Variety’s Lowry on Fox News: ‘If It Scares, It Airs”

By Alex Weprin 

Variety television critic Brian Lowry has his sights set on Fox News for his latest column, “Fox’s Summer of Fear.’

Lowry is no stranger to TV news criticism, and has set his sights on the News Corp. network before, saying that hosts like Glenn Beck embrace the “wackadoodle demographic.”

This time, Lowry argues that FNC has been busy spending its Summer drumming up concern over largely trivial issues:


As the original home of the “news alerts” (which usually aren’t alerting us to breaking news), Fox News under CEO Roger Ailes has been adept at tapping into deep-seated concerns. And in order to powerfully connect with core viewers, it’s not enough to disagree with President Obama’s policies; rather, they must be couched as an existential threat to U.S. society.

He also comes up with a cable news take on “if it bleeds, leads,” which he calls “if it scares, it airs” Update: Or not?:

Since its inception, Fox has emulated the “if it bleeds, it leads” mindset of local news, garnishing its presentation with snazzier graphics and more urgent production values. The canny post-Sept 11 adaptation has been “if it scares, it airs.”

Update: It seems the “If it scares, it airs” line originates from NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman, who first used the line speaking to the National Press Club last year. From the transcript:

Competition is nothing new in journalism. In the old days, newspaper wars were not uncommon. Now that competitive fervor has moved to cable news, where “If it bleeds, it leads” has morphed into “If it scares, it airs.” Can we forget the frenzy this past September 11 involving the Coast Guard’s drill on the Potomac?

And don’t get me started about Balloon Boy.

At the other Hollywood trade publication, The Hollywood Reporter, James Hibberd writes that Fox News has the oldest audience of any cable network, with the average viewer being 65 years old.

Among the other cable news channels, CNN’s average age was 63, MSNBC was 59, with CNBC a relative baby at 52.