that was key to Biden’s victory over former President Donald Trump, favoring the Democrat by 9 points, according to the Pew Research Center, after Trump had narrowly won the group over Hillary Clinton in 2016….

In Loudoun County, Va…[a] poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies in early June for the anti-critical race theory advocacy group Fight for Schools found that 48 percent of independent voters and 59 percent of public school parents overall in Loudoun and neighboring Fairfax County viewed critical race theory negatively, while 31 percent and 39 percent of each group had positive views.

Biden won Loudoun County by 62 percent to 37 percent over Trump, and Fairfax by 70-28.

The Wall Street Journal also looked into how the issue is evolving in Virginia.

Some voters interviewed in Virginia, including suburban white women who were important to Democrats’ improved performance here and in other states that President Biden carried, said they felt national conversations about race and equity were divisive and often cast all white people in a negative light. Others were concerned that their children would come home from school believing that their parents are racist...

[Republican gubernatorial candidate} Youngkin is trying to engage voters such as Karen Mineo, a Loudoun County teacher.

“They are trying to make me feel bad because of the way I was born,” Ms. Mineo said. She said she participated in a 2019 meeting where school staff were told to be aware of implicit bias that comes with being white, something she took issue with: “They are trying to make me feel bad about me, for who I am, that I can’t help.” A spokesman for the district didn’t respond to a request for comment....

To win, Mr. Youngkin will need to both appeal to the core supporters of former President Donald Trump, who are the most active Republicans in the state, and persuade some Virginians who have turned away from the party.

Democrats who embrace the Fox News Fallacy are inclined to believe there is no real issue here other than voters, whipped up by Fox News, who are simply opposed to teaching students about slavery and the like. That is a mistake and blinds Democrats to a real problem that is emerging.

More generally, Democrats need to wean themselves away from the Fox News Fallacy as a generic response to conservative attacks. Democrats would be well-advised to focus instead on an inclusive nationalism that emphasizes what Americans have in common and their right not just to economic prosperity but to public safety, secure borders and a world-class but non-ideological education for their children. That’s much more likely to work than simply denying a lot of these issues are problems.