The History of Fox Populism: How Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly Remade Television News

Winter Colloquia || Jan. 30 || 3:30-5:00 PM || CMU 126

Since the early 2000s, Fox News has dominated the cable news arena in ratings, but its true impact far outreaches its primary partisan audience, as it often shapes the national political debate and sets the agenda for other outlets with its coverage. So what makes it so much more influential than just a cable news network?

This presentation offers insights into why the Fox News Channel has been both commercially successful and politically effective. Where existing explanations of Fox’s appeal have stressed the network’s conservative editorial slant, Professor Reece Peck sheds light on the importance of its style as a generative mode of ideology.

In this talk, Peck traces the historical development of Fox News’ counter-elite news brand, illustrating how its iconoclastic news style was crafted by fusing two class-based traditions of public culture—one native to the political field in populism and one native to the commercial media field in tabloid journalism. This talk will engage the biographies of News Corp. owner Rupert Murdoch, founding Fox CEO Roger Ailes, and star host, Bill O’Reilly, and spotlights how the earlier media enterprises of these figures took part in foreshadowed the unique broadcasting formula Fox News would develop.

Using the network’s coverage of the late-2000s economic crisis as the principal case study, Peck then examines how Fox’s populist style is deployed as a political tool to frame news events. By analyzing the network’s top-rated programs, Peck reveals how Fox imagines its audience as working-class underdogs and successfully represents narrow, conservative political demands as popular and universal.


Presenter Biography: Reece Peck’s research examines the areas of populist political rhetoric, conservative media and the cultural politics of class. As a doctoral student, he conducted field research at various Tea Party protests and think-tank-funded symposia in California and Nevada. He has published articles in Journalism and Media, Culture & Society and has a forthcoming book with Cambridge University Press entitled Fox Populism: Branding Conservatism as Working Class (2019). Peck is an Assistant Professor at the City University of New York at Staten Island and provides commentary on media and politics to news organizations, including New York Magazine, the Washington Post and the AFP.