“Talent hits a target that no one else can hit. Genius hits a target that no one else can see.”
- Arthur Schopenhauer
Here it is folks, the last big, untouched, television market.
Everyone knows the success story of how FOX NEWS was launched and made an effort to include conservative opinion and thinking in its news stories and how that translated into a commercial success. Well, now, there are numbers that show a very clear “second opportunity,” another FOX, or maybe it could be better described as “A FOX WITHIN A FOX.”
Before I lay out these remarkable numbers, all referenced, consider what FOX accomplished. For years, all the other networks reflected thinking inside the Boston-NY-Washington corridor. The thinking of the rest of America was not only ignored it was marginalized. In hindsight, the economics of the FOX idea appears as a no brainer. As we approached a new millennium Americans increasingly considered themselves “conservative,” so much so that pollsters no longer asked them to identify themselves as either liberal or conservative; instead they use a series of questions to try to quantify them. And yet for years no one at the networks acted on these huge numbers, presumably because their integrity would not allow them to compromise “the truth” as they saw it.
Oh sure, there were occasional rebellions among journalists from the stifling uniformity of thought and there were even a few, timid, commercial attempts to benefit from the numbers. Conservative Republican Billionaire, Rich DeVos, bought the Mutual Broadcasting System with that very idea in mind. It didn’t work. So the success of FOX was not just a good idea. It was the recruiting skills and talent hunting abilities of Roger Ailes that made the difference. It succeeded because of execution.
When MSNBC and other networks tried to copy FOX they failed because they could not execute. They did not have the Ailes’ touch because they didn’t have an Ailes or anyone in management who actually understood how conservatives thought. They are actually now attracting more conservative viewers as “the enemy” than they ever did when they tried to do a little “fair and balanced” programming on their own.
So what is the new FOX within a FOX opportunity?
It is a more sophisticated approach to the evangelical Christian viewers and particularly the Pentecostal-Charismatic viewers. This is the demographic logic behind the John McCain selection of Sarah Palin and it could be the logic behind a new television ratings bonanza.
Hear me out and follow closely the numbers. Don’t let anecdotal experience influence you. That is what blinded the media elites for years and allowed Robert Murdoch and FOX an opening.
Consider the following numbers. (All references and definition of terms are at the end.)
42% of the American public are born again Christians.
51% of all born again Christians are Pentecostal or Charismatics.
Now here is where it gets tricky. You have to have a Harvard or Yale degree in theology to understand this but if you have been through that you won’t want to believe it anyway. While half of all born again Christians are Pentecostal or Charismatics, a much greater number of all Americans are Pentecostal or Charismatic. That is because of the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church which is huge. Thus a Catholic may say no to the born again question. But yes to the question that identifies he or she as a Pentecostal or Charismatic.
Now how can this be? Aren’t Catholics born again? Didn’t Jesus say, “You must be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven?” Yes but, a Catholic does not see themselves as born again in the way that the terms are used today. They would say that they fulfilled this “Jesus requirement” when they experienced baptism into the Church as an infant and not as some later adult experience. In recent years, Catholics who have had what seems like the equivalent of the Protestant born again experience, maybe at a Cursillo or some other religious event, complete with adrenalin rush and the release of endorphins, call it “an adult awareness of baptism.” They do not refer to it as being born again.
So, if you have followed that arcane process we are ready for the killer. According to BARNA in his appropriately named survey “Is America becoming Charismatic” 36% of all Americans believe that the New Testament gifts of the Holy Spirit such as healing and speaking in tongues are valid today. It is approximately 80 million people. When the media gleefully attacks Palin, especially on her faith, this is the mass of Americans who wince.
Now take a look….
23% of all Americans are Catholic. That includes the guy who was baptized as an infant and hasn’t attended mass in years. In some cases he is only a “cultural Catholic” but he counts in the number.
13% of all Americans are Black.
But 36% are Pentecostal or Charismatic. To qualify they must say yes to a complicated theological question which means that this number is pretty hot.
Now you know why John McCain picked Sarah Palin, who has an Assemblies of God background, and why Barack Obama and Joe Biden were a bit stunned. All through the Clinton years the Democrats had been reaching out to Pentecostals, hoping to peel them away from the other evangelicals. Don Argue, the former president of the National Association of Evangelicals and a Pentecostal, himself, had set up meetings for Hillary Clinton in 2007. Obama, who had hired an Assemblies of God young man to lead his evangelical outreach, was hoping to take advantage of John McCain’s missteps with Pentecostals-Charismatics. McCain had fumbled baldy, his on and off again relationships with John Hagee and Rod Parsley, are examples. Almost all GOP Black and Hispanic leaders are Pentecostals or Charismatics.
All of that brings us to the window.
It so happens that the Roger Ailes’ talent hunt for FOX picked up primarily Catholic “movement conservatives.” They were the only good ones in the pool. And of course, they spoke and understood conservative ideas. But they did not understand the evangelical world. And the two accidental “born again” Christians in the FOX stable, Cal Thomas and Fred Barnes were not in touch with the movement. Barnes shared the experience but none of the culture, contacts or knowledge, (at last word he attends an Episcopal church in Virginia) and Thomas hailed from the Jerry Falwell, fundamentalist wing that opposed Pentecostal-Charismatic doctrines and once taught that they were “demon possessed!”
Thus when an evangelical, Harriet Miers, was proposed for the Supreme Court, FOX went ballistic. Ann Coulter opposed her on Sean Hannity, Bill Bennett opposed her on Bill O’Reilly. Sam Brownback, ranking Republican on the Judicial Committee came on FOX and knocked her. “Who is she,” they asked, “We don’t know her.” Coulter, Hannity, Bennett, O’Reilly, Brownback are all Catholic. Result? The evangelicals lost the nomination to another “movement conservative,” FOX approved, Catholic, Samuel Alito who took her place. Alito was a familiar face, “one of us.” And so he joined Catholics Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, and John Roberts on the Supreme Court.
Some very savvy, evangelical leaders were stunned. “We have always supported your candidates. We are 42%, why can’t we have one? One? One?” Some forever swore off FOX. Most didn’t notice and soon they all got over it. After all, FOX usually gets some of it right. Nobody else comes close.
Then came the sudden, surprising appearance of Governor Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist, who upset the pundits, with some marvelous footwork by Texas operator, David Lane, and others and won the Iowa Caucus. The coverage from FOX was ridiculous. They didn’t understand the culture, the numbers, how it happened, what it meant, had never heard of Lane and they surely didn’t understand Huckabee. They had spent a year talking about Giuliani and Romney. They weren’t prepared for this outside evangelical insurgency, even though 42% of the American people are born again and its likelihood was obvious. FOX, who once saw the numbers that no one else could see, was blind to these. They had no evangelical Christian writers or pundits to explain any of it.
Still, the embarrassment only lasted a short while. Evangelicals are used to abuse. And no one else gets it right either. And at least Fox considers their stand on many of the issues, because those stands mirror the Catholic “movement conservatives.”
Now, you have a Vice Presidential nominee who hails from a Pentecostal-Charismatic background. And remember, Pentecostal-Charismatics are 36% of the nation, a big commercial market, totally unrepresented on national television. Fox has one more chance to get it right but don’t count on it.
There is a window of thirty days. 80 million Pentecostal-Charismatics will be watching television as their views and culture and ideas and language will be debated and discussed by outsiders who will get it all wrong. Imagine a network that is all white, talking for thirty days about a Black candidate? But if one network, for one minute can get some of it right? They will have a measure of respect from that subculture and that respect will have a long, long shelf life. And it could be anybody. CNN, MSNBC, anybody.
Understand, we are not talking about being pro Palin, we are talking about being accurate in the descriptions, language and ideas of this group of people.
So a huge block of viewers are up for grabs. CNN floated Glenn Beck and won a new audience and in the process forever won the love of Mormons everywhere. 1.9% of the American population are Mormon.
Someday, somebody will see these numbers. The Harriet Miers’ eruption seemed like a onetime phenomenon. It passed. But it all came back with Governor Huckabee’s win in Iowa. And then it too passed. But now we have Sarah Palin. This too will pass. But the numbers are not going to go away. 42% of the nation claims to be “born again Christians.” And 36% claim to be Pentecostal or Charismatic. No one on television is getting it right. No one seems to know how they think and why? There is a vacuum. FOX made its name in filling a vacuum. Someday, somebody will fill this one too.
Definition of terms:
Pentecostals: These are Protestant Christians, most of whom came from Methodist tradition, who believe in the born again experience and who were forced out of their churches at the turn of the 20th Century because of their beliefs that the New Testament gifts such as healing and speaking in tongues were valid today. They formed their own denominations. Sarah Palin’s Assemblies of God is one of those. The head of Barack Obama’s religious outreach is also Assemblies of God.
Charismatics: These are Protestant and Catholic Christians, who trace their origins to the “Charismatic Renewal” which began in 1960 in the Episcopal Church. These Christians also claimed that they had begun to experience New Testament gifts (the Greek word in scripture is charismata) but this time, more tolerant denominations let them remain as “Charismatics” within their respective churches. The Charismatic Renewal spread to Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian and almost every other Protestant group. By 1967 there were Catholic Charismatics. Maria Von Trapp of Sound of Music fame, was a Catholic Charismatic, as are some of the Cardinals of the Church.
Evangelicals: People who believe in the born again experience and that the Bible is “the inspired Word of God.” But most people who are “evangelical” do not acknowledge the term, that is, they consider themselves Baptist, or Lutheran or Nazarene or some other denomination or they only know that they go to the church down the street. Thus polling on numbers of Evangelicals and how they vote is practically worthless. The born again vote is more accurate for measuring numbers. It is why FOX and other media outlets could not predict, track or follow the Huckabee surge. It is also explains how the media missed the loss of “born again” votes for George W. Bush in 2000, in spite of his declaration that Jesus was his favorite “political philosopher or thinker.” (sic.) Al Gore and Democrats had successfully raided the vote.
Gallup’s question: When we say that 42% of the American public claim to be born again, they are asked this question by the Gallup Organization. “Are you a born again Christian, that is, have you had a turning point in your life in which you committed yourself to Jesus Christ?” In 1992, they added the line, “And, or, are you an evangelical?”
Sources on numbers of Pentecostals-Charismatics: