Fox News, War on Men, and Benghazi

by Benjamin Studebaker

It has been a rough news cycle for the Fox network, with two recent stories, neither of which would quite, on its own, merit a response on my part but which, taken together, are sufficient to constitute a piece. The first, a recent piece written by Fox’s Suzanne Venker, entitled “The War on Men“, made the accusation that the feminist movement has made marriage less desirable for men by changing the nature of women in our society. The second, an interview conducted with Thomas Ricks, an award-winning military journalist, was cut short when Ricks gave an answer the network was displeased with. Rather than engage in prototypical left-wing Fox bashing, which you can find all over the internet and do not need this blog for, I will attempt to rationally dissect the two pieces in question to find where Fox’s problem lies, if indeed it lies anywhere. Let us begin with Venker’s piece. She begins with statistical data accredited to the Pew Research Centre that says that the percentage of women between the ages of 18 and 34 who believe having a successful marriage is one of the most important things in their lives has risen from 28 to 37% since 1997, while the corresponding male measurement has declined from 35 to 29%. Based on this data, she reaches the reasonable conclusion that, at present, women as a group are more inclined toward marriage than men are, which is significant because in the late nineties the situation was in reverse. This leads to two questions:

  1. Why has this happened?
  2. What future implications might it have?

This is where the problem with Venker’s piece arises–her answer to the first question makes very bold claims and her evidence for these claims seems somewhat lacking. Here is her answer to the question:

As the author of three books on the American family and its intersection with pop culture, I’ve spent thirteen years examining social agendas as they pertain to sex, parenting, and gender roles. During this time, I’ve spoken with hundreds, if not thousands, of men and women. And in doing so, I’ve accidentally stumbled upon a subculture of men who’ve told me, in no uncertain terms, that they’re never getting married. When I ask them why, the answer is always the same. Women aren’t women anymore.

She goes on to say that because women have thrown off their traditional gender role, they are less appealing to men and consequently men find marriage less desirable. All of that we are supposed to accept because the author has written three books on the subject over a thirteen year period, asked an unspecified number of men why they find marriage unappealing, and apparently this is the reason. Certainly not a very scientific basis for asking an entire gender to reverse the direction in which it has been headed for the past couple of centuries. Questions concerning the authority of the claim aside, there is a flaw in this logic–Venker is assuming that the men who are not interested in marriage are the sort of men to which the women desiring marriage would like to be married, and that, rather than encourage these men to modernise and accept stronger, more liberated women, the women should change, as if the entire fault for the dissonance in beliefs concerning what a relationship should be like rested with the women. That does not follow–even if she comprehensively surveyed thousands of men via a statistically verifiable process, and all the men said that their reason for refusing to wed was changing gender roles, this would still not prove that women should change. It might establish that, for some women, the type of marriage they are seeking will not be possible so long as there are an insufficiently large number of men willing to engage in that relationship, but it does not establish that the women’s desire is itself invalid, only that it is presently difficult for women to fulfil that desire. Venker comes into the question with the presumption that the solution is for feminism to be rolled back, and so makes an unearned logical leap. This is the reason that Venker’s piece is being mocked, and the reason matters–it is not enough to deride Venker for being anti-feminist and ipso facto wrong, as many writers are doing. The argument must be refuted, as I would hope you would agree it has been here. Moving on to the second Fox incident, this interview with Thomas Ricks:

The interview was apparently meant originally to be a 3 to 5 minute segment, but Ricks was cut off early.  The obvious objection to this is that Fox invited this individual onto its programme only to cut him off because it did not like what he was saying. It wrongly silenced him after granting him a platform, and consequently committed a journalistic faux pas. However, I would like to address the actual claim made by Ricks regarding the Benghazi incident. Ricks is certainly right when he says that the Benghazi incident was highlighted by Romney and the wider Republican Party in the run up to the election in order to make a political point against Obama. The question is whether this was done purely for point-scoring or to illustrate some difference in policy or leadership style between the parties and their respective candidates. Much was made of what was deemed Obama and the democrats’ failure to protect America’s diplomatic personnel. The trouble with the critique is that, if it were made genuinely, there would need to be some policies proposed by Romney and company that would have appeared to make diplomatic personnel demonstrably more secure than they were under Obama, and, to my knowledge, no such policies were offered or discussed in any detail. The incident was used as a stick to beat the democrats; there was no genuine difference of approach or policy. In addition, even had there been such a difference, the issue would still have been, in the grand scheme of this election, a trivial one–as Ricks stated, the number of Americans killed elsewhere is often far in excess of those killed at Benghazi, yet no dramatic soul-searching is done to reduce their rate of casualty. As I recall, during the Iraq War, the Bush administration decided that armour-plating its military vehicles to reduce the risk of casualties was not cost effective. Quite a lot more than 4 people were harmed as a result of that decision, and it is open to argument as to whether or not the policy should have been different (I am not aware what the financial costs would have been to change it–there is certainly a point at which it would not have been reasonable to armour the vehicles if say, it cost $1 billion per vehicle to do so), what is unreasonable is to say that all casualties are unacceptable when the US government stations military or diplomatic personnel in hostile areas. Some number of casualties are inevitable; when the decision is taken to send people to the given territory, the decision is taken with the risks in mind and under the belief that the objective makes the risk worthwhile. On these bases, I would agree with Ricks that the issue was used for political purposes and not taken seriously by the Republican Party, its candidates, or the media outlets that supported and endorsed them. Is there a running theme here, or have I merely attached these two unrelated stories purely on the basis of network origin? I do think there is a running theme–the lack of seriousness of Fox as a media outlet. There is an unwillingness on the part of Fox to be scrupulous about the argumentative content of what it puts its name to. It is one thing to offer opinions that differ from others or to take a partisan side in the political debate; I do not take issue with Fox being right-wing, provided it admits to the leaning (which, even if it does not formally, remains so obvious as to act as an admission nonetheless). What I take issue with is the fact that Fox is right-wing badly, that the arguments it uses are not valid arguments and are often merely political ones. You can say what you will about about the premises upon which right-wing thinkers like Nozick, Rand, or Hayek take on board, at least their arguments do flow logically from those flawed premises. What is unacceptable is when someone picks very thin premises out of the air (poll shows men aren’t as interested in marriage, 4 Americans killed in Benghazi) and extrapolate from there a series of increasingly disconnected ideas that one already hold for pre-conceived reasons and which have nothing to do with the original information in question (feminism is a failure, Obama is incompetent). These sweeping conclusions from tiny bits of premises are argumentatively useless and serve only to disinform Fox’s viewers. They not only make them worse at statecraft, they make them worse at arguing the right-wing position skilfully, and that’s what is despicable.