I was trained as an interdisciplinary Communication scholar whose research spans the disciplines of cultural sociology, political science, media industry studies, and cultural studies. My area of expertise lies in television/video news, populism, partisan identification, and the cultural politics of race, class, and gender.
My research has argued for a new conceptual approach to media partisanship, one that questions the extent to which its popular conceptualization is really about political ideology. To rely only on a left-right ideological schema to define conservative outlets like Fox News is to miss how they manufacture partisanship as an identity style. To capture the critical relationship between ideology and aesthetics, my work combines a political lens with a cultural one and develops an interpretative framework that synthesizes theories of partisan identification (Iyengar), market positioning (Ries and Trout), Gramscian hegemony (Hall, Williams), class/cultural analysis (Bourdieu), and the sociology of morals (Lamont). My research on conservative media also innovates a multi-modal, semiotic analysis for deconstructing populist media discourse, one that accounts for its visual and performative elements and not just its verbal-rhetorical qualities (Laclau). Informed by critical theories of race, gender, and performativity (Butler), my analysis of political media seeks to reveal how the embodied race and gendered identities of political communicators can facilitate or hinder their ability to execute populist performance strategies on-air.
My early refereed publications used cultural genealogies of populist political discourse to explain the resonance of Fox News’s rhetorical framing of the Great Recession economic crisis. Building from this genealogical method, my first monograph Fox Populism (Cambridge, 2019) maps the points of convergence between US political history and the history of television news and identifies the key economic, political, and cultural trends that converged in the 1990s to create hospitable conditions for Fox’s partisan branding strategy. I explain how this strategy relied on the development of technological infrastructures and deregulation that expanded the range of channel options, partisan polarization in the political arena, and, crucially, content production that understood how to effectively use tabloid presentational techniques to formulate a “counter-elite” news aesthetic. By marrying literatures on populism and the postwar conservative movement with television and journalism studies scholarship, Fox Populism seeks to capture the complexity of Fox’s partisan mode of address and the overdetermined nature of the network’s unlikely rise to cable news dominance.
Since Fox Populism’s release, I have contributed book chapters to several edited volumes on journalism, populism, and political theory. My chapter in A.J. Bauer and Anthony Nadler’s pathbreaking book News on the Right (Oxford, 2019) illustrates how conservative media has weaponized country music to bolster their populist communication strategies. Where this chapter explores the intersection of politics and music to further elaborate the political-cultural approach to partisan media that I develop in Fox Populism, my most recent piece in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Illiberalism addresses the book’s unfinished business. In “The Illiberalism of Fox News: Theorizing nationalism and populism through the case of conservative America’s number one news source,” I explain the discursive similarities and differences between populist and nationalist political traditions and conduct a textual analysis of Fox’s current number one show Tucker Carlson Tonight to demonstrate the network’s Trump era turn toward anti-immigration politics and ethno-nationalism.
Much of the academic research and popular media commentary today is about “mis/disinformation,” and this discussion has revolved primarily around epistemological issues. My recent work addresses this debate head-on and asserts that it should be focused on questions of culture and identity as much as questions of facticity and technological affordances. My book chapter in Silvio Waisbord and Howard Tumber’s edited volume Routledge Companion to Media Disinformation and Populism (2021) examines how — in the pivotal months of February and March 2020 — the Trump administration and Fox News downplayed the severity of the Covid-19 virus, repeatedly suggesting it was no more dangerous than the “standard flu.” I use this example to stress the perils of partisan news styles (when taken to their extreme) and to demonstrate the persuasiveness of populist moral framing and the identitarian pull of aesthetic style. I was selected for a speaking role at the “What Comes After Disinformation Studies?” ICA preconference in Paris, France in April 2022. The talk I presented that day was entitled, “The power of news style and the limits of technology: Thinking beyond the ‘infocentric’ orientation of disinformation studies,” and it will be published online this January by UNC’s open-source platform Bulletin of Information, Technology, and Public Life.
Fox Populism: Branding Conservatism as Working Class (Cambridge, 2019)
“The power of news style and the limits of technology: Thinking beyond the ‘infocentric’ orientation of disinformation studies,” Bulletin of Information, Technology, and Public Life (CITAP), January 23, 2023.
“Comparing populist media: from Fox News to The Young Turks, from cable to YouTube, from right to left.” Television & New Media, August 12, 2022.
“Usurping the Usable Past: How Fox News Remembered the Great Depression during the Great Recession.” Journalism,18 (6), (2017): 680–699.
“‘You Say Rich, I Say Job Creator’: How Fox News Framed the Great Recession through the Moral Discourse of Producerism.” Media, Culture & Society, 36 (4), (2014): 526–35.
“The Illiberalism of Fox News: Theorizing nationalism and populism through the case of conservative America’s number one news source.” In The Oxford Handbook of Illiberalism, forthcoming.
“Listen to your gut’: How Fox News’ Populist Style Transformed Journalistic Authority in the United States.” In Silvio Waisbord and Howard Tumber (eds.), Routledge Companion to Media Misinformation and Populism (Routledge, 2020).
“Containing ‘Country Music Marxism’: How Fox News Conservatized John Rich’s ‘Shuttin’ Detroit Down.’” In A.J. Bauer and Anthony Nadler (eds.), News on the Right: Studying Conservative News Cultures (Oxford UK: Oxford University Press, 2019).
“Fox News & The Big Lie: A Tipping Point,” Resolute Square, December 29, 2022.
Co-author with A.J. Bauer. The Loudest Voice Recaps, Episodes 1-7. In TV Guide, July 1—August 12, 2019.
“How Fox Became Foxy: The American News Channel has Rebranded Political Communication, Says Reece Peck, Author of an Explosive New Book.” In Influence Magazine, May 13, 2019.
“Is Fox News the Smartest Journalism Ever?: Tabloid Television Is Great at Manipulating America’s Long History of Elitism and Class Conflict.” In Zócalo Public Square, November 5, 2014.
Congressional testimony on Jan 6
Invited lectures & book talks
#DCRPP20 Conference at the Department for Communication, PR and Advertising at the College of Political, Administrative and Communication Sciences, Babeș-Bolyai University, June 20, 2022.
The 2021 Speaker Series. Media Industries in the 21st Century at Lehman College, May 10, 2021.
Communication Colloquium Series at Loyola Marymount University, Oct 29, 2020.
The 2019 Honora Rankine-Galloway Lecture at the Center for American Studies at the University of Southern Denmark, October 1, 2019.
Ph.D. Colloquium at the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University, Feb 27, 2019.
Winter Colloquia at the Department of Communication at the University of Washington, Jan 30, 2019.
“Democracy’s Greatest Threat? The Murdoch Empire.” Media Reform Coalition, Feb 12, 2021.
“Roundtable: Television in the Age of the Pandemic.” Carsey-Wolf Center at the UC Santa Barbara, Feb 9, 2021.
“National Populism and the Media: The Cases of Turkey, the United States & Hungary,” Jan 28, 2021.
“Right-wing Populism and Media: A Conversation.” Ursinus College, Nov 14, 2019.
In a moment when right-wing authoritarian movements are rising across the world and conspiracy theories flood our media ecosystem, there has never been a more important time for media scholars to intervene in national and international debates over media and politics. As an academic whose tenure track coincided with the Trump era, I made a conscious decision to prioritize public-facing scholarship that does not just analyze media, but also seeks to impact the discourse. I have collaborated with top media organizations (e.g., New York Times, Forbes, Washington Post) to help translate theoretical concepts for popular audiences and to frame news stories using historical context and empirical evidence. Last year I worked with Vice TV’s popular Dark Side of the 90s and appeared in an episode about Rupert Murdoch’s role in tabloidizing American journalism. I was privileged to be contacted by the Congressional Investigatory Committee on January 6, those members of Congress who are investigating the 2021 attack on the Capitol building. I provided to the Committee written testimony assessing Fox News’s role in fomenting the riot, which I submitted on April 5, 2022.
In line with my previous work, this new project asserts the importance of style as an analytical category for studying contemporary news branding and political identity formation but devotes more energy to drawing the stylistic linkages between partisan cable news and social media. My new book project, Populist Media Styles in the Trump Era: From Fox News and the Alt-right to the Digital-Sanders Left, bridges the history of cable news partisanship that I chart in Fox Populism with an analysis of the partisan-populist media that proliferated online during the 2016 presidential election. This new project seeks to elucidate how the stylistic affinities between partisan cable hosts and political YouTubers are incentivized by a similar commercial-economic logic that prizes viewer “loyalty” and “intense” engagement above all else. My recent journal article with Television & New Media marks the first published installment of this new book project. In “Comparing populist media: from Fox News to The Young Turks, from cable to YouTube, from right to left,” I contrast the platform and organizational differences between the progressive, YouTube-based The Young Turks (TYT) and the conservative cable giant Fox News. Shifting from political economy to media activism, this article also chronicles TYT’s role in creating the Justice Democrats, the progressive PAC that recruited Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other “Squad” members.
The book’s organizational structure—analytically moving from conservative Fox News to liberal CNN and MSNBC, and finally to left-wing YouTube and TYT—is designed to accomplish the following objectives: (1) to stress the importance of style as an analytical category for studying modern news branding and political movements; (2) to reveal the stylistic linkages between partisan cable news and YouTube; (3) to explain how these stylistic affinities are incentivized by a similar commercial-eco- nomic logic; and finally (4) to stress that there is no inherent connection between media populism and political conservatism—even though today, thanks to Fox, many conflate the two.
Reece Peck, PhD
City University of New York