An Interview With Reece Peck
By: Joshua Galindo
Reece Peck is an associate professor of the Media Culture Department who published a book in late 2018 titled, “Fox Populism: Branding Conservatism as Working Class.” The book delves into how the news station, “Fox News” was able to garner the attention of a certain audience and how its resonance with them proved to be an effective tool to help rise it to prominence from the late 20th century to contemporary times.
One of Professor Peck’s inspirations for writing his book was Stuart Hall. Stuart Hall was a cultural theorist who was born in Jamaica but raised in the UK. He was a leftist who rather than condemning the actions of the right, had an interest in how the conservative media of the UK resonated with its target audience.
Before becoming a professor, Peck grew up in a conservative family in Utah, which is a state that is mostly conservative. During his college years, he developed an interest in politics.
During the 2008 economic crisis, Peck closely examined the way Fox News covered the event during his graduate studies at UC San Diego.
During his close examinations, he picked up on the subtle techniques that Fox News uses to garner the attention of their conservative audience. As a result, Peck realized that there was more to the right-wing news station than “preaching to the choir” as some people tend to believe.
Throughout his research, Professor Peck learned that Fox News was more than just an eye-catching, sensational news station. On the surface, Fox News not only resonates with their target audience through shared experiences with the hosts, but they also use conservative experts to back up their claims with statistics and research.
Professor Peck was fascinated by “how ambidextrous they are in terms of making arguments.” On top of that, he explains how connected the rhetoric of Fox News is towards American political history.
The “forgotten man” is a term that is usually thrown out by conservative personnel such as current president, Donald Trump. The term itself was coined by a social scientist named, William Graham Sumner, but was later popularized by FDR.
While conducting research for his book, Peck encountered some obstacles along the way. One of these obstacles was looking for an archive that held the broadcasting transcripts for Fox News.
Fortunately, during his time at UCSD, a brand-new archive opened for him to study. “I have yet to find another robust cable television archive” Professor Peck states. Contacting Fox News executives and hosts also posed a challenge since conservative news outlets usually view scholars and academics as the “enemy.”
Another obstacle Professor Peck encountered was what the Fox News’ audience finds compelling about it. It wouldn’t be easy to simply ask an individual what they enjoy about Fox News. As a result, Professor Peck attended tea party rallies and protests to get a better understanding of what type of news outlets the attendees watch.
The last obstacle Peck encountered was to not allow his political bias to get in the way of his project. Everyone has their own opinions of certain media outlets, however Professor Peck implores that, “you should try to keep an open mind on why something works, not necessarily if it’s bad or good.”
Professor Peck hopes that readers of his book will realize that Fox News isn’t necessarily “simplistic and stupid.” Rather, they have a sophisticated way of engaging their audience through their language and the way they market themselves to their target demographic.
Peck also elaborates that left-wing news stations could inherit how Fox News’ style engages its audience and how it helps associate themselves with an identity to grapple onto which makes it effective. Professor Peck clarifies, “the style itself isn’t inherently conservative, it just so happens that conservatives have captured and used this style.”