It’s worth noting that MSNBC languished in the cable news ratings competition until becoming more sharply opinionated, in that way becoming a left-leaning analog to Fox. It’s highly doubtful this change was due to political considerations. In other ways, though, MSNBC is not a Fox analog at all. Although its overall operation is sharply to the left of Fox, it offers a wider array of guests and doesn’t completely shut out Republicans. Matthews, for example, on the day in question conducted a friendly interview with two Tea Party Republican activists. The existence of Morning Joe, starring outspoken conservative Joe Scarborough, on MSNBC’s morning air offers further evidence.
Ailes, by his programming choices, sees no need to have a liberal counterpart to Scarborough on Fox. Why should he? He’s got the ratings, the money, and a political operation that is nearly pure in its adherence to contemporary populist Republicanism.
But is it an arm of the GOP? Not unless you think Roger Ailes would actually work for Michael Steele. It is more likely the other way around. Steele, in some broader cultural sense, works for Ailes, who is without close contest the most powerful Republican in the country today. The national Republican Party has shrunk to a narrow base with no apparent agenda other than to oppose everything the Obama administration proposes. This extends even to opposing policies Republicans either created or once supported. In explaining these reversals, Republicans frequently say that their changes of position—for example, on deficit-reduction measures that they routinely dismissed when in the majority—owes mainly to changes in national circumstances. But the main circumstance that seems to have changed is their loss of formal power in Washington. This suits Fox perfectly, and gives heft to its self-definition as an insurgency.
*CLARIFICATION: A Fox News spokeswoman says she never mentioned Neil Cavuto or Greta Van Susteren as being among the network’s opinion-driven personalities. She says both host news shows.