Throughout my research, I have strived to understand why conservative media outlets like Fox News have become commercially successful and politically influential. In pursuing these questions, I have studied the political history of the postwar conservative movement, the industrial and technological history of news-based media and entertainment, and the genealogy of populist political discourses.
My first monograph, Fox Populism: Branding Conservatism as Working Class was published by Cambridge University Press in 2019. The amount of popular writing about Fox News is endless. Yet, this high level of popular interest has not been matched in academic publishing. Fox Populism stands as one of the only in-depth academic studies solely devoted to the Fox News Channel, a news network that not only spearheaded the conservative media revolution of the last three decades but that, at a deeper level, transformed how news is presented and marketed in the US.
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.
In using Fox News as my principal object of study, I’ve strived to accomplish three research goals. First, the book provides a new conceptual approach to media partisanship 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 partisan outlets like Fox News is to miss how they construct partisanship as an identity style.
Second, Fox Populism attempts to map the points of convergence between US political history and the history of US news and entertainment and identifies the key political, economic and cultural developments that converged in the 1990s to create hospitable conditions for Fox News’ partisan branding strategy. As the book’s first chapter demonstrates, this strategy relied on the development of technological infrastructures and deregulation that expanded the range of media options and television markets, polarization in the political field, and, crucially, content production that understood how to effectively use tabloid presentational techniques to formulate a “counter-elite” news aesthetic.
Third, the book offers a multi-modal framework for understanding media populism, one that accounts for its visual and performative elements and not just its verbal-rhetorical qualities. In a highly “mediatized” era of politics where the public’s primary interface with policy and democratic elections happens mostly through video representations, these ideological techniques involve visual-aesthetic modes of expression and on-air performance tactics. The linguistic-centric model of many populist political theorists do not properly account for the aesthetic and performative elements of televisual populism, nor do they adequately address how the embodied race, gender and sexuality of political media figures facilitates or hinders their ability to execute populist communication strategies.
Shifting from my previous focus on conservative media and cable news, my new book project will research the inverse: left-wing populism and its manifestation in primarily digital media online. I just completed a study on the progressive, YouTube-based network called The Young Turks (TYT). According to Internet-based ratings agencies like Tubular and Openslate, TYT’s online viewership numbers surpass ABC, CNN and other major news networks. The example of TYT’s effective use of rhetorical populism online could challenge, or at least, complicate the commonly held association between populist journalistic styles and right-wing politics. Moreover, streaming news sites like TYT seem particularly relevant in light of the growing trend toward cord-cutting. The rapid growth of the OTT media market could be a harbinger for the end of cable news or, at least, the cable newsmagazine’s reinvention through another technological medium and revenue model.
Another reason TYT makes for a timely and relevant case study is because its CEO and star host, Cenk Uygur, co-founded the Justice Democrats with TYT-affiliated YouTube commentator Kyle Kulinski. This activist organization recruited a host of progressive candidates who claimed electoral victories in the last 2018 midterm. These figures include Representative Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, all progressive firebrands who are currently making waves in the Democratic Party. As such, TYT is an excellent research object for exploring connections between emergent literatures on advocacy journalism and political populism with the equally emergent subfields of data journalism, critical algorithm studies and new media studies.
This study incorporates interviews I conducted with TYT’s top hosts and executives on location at their studio in Culver City, California. These include interviews with Uygur and Kulinski, TYT hosts Ana Kasparian and John Idahrola and Steven Oh, TYT’s Chief Business Officer. In addition, I have interviewed Justice Democrat candidates such as Kerri Harris.
Fox Populism: Branding Conservatism as Working Class (Cambridge, 2019)
Forthcoming, “Comparing populist media: from Fox News to The Young Turks, from cable to YouTube, from right to left.” Television & New Media.
“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.
“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).
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.
Invited lectures & book talks
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.
Reece Peck, PhD
City University of New York