Monday, March 17, 2014

Confidence Trick: What Flim-Flamming Con Artists and Fox News Have in Common

by Nomad

Con artists target the elderly as "marks" for a number of reasons. While the motives differ slightly, Fox News targets the same demographic for exactly the same reasons.

According to Webster's Dictionary:

..." the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person; also - ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause"...

Over the years many critics of Fox News have called it a conservative propaganda machine, whose goal seems to be to divide the nation. But maybe that's missing the point.

The Fox News- Con Artist Connections
The average Fox News viewer, studies have found, is over 65 (and keep in mind that's the average). It's no coincidence that the number one target of confidence tricksters just also happens to be the elderly. Instead making off with their life savings, the Fox News con artists have been used to foment division and affect elections through near constant disinformation. (Indirectly, savings are being drained from senior bank accounts in support for groups like the Tea Party.)

Nothing is accidental when it comes to Roger Ailes, president of Fox News. A wit could say Ailes put the "con" in conservative politics. As a diligent flim-flammer, he has chosen his victims well and has learned how to exploit characteristics of the human psyche such as prejudice, loneliness, naivety, and ignorance.

A 2011 American Time Use Survey found that the time spent watching television generally rose steadily with age.  Often that might just mean television is used to provide background sound. Even so, immersion and constant repetition of the same (or similar messages) is certainly a standard technique of propagandists.
What other characteristic from this age group makes seniors vulnerable to both con artists and propagandists?

There are actually a few answers to that question. The key factor is perhaps isolation. Social isolation is a major problem for older adults Social isolation is defined as "a state in which the individual lacks a sense of belonging socially, lacks engagement with others, has a minimal number of social contacts and they are deficient in fulfilling and quality relationships." 
That's the reason why former tough-guy Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair was probably the proper symbol for the target audience for Roger Ailes.

It is easier to convince a person of even the most outlandish ideas when they are alone. One 1956 psychological study found that the effects of propaganda could be minimized by a free discussion. 
That's why con artists generally prefer to work during the day when the elderly victims are more likely to be alone, unable to refer or consult outside support. How else can you sell a news story about the EPA using drones to spy on American farmers? Or that gay adoption causes depression? That women in the military should "expect" to be raped?  That wearing a hoodie was as much responsible for the murder of a black kid as the man who pulled the trigger?
Only a person cut off from outside contact with reality would swallow such claptrap, right?
  1. Beware the Foxes
    Being isolated, many elderly victims of con artists are more susceptible to overtures from seemingly friendly strangers. In this case, the friendly strangers are Fox and Friends. Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade play the roles of makeshift co-workers for the retired or chatty neighbors- that you can tune out without being rude- for the shut-ins.
  2. As David Frum observed
    Fox offered them a new virtual environment in which they could feel more at home than they did in the outside world.
  1. That's quite an attractive arrangement for a lonely old white guy as straight as an Oklahoma highway.
In addition to that, there is the nostalgia factor. 
In other respects too, Fox offered a path back to a vanishing past. Here was a place in which men were firmly in charge, and in which women were valued most for their physical attractiveness. Here was a place in which ethnic minorities appeared only in secondary roles -- and then, with brave exceptions, only to affirm the rightness of the opinions of the white males in the primary roles.
This too ties in with the con artist correlation. One factor that makes the older generation prey to con artists is its patriotism and respect for authority. At least that's what Sid Kirchheimer, who writes a weekly "Scam Alert" column for the AARP Bulletin says. The authority figures in Fox News are people like Judge Napolitano, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly. 

That world no longer exists except in the minds of Fox News viewers who were once upon a time beneficiaries of entitlements past, meaning white and male. Without those entitlements, the world, they believe, has become a hostile place to live. Outside of the Fox News blurry bubble, the elderly viewers imagine a planet full of threats crime and decaying values (but not global warming, police brutality or armed citizenry running amok.)
They thank Fox News for giving them company from the moment they wake up to the time they fall asleep in their Laz-E-Boy recliner, but most of all, for reinforcing their ideas about women, blacks, gays and Hispanics.