Anthony Antonio blames his involvement in the 2021 U.S. Capitol riots on what his lawyer calls Foxitis or Foxmania resulting from six-months of constant Fox News viewing. Such claims open up an old debate within media studies on the influence media holds and audiences’ ability to resist. So just how reasonable a claim is it?
Antonio’s defence rests on an early view of audiences as passive, uncritical believers in the messages they receive. Coming out of Harold Lasswell’s study of World War propaganda, this so-called hypodermic needle model, was used to explain everything from the dumbing down of the US to the rise of Nazism.
For Lasswell himself, however, the model seems to have been a strawman against which to argue for a more proactive view of audiences. This uses and gratification theory, which he proposed and has dominated media research since, prioritises what audiences do with media rather than what media does to audiences.
Certain circumstances, Lasswell concedes, such as economic depression and political instability, can, however, allow for the more direct effects of the earlier model. And such conditions may well have been at play the case of Antonio, who, it is reported, lost his job at the beginning of that six-month Fox News binge.
Antonio's, or indeed any audience member’s, susceptibility to media messaging is thus seemingly dependent upon a complex and ever changing array of situational and dispositional variables. A complexity that almost certainly cannot be boiled down to over-simplified claims of Fox News made me do it.