The dispute between Dish Network and Fox News is over. Fox won the contract negotiations, but they did not make it out unscathed in the court of public opinion. Sure, their fanatical fan base likely forced the resolution. The heavy handed tactics used by Murdoch’s crew, however well they energized the base, have drawn familiar criticism.
Accusations of murky journalistic ethics have hounded Fox News from the left for years. The network’s coordination of talking points across a whole day of programming makes the line between news and propaganda blurry at times. Having their most popular journalists Megyn Kelly and Bill O’Reilly invoke censorship over a contract dispute may have been a bridge too far.
The real rub is not that Fox decided to appeal to its viewer base. Rather, it is how they leveraged O’Reilly’s and Kelly’s reputation as journalists to strengthen their position. It would have been one thing to have the two anchors run videos reminding audiences that if they enjoy Fox News they should switch providers. Instead they were trotted out to rail against “censorship” at the hands of Dish and shade the dispute as a freedom of the press issue.
Fox’s claims against Dish ring particularly hollow considering the number of actual incidents of censorship in recent years. Many of these incidents were reported on by the same two personalities who leveled the accusations at Dish on national television. The decision to expend the credibility of two of the most popular hosts on the network may have cost more than it was worth.
The truth is fox was going to win anyways. With the most loyal audience on cable the pseudo-news stunt was unnecessary and needlessly harmed their journalistic credibility. The Fox News fan base would have dropped dish regardless. Even devoted followers were unlikely to believe that is was actually censorship. They just wanted the programming they enjoyed. This seems to be a case of either poor planning or execution.
There are a couple of things the folks at Fox to more effectively play to their strengths. First they need to consider their target audience more carefully. Their call for viewers to abandon Dish would have been just as effective with O’Reilly and Kelly reminding viewers of why they watch Fox News. Second, when planning a PR offensive, they should try to draw attention away from perceived weaknesses in the organization rather than highlight them.