When choosing which party to vote for, policy is, of course, important. But, in a representative democracy, voters must also consider the character of proposed representatives. There’s been no lack of public officials with a dubious moral code. Former President Bill Clinton’s sexual exploits have reached the point of a bad joke, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick incident is scrutinized more now than in 1969, and former Vice President Dick Cheney has become mythologized as an exemplar of immorality in the recent Oscar-nominated biopic “Vice.”
Elected officials aren’t the only ones who represent the public. As the growth of ideologically-oriented media continues — thanks in part to the biased consumption of the viewers themselves — news stations, journalists, show hosts, analysts and talking heads are the new faces of partisan politics. Both Republicans and Democrats have them, though it seems the popular conservative news sources like Fox News and The Daily Wire come much closer to misinformation and propaganda than popular liberal news sources like The Huffington Post and MSNBC.
In recent years, conservatives have become far less concerned with their public image. Considering the Republican Party’s past of trying to cultivate an image of specific and staunch moral standards, it’s ironic that Republicans are becoming synonymous with weak character in the 21st century’s public eye. In a 2018 poll, about 13 percent of Americans viewed President Donald Trump as trustworthy. The Republican Party’s website insists that it still adheres to conservative moral values and “stands with the people.” But if trust in the Republican Party is failing, then how does this reflect on conservative voters?
Fox News is indicative of conservatives falling from grace in the public sphere. In 2017, conservative commentator and show host Bill O’Reilly, who hosted Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor for 21 years, received public backlash following several allegations of sexual harassment. O’Reilly allegedly paid multiple women to keep silent about his harassment. O’Reilly’s attorney denied the accusations, stating that he believed them to be an “orchestrated campaign” against the former Fox News host.
Whether Fox News booted O’Reilly due to the station’s own moral qualms or the loss of advertisement money is unclear, but either way it was already too late. Fox News gave O’Reilly a platform, and he proved immoral, casting a bad light on conservatives as a whole.
In more recent news, current Fox News host Tucker Carlson has come under fire for comments made on the Bubba the Love Sponge radio show between 2006 and 2011. Carlson was recorded saying women are “extremely primitive, they’re basic, they’re not that hard to understand,” among other perplexing comments about statutory rape, his sexual attraction toward Sarah Palin and the sexuality of 14-year-old girls. Carlson has responded to the backlash with a hefty dose of whataboutism.
On March 9, Judge Jeanine Pirro used her show “Justice with Judge Jeanine” to question Rep. Ilhan Omar’s hijab. Pirro then equated wearing the hijab to anti-American behavior. Fox News stated they disagree with Pirro’s comments, and Pirro has yet to return to her normal time slot.
Trump, a frequent guest on Pirro’s show, criticized Fox News’ suspension of Pirro in a series of tweets. It’s an absurdist play of non-news that verges on self-parody, and the continued reliance on immoral and demagogic conservative commentators is weakening the character of the party.
Many might argue that these commentators do not represent the Republican Party, but in fact, conservatives are complicit in the immoral actions of these analysts by allowing these crude, vocal few to stay in the public spotlight. There are other conservative news sources besides Fox News, such as The National Review or The Hill, which tend to present less propagandistic views and have a fairer ethical track record than Fox News. Conservatives need to fix their public image before this moral bankruptcy becomes permanent.
Michael Frank is a 23-year-old political science and English senior from New Orleans, Louisiana.