How Fox News Fails Cultural Conservatives

A snapshot of the news organization as it asked itself, "How should we cover Kim Kardashian?"

“Every other network has given all their shows to liberals. We are the balance.” –Roger Ailes

"For some reason, 30-year-old Kim Kardashian has become very famous in America..." –Bill O'Reilly

If you'd never watched Fox News, the 24-hour cable network that caters to Americans who self-identify as conservatives, you might expect its entertainment coverage to focus on culturally conservative, family-friendly matters—fare some conservatives feel is ignored in a media run by social liberals. Where else to turn for such news if you're a Republican grandparent who wistfully remembers the days when network TV put married couples in separate beds, or a red-state dad who wrote a letter to the FCC when Janet Jackson's nipple emerged from her Superbowl costume, or a megachurch or Christian college attendee who shares the lament that our culture is hyper-sexualized?

But tune into the network's actual entertainment coverage and one quickly realizes how far it is from being the change cultural conservatives want to see in the world.

Consider this week.

All over America, creative professionals released more books, films, and music tracks than a news organization could even begin to comprehensively cover. But Fox 411, the network's entertainment vertical, focused on the same story that captivated much of the mainstream media: a photo of Kim Kardashian's butt. You'd have thought it was as compulsory to cover as the moon landing.

Here's how the story played on Fox's entertainment news vertical:

The coverage doesn't seem reluctant! Here's a screenshot of my favorite part of the article:

How strange to claim an image from a tiny magazine that you're thrusting before an audience of millions isn't appropriate "in any context." The link in the middle of the article had me in stitches: "NEWS: Whoa! Kim K. Bares Butt in Teeny Bikini." Clickhole should launch a sister site called, "News: Whoa!"

As someone dubious of nudity causing any harm, I don't have any urgent objection to clickbait articles that capitalize on the desire of the masses to see a photo of Kardashian's butt. What's less forgivable, to me, is pretending to disapprove of the Kardashian photo in order to profit from it via traffic, even while snarkily belittling the subject's body.

Cultural conservatives aren't all wrong in their critique of sex in the media. While I don't think the Kardashian photos are immoral or likely to damage anyone, it's easy to imagine a more elevating approach to entertainment coverage.

Online or in print, the cultural right can read the back of the book in The Weekly Standard, the Claremont Review of Books, City Journal or The New Criterion, for starters.

But when it comes to mass broadcast outlets, consider the fact that a staunch cultural conservative like Rod Dreher, who homeschools his family with his wife, would be far more comfortable exposing his children to the entertainment coverage of NPR than Fox News. The former dips a toe in low culture, as do we all, and doesn't entirely protect its listeners from the drift toward a hyper-sexualized America. But Fox News entertainment coverage focuses obsessively on sex, and has a weirdly symbiotic relationship with it: scantily clad women become an excuse to show breasts and butts in the guise of expressing disapproval.

Of course, the mask sometimes slips:

Fox is, of course, not so different from other gigantic broadcast media corporations in shamelessly exploiting the fact that sex sells. Its behavior is noteworthy only insofar as it underscores the fact that the ideological mission it purports to have and the cultural critiques it purports to believe in are at odds with its actual programming. More than other broadcasters, it pretends to flatter cultural conservatives, and to disdain the decadence of liberals in their coastal enclaves. But that's just a pose helping it sell ads against its own libertine cultural offerings.

When can a media organization never again complain that anyone else is coarsening the culture? When its Kardashian coverage in the last month alone includes:

That is what it looks like to fail cultural conservatives. I'll leave you with some fair-but-balanced Kardashian coverage from day two of the vital "did Kim break the Internet" story, where they reveal the most trafficked story at Fox News that day: