For decades, Fox News has been spreading false information and hooking its audience into an angry, xenophobic and paranoid world view. It's no mystery that Fox was instrumental in the 2016 election — but how did it do it? Tobin Smith, CEO of Transformity Research, Inc. and former Fox News contributor and talk show host, explores this phenomenon and discusses Fox News’ emotionally predatory and seductive partisan propaganda media strategies and tactics in his new book, Foxocracy: Inside the Network’s Playbook of Tribal Warfare.
For anyone trying to understand how Fox News captured so many Americans, this book is a must-read. It's a harder sell, but if you believe Obama was born in Kenya, or that the Russians did not launch a disinformation campaign to help elect Trump, or that the Washington Post and New York Times publish fake news, this book is for you! I'm reading the book and highly recommend it.
Discussing Foxocracy*,* the 2020 election and the stock market with Tobin, I asked him several questions and here are his answers:
Ilene: Tobin, do you think impeaching Trump will hurt the stock market?
Tobin: No. The market doesn't give a s#*t about an impeachment trial with a GOP Majority in the Senate. It's a nothingburger.
Ilene: What about the 2020 presidential election?
Tobin: I analyzed the 2016 and 2018 election data deeply. From that data I can tell you the "Democratic Socialists" have ZERO chance of winning an Electoral College victory or a Democrat Party nomination. If a left-wing moderate wins and Dems take the Senate (a 60% possibility in my model) and pass a repeal (or major change) of the 40% Trump Corporate Tax Cut, the Street will lower EPS by the same amount that it added — so, yes, public equities will undoubtedly get at minimum a 10% correction.
There is no more of a public critic of Donald Trump as POTUS than me. That said, however, as a macro-economic analyst and equities analyst, what I think many on the left miss about "Trumpism" with regard to the stock market (and US capitalism in general) is not the tax cut but the incredible emotional power of sentiment. Love him or hate him, until he decided to get into a trade war with China, Trump's pro-business and anti-regulation rhetoric and corporate/pass-through entity tax cut absolutely inspired the "animal spirits" of public and private business people who had felt attacked and over-regulated by the Obama administration. Obama's "if you built a business in America, you did not build it by yourself" rhetoric was an emotional hand grenade to many private business people, and it felt like an attack on American capitalism.
Since private companies still employ a majority of Americans, entrepreneurial animal spirits matter — a lot. In my opinion, Dems need to stop the war on American capitalism and focus on ways to help businesses afford to pay a living wage. 40% of employed Americans earn $18,000 a year or $10 an hour. Nearly 2/3s of American households live in actual poverty (~44 million Americans) or live in working poverty (above the poverty line but below the average household income of $62,000). THAT is the opportunity for Democrats and Progressives, but the Progressives' Oprah Strategy ("You Win Fee College, You Win Free Healthcare") is not politically or economically viable.
Ilene: It seems to me Trump undid that early pro-business celebration by launching counterproductive trade wars, which inhibit investment. Could a democrat victory result in a wash, by removing the uncertainty resulting from Trump's on-again, off-again tariffs and his chaotic foreign policy?
Tobin: Without a doubt Trumps ham-handed Reality TV show like deal making confused the Street. Since no analyst or economists today were alive during the Smoot Hawley tariff disaster which changed a normal recession into the Great Depresson, there was no playbook for adjusting EPS for tariffs. There still isn't a model for figuring out supply chain disruption. In general, when the C-suite is confused about the near term future, they default to the good old, “Let’s sit on our hands right now and see how it turns out?” Trumps chaotic foreign policy is just an extension of his management chaos in general.
Ilene: Who do you think would be the best Dem candidate in the 2020 election?
Tobin: The most proven is Mike Bloomberg with the Senator from Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar adding strength to the Midwest swing states. Joe Biden and Klouchar do a lot better in the African American community.
Ilene: Do you think Bloomberg is more "proven" than Biden? How about Pete Buttigieg?
Tobin: The Biden brand is: If you loved Obama's administration, you will love me too. But the POTUS race is won in the swing states with Independents and right-leaning DEMs. If Biden gets the GOP and Independents who voted for Obama, he wins. But the surest swing states win is to get the Millennial vote — and Biden's anti-cannabis stance is not popular with them. Biden also debates horribly — Bloomberg is much faster and declarative IMHO.
Buttigieg has problems in African community too but polls great with Millennials. But Bloomberg's money can change minds where Buttigieg may not have the wherewithal. If the DEMS decide to nominate the POTUS ticket based on who has the best polling to beat Trump (and avoid the Democratic Socialist purity tests) maybe a VP Booker works too—he is a great campaigner.
Ilene: Would you choose a Bloomberg/Booker ticket if it were up to you?
My data and my gut says a Bloomberg/Klobuchar ticket is better in the crucial Midwest and PA… MI, WI, PA will again swing the Electoral College — and that ticket could swing the large Jewish vote in Florida too.
Ilene: Do you think Trump is likely to win again?
Tobin: It depends on what kind of Democrat wins. The markets hate Medicare for All and regulatory zealotry. IF the GOP keeps the Senate, then a Dem POTUS is hamstrung. If the POTUS election is a referendum on Donald Trump and his behavior and demonization of fellow Americans, then Biden or Bloomberg are the inverses of Trump. But swing voters in America are still largely a center-right. One major issue in this POTUS vote that will be won again by swing voters in swing states is Fox News. The latest voter data on 2016 election showed the Fox News influenced 6-12% of Indepedents and right leaning Dems to vote Trump. With just 77,000 votes and 100+ counties in WI MI PA, Fox News watching during the election was a very strong Indepedent voter influence. It will be again — and literally Fox News could put the Electoral College votes over the 270 mark for Trump — again. The wild card now is does the Impeachment proceeding make Trump a victim of "elite harassment and discrimination" or does it paint the picture of a maniacal and out of control POTUS with a King complex?
Ilene: Why did you writeFoxocracy**?**
Tobin: I wrote the book partly for the thousands of tribal media illiterates I met on dozens of corporate and college speaking tours. These folks have no idea about how easy it is for me and Fox News producers to manipulate them cognitively and emotionally once they come to self-identify as a tribalized member of the GOP. ("Tribalized" meaning they had become so hyper-partisan that they view Democrats, aka "libtards," not as a competing political party but as an existential threat to their culture and way of life.)
I also wrote the book for the millions of Americans who have lost a parent, sibling or long-time friend to Fox News/Trump TV addiction. The most recent polling reveals 80 million adult Americans report estrangement from at least one close family or long-time friend over political hyper-partisanship (and yes, a politically hyper-partisan person is political tribalized). Those of us who perform these tribalized and rigged/fixed outcome right-wing propaganda segments owe it to the audience to at least come clean with the audience as to 1) How we produce and perform these opinion segments to take advantage of the ignorance of their cognitive biases and 2) how quickly already culturally and economically traumatized whites can become full-blown tribalized Fox News addicts aka "Foxholes."
One of Fox News' secrets is that its powerful tribal identity superiority porn is designed to trigger and manipulate our ancient and darkest psychology — our hard-wired instincts and reflexes to form, build and maintain cultural and political tribes. Tribal superiority porn is also an exercise in tribal ego-gratification because hating on your tribal enemy is self-congratulatory. When you consciously or unconsciously say “God — how could those stupid libtards be so ignorant?” your sub-conscious ego hears, “And look how smart I am!”
Fox News opinion content is produced to accomplish one goal: to hit one of our tribal emotional hot buttons and trigger as many pleasurable emotional responses (actually pleasurable neurochemicals injected into your brain) in return for keeping our eyeballs on Fox News Channel.
Social scientists are beginning to understand is this thorny conclusion: there is real emotional collateral damage for many of 80-90 million Americans consuming billions of hours of tribal-identity activating video content monthly because, by its very nature, Fox News hate media is a tribal identity-activation activity. When someone becomes a "tribalized conservative,” they see their tribal “outgroup,” i.e. liberals/progressives or “libtards,” through a new set of eyes and cognitive filters. They start seeing the tribal outgroup as a binary existential enemy to their “in-group.”
What’s wrong with that?
The problem is the cognitive behaviors that automatically and involuntarily come with this cognitive transformation. When you see cultural or political liberals not as rivals but as your mortal enemy, a whole set of cognitive processes are switched on that multiply the tribal bonding and out-group hate effect by an order of magnitude. The complete 10-step Fox News 30X Tribal Impact Multiplier Effect has never been researched and identified. Foxocracy breaks down this amazingly powerful psychological impact multiplier effect starting with the initial “cognitive conversion.”
In fact, this Fox News-based cognitive conversion process begins when the Fox News “Foxhole Rapture” effect starts. This Foxhole Rapture effect is when an FNC tribal hate porn propaganda binge-watcher converts from an “agree-to-disagree” conservative into a full-blown “Foxhole.” This is the final part of the cognitive conversion process that social psychologists call "identity fusion." Identity fusion is where your tribal social identity (“Deplorable/MAGA Trumper/ or Never Trumper for that matter) becomes your dominant self-identity.
Key Point: Becoming a full-blown Foxhole is very unhealthy socially, mentally and physically unless most everyone you live around happens to be a Foxhole too. A nation full of millions of Foxholes who viscerally hate 40%+ of other Americans is obviously not healthy for our democracy either.
But in general, it’s this unrecognized power of Fox News’ white tribal identity hate-based propaganda porn programming + Fox News social media re-targeting to massively speed up this process of cognitive conversion into tribal identity fusion is what my book Foxocracy identifies in deep and, at least to me, pretty stunning detail.
Tobin Smith is a leading American voice exposing the dangers and emotional collateral damage to tens of millions of American every day from their addict-like consumption of thousands of hours of Fox News’ powerful psy-ops brand of white, tribal identity activation propaganda. Smith's efforts in exposing Fox News and sharing his experiences help reassure a traumatized population that there are people willing to speak out. The republicans' mind-numbing defenses of Trump's behavior with Ukraine is only a recent example of how serious this problem is.
FOXOCRACY sounds a very important alarm and wake-up call to all Americans who annually consume hundreds and thousands of hours of partisan hate media per year from America’s fast growing $100 billion “Tribal Hate Media” complex that has aggressively stoked the embers of America’s partisan polarization into a raging fire.
Fox News was the world’s first for-profit unregulated digital tribal propaganda media industry. It has morphed into a massive 24/7 negative digital propaganda media feedback loop that reaches 240 million Americans. Tobin Smith tells the story and makes the case that we don’t have a social media addiction problem per se in America — the social media companies don’t produce tribalized political and cultural digital propaganda media. America has a digital tribalized political and culture hate propaganda problem — and it's getting worse. Judging by the levels of extreme political and cultural polarization not seen since the pre-civil war 1850’s, Fox News’ playbook is working to actively breed and monitize political and cultural polarization.
Smith asks and answers questions that the media and media regulatory agencies should be asking, but aren't:
1) Why are media regulators more concerned about American’s social media illiteracy and its dangers than the more urgent cultural, political and health issues directly affecting Americans via the emotional and electoral dangers of Fox News’ brand of tribalized partisan media content?
- Fox News influenced up to 12% of the swing voting Independents and right-leaning Democrat votes in 2016 which won the swing state MI, WI and PA popular and electoral vote for Donald Trump. Why aren't we more concerned about the massive 90+ million audience reach of Fox News’ weaponized digital tribal propaganda?
- Weaponized political and cultural tribal hate is Fox News' business model. Why did we allow the creation of a $100+ billion propaganda industry whose entire value proposition is expressly designed to emotionally engage, induce and actively foment as much partisan hatred as possible?
Smith’s rare personal experience in performing and hosting in 2000 opinion segments at Fox News combined with his deep analytical research background enabled him to identify and decode the hyper-powerful and manifestly predatory psychology and neuroscience that’s embedded into Fox News’ white tribal identity activation playbook that empowers it predatory and seductive propaganda programming. After decades behind and in front of the TV camera and meetings with thousands of Fox News addicts, Smith knows the Fox News viewer.