I am an Associate Professor at the Department of Media Culture at the College of Staten Island, CUNY, where I teach courses in journalism, political communication, and marketing. Trained as an interdisciplinary Communication scholar, my research uses concepts and methods from sociology, political science, and media industry studies to examine populist rhetorical styles, tabloid journalism, and partisan media branding. I have been particularly interested in how conservative media represents social class in America.
My first monograph, Fox Populism: Branding Conservatism as Working Class (Cambridge, 2019), offers an in-depth academic analysis of the Fox News Channel, conservative America’s number one news source. Where existing explanations of Fox’s appeal have stressed the network’s conservative editorial slant, Fox Populism sheds light on the importance of style as a generative mode of ideology. I argue that Fox News’s real ideological force derives not from its partisan talking points but rather from the cultural–stylistic referents Fox programs use to make such talking points socially meaningful and emotionally engaging.
Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly has called Fox Populism, “the most important examination of Fox News published to date” and The Los Angeles Review of Books credits the study for giving, “an admirably clear and much-need blueprint for future studies of the intimate, yet volatile relationship between mass media, populist movements, and American conservatism in the 21st Century.”
My intellectual interests in class and partisanship reflects my own blue-collar upbringing in the conservative state of Utah. Witnessing the Bush administration weaponize country music in support of the 2003 Iraq Invasion had a profound impact on me as I was coming of age politically during the 9/11 era. When I entered a doctoral program at UC San Diego in 2005, I still harbored this vexing preoccupation about the evidently powerful relationship between style and ideology, between class-taste and partisanship. This moment marked the kernel of the political cultural approach that I would eventually develop to study Fox News and political media more broadly.
The release of Fox Populism has resulted in invitations to speak at Columbia University, New York University, Hong Kong Baptist University, and at the University of Southern Denmark as the U.S. Embassy’s 2019 Honora Rankine-Galloway Lecture. The book has garnered attention beyond the academy as well attracting television and podcast interviews and interviews with prominent US newspapers such as The Washington Post, Forbes, and The Boston Globe and with major outlets abroad such as Japan’s Asahi Shimbun, the United Kingdom’s Daily Telegraph, and France’s AFP. Recently, I appeared in Vice TV’s Darkside of the 90s series to discuss Rupert Murdoch’s impact on American journalism.
In addition to publishing articles in academic journals such as Media, Culture & Society (2014) and Journalism (2017) and in edited volumes such as News on the Right (Oxford, 2019) and The Routledge Companion to Media Disinformation and Populism (Routledge, 2021), I’ve written popular pieces for outlets such as TV Guide, Influence and Zócalo Public Square and I have given public talks with organizations such as the United Kingdom’s Media Reform Coalition and with the Office of Civil & Political Rights of the Generalitat de Catalunya.
My new research project explores “alt-right” and “alt-left” political channels that have proliferated on YouTube in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. Whereas Benkler et al.’s (2018) mapping of the US media environment demonstrates a stark contrast between the style of the right-wing media sector and “the rest” (i.e., the centrist and liberal sectors), when one zeroes in on the specific independent, YouTube-native news sector one finds a much stronger stylistic symmetry across the left-right political divide.
As with my previous work, this new line of research asserts the importance of style as an analytical category for studying modern news branding and political identity formation but devotes more energy to revealing the stylistic linkages between partisan cable news and social media platforms like YouTube. In addition, it seeks to explain how these stylistic affinities are incentivized by a similar commercial-economic logic that prizes “loyal” viewership and “intense” engagment above all else. I want to suggest that there is no inherent connection between media populism and political conservatism — even though today, thanks to Fox News, many conflate the two.
Reece Peck, PhD
City University of New York