A Fox News Tantrum And A Split-Screen: A Metaphor for The Decline Of White America


In took just a few seconds for Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly to sum up Fox News’ twisted ideology better than anything Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver or any of the other great satirists could ever do.

Kelly, one of the right-wing warriors of the Fox Network, was last night interviewing Middle East commentator Pete Hegseth about the recent beheading of American journalist James Foley by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

In the middle of the interview, the program’s producers cut to breaking news footage of fresh uprisings in Ferguson, Missouri, while Kelly and Hegseth continued talking about Foley and ISIS.

A clearly pissed off Kelly rebuked the producers in the middle of the broadcast.

“Hold on… I realise… I realise something is happening in Ferguson, but we’re talking about something important here, so can you at least split screen the video?” Kelly said.

“Look, the protesters and the police are clashing again, they’re clashing again. But we’re talking about the dead, the death of an American who was beheaded.”

Kelly got her split screen, but in the process, she also delivered the perfect metaphor for a great divide that is growing in America. On one side of this divide is conservative white America. On the other side is poor, minority America.

That America lives in Ferguson, a small, poor predominantly black suburb of St Louis. Ferguson, of course, has been in the news for several weeks, after the August 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, a young man gunned down by a police officer, Darren Wilson.

The community of Ferguson has been clashing with police every night since, and a state of emergency – replete with night-time curfews – has been declared.

Foley, by contrast, rose to media prominence more recently – this week, in fact, after gut-wrenching footage was released by ISIS of his beheading, in response to US strikes on the terrorist organisation in Iraq.

The parallels – and the differences – between the two ‘stories’ are as stunning as they are obvious.

In both cases, the dead men were unarmed innocents.

In both cases, the men were killed while undertaking inherently risky pursuits.

In Foley’s case, he was killed on foreign soil during a civil war, undertaking one of the most dangerous of all professions – foreign correspondence.

Brown, by contrast, was killed on home soil. But he was also undertaking an activity that is inherently dangerous – walking home from a local store as a black teenager in a community run by white police.

Both deaths were entirely predictable; Foley’s, because if you’re a western journalist in parts of the Middle East, you are almost certain to meet a gruesome end if you are captured; Brown’s because if you’re a black teenager in the United States, you are almost certain to be racially profiled by increasingly brutal and militarized police forces.

Both deaths have also sparked outrage. The anger at Foley’s death is international. The anger at Brown’s death is more local (although anger is also growing in the poorer minority pockets of the US).

But there are also substantial differences between the two stories, the most obvious being the skin colour and the relative advantage of the two men.

Foley was a white, privileged American. Brown was a black under-privileged American.

And that’s what pissed off Megyn Kelly. In the eyes of the average Fox news anchor, one man has far greater news value than the other. But in the twisted reality of Fox news, both stories are essentially about the same thing: a threat to the white American way of life, whether that threat be real or perceived.

The ‘perceived’ threat comes through the Foley story. It is an imagined threat of Islamic militants somehow destroying the lives of middle America. Think September 11, which claim the lives of almost 3,000 innocent Americans.

While the deaths of those Americans was tragic and all-too-real. It was far less than anything America has wrought on its enemies in recent decades. It is also no real threat to the ongoing existence of America, although it’s a threat on which Fox news and the US Government – be they Democrat or Republican – trade heavily. A frightened population is a more complaint one.

The ‘real’ threat comes through Brown. It’s much closer to home than the perceived threat, and it involves something much scarier than terrorism – the erosion of white privilege as Blacks and Hispanics grow in numbers, and in strength.

At the most recent US election, it was coloured minorities that defeated the Republicans’ bid for office. The racial mix of America is changing fast, and the conservative white grip on power is starting to slip.

This, above all else, is why Fox news anchors like Megyn Kelly will focus on the death of a white journalist on foreign soil, and get annoyed about being interrupted by a story about an uprising over a black youth shot by cops.

Only one of the stories, in the eyes of Kelly, was about honour and purpose.

Kelly thinks like this because she is the face of white American privilege. She is defending her own right to power, as much as she is defending the rights of other conservative white Americans to cling to theirs.

You only need to look at Kelly’s coverage of the Ferguson uprising earlier in the night, when she attacked Missouri Governor Jay Nixon after he commented that the officer responsible for fatally shooting Brown in “broad daylight” should face a “vigorous prosecution”.

Kelly slammed the “irresponsible and outrageous” statement, saying that Nixon had ignited a “firestorm” by “decid[ing]the guilt of the officer in this case long before any investigation is completed”.

Of course, the Ferguson firestorm had been lit long before Nixon’s comments – unrest in the poor St Louis neighbourhood has been growing for over two weeks.

And there have been many, many firestorms before Ferguson, often lit by the actions of police, or sometimes by ordinary citizens (George Zimmerman), or sometimes by government response to natural disasters (like Hurricane Katrina).

Those firestorms are increasing in frequency, and in intensity. And no amount of Fox news spin nor righteous indignation is going to stop them.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.