By MARC McDONALD
At first glance, the Fox News Channel appears to be a big success these days. Since launching in 1996, Fox has come out of nowhere to lead the pack in cable news ratings.
To the delight of conservatives, Fox News pumps out a GOP-friendly message 24 hours a day across America. Between Fox News, Drudge and HateWing radio, Republicans have a variety of outlets these days to spread the word.
I hate to rain on Fox News' parade, but there is still one major nagging problem with this "news" channel's efforts to get out the GOP message.
That is: Fox News long ago blew its chance to be a credible news source.
Oh sure, Fox News is the gospel truth to the dwindling 29 percenters who still support Bush.
But to the rest of America, Fox News is increasingly seen as a joke these days.
The fact is, Fox News is simply preaching to the choir these days. And, as the GOP has increasingly lost its luster since 2000, it's clear that Fox is going to have a smaller and smaller choir to preach to in coming years.
Simply preaching to the choir is clearly not what Rupert Murdoch had in mind when he launched Fox News. But in order to go beyond that limited audience, Murdoch needed to build Fox as a news outlet that at least had the appearance of being credible.
Really, what Fox News should have done from the beginning is work hard to build its credibility image. Then, it could have effectively sneaked the partisan GOP content in occasionally through the back door. That, in turn, would have led to a winning of hearts and minds across America.
But Fox News blew it when it completely ignored the issue of credibility and instead just rammed through blatant GOP viewpoints to its audience 24 hours a day.
Liberals often fret that Fox News is nothing more than an outlet for GOP propaganda. But that dignifies what Fox is actually doing. Truly effective propaganda subtly changes people's minds without them even realizing that they're being propagandized.
That's clearly not the case with Fox News. Few people's minds are being changed by the heavy-handed GOP sludge pumped out by Fox News these days. And to Liberals and Independents (and indeed, the vast majority of clear-thinking rational adults) Fox News is nothing more than a joke these days.
What has to be most troubling to Fox News is the fact that credibility is by far the most valuable asset that a news outlet can have these days. And once you've blown your credibility, it's really pretty much impossible to ever get it back. The latter is especially true these days when watchdog sites like Media Matters are only a mouse click away.
The ironic thing is, if Fox News had strived for at least the appearance of credibility from the beginning, it would today be a much more effective tool for spreading the GOP's message. Instead, I would suspect most Americans will never take Fox News seriously again.