Today we welcome Tobin Smith, author, investment expert, and former FOX News personality.
Author: Tobin Smith NYTimes Bestselling Author of ChangeWave Investing
The Book: “Fear & UNBalanced: Confessions of a Fox News Hitman”
Available: NOW from Crowdfunding Pre-Sale Site: Indigogo.com
Book ‘Em: Tell how you first began working for FOX News.
Tobin Smith: I am an investment and alternative health newsletter publisher/marketer/editor/ex-money manager by profession. Believe it or not I was doing an interview on my first NY Times bestseller ChangeWave Investing with Fox News Host Neil Cavuto. Fox had just fired Jim Cramer from their weekend show The Street.com and they were in process of re-casting the regulars. I am a natural ham/extrovert (not many in the financial world) and I hit it off great with the eventual host of my weekly show Bulls & Bears Brenda Buttner (now deceased) on a panel segment of the show. We did an audition for the show and I was picked to replace Jim Cramer for a weekly show called “Bulls & Bears” by Fox News August 20 2000.
Book ‘Em: When did you decide to write an expose of FOX News? Talk about your latest work.
Tobin Smith: It really was not until I saw the movie “The Brainwashing of My Dad” in 2016 was I exposed to the broad reality of real addiction by senior aged Fox News viewers and the family breaking consequences. THEN I finally SAW the damage that Fox News and I for 14 years was inflicting on Americans. Of course how Fox News enabled a reality TV host to be elected POTUS was the final straw.
I personally did not know many of the average 68-year-old Fox News addicts in my daily life. I would run into them in airports and public places all the time as a “Fox News Personality” but I never saw the damage our confirmation bias/emotion manipulation form of infotainment was doing on a national basis.
I did not get it until I went back and reverse engineered how carefully and pragmatically the Fox News producers manipulated our geriatric audience by exploiting their omnipresent human psychological/emotional vulnerabilities and their hyper-partisan addiction for confirmation bias laden content.
Plus 30 years of the partisan conservative media complex had grown to 50 MILLION listeners/viewers/users a day. As a result not since the Civil War has America been so bitterly divided. Thanks to 4-6 hours a day of ingesting hate and poison right wing propaganda partisans now view those with differing opinions as the enemy. Our opinion programs were produced to create outrage and carefully deliver a dopamine hit of pleasure when the viewer watched me or another conservative hero vanquish their mortal enemy rather than inform viewers. The rise of social media then poured jet fuel on the viewers emotions as the most irrational partisans got a 24/7 venue to spew their hatred and bias.
I became part of the rigged opinion segments really after the Obama election. Up to that point our show was mostly right-wing business and economics panel talk with little political drama. But, in 2008-2009 as you know, we started the Great Recession and the stock market tanked 50%–viewers did not want to watch a program that reminded them! The two-minute interval ratings dived when we talked stocks…so we talked partisan economics and politics.
Still I thought that the 68+ aged viewers at home were in on the joke like pro wrestling—that they knew the poor liberal talking head “experts” were carefully selected 3rd string players—that our show was like the Harlem Globetrotters playing the Washington Generals…that the whole thing was set up and choreographed so the “home team” aka the conservative expert aka me would vanquish the lame “libtard” opponent. That is what the conservative small and rural town partisans wanted to see…me beat the rhetorical shit out of their hated enemy the East Coast/ethnic looking liberal for the dopamine hit of being proven their conservative ideology was RIGHT and the liberals were wrong and un-American socialists who pose an existential threat to America.
Book ‘Em: If there were one or two ideas you want readers to take away from your new book, what are they?
Tobin Smith: Fox News “Fair & Balanced” Debate Segments are carefully choreographed scam to exploit senior vulnerabilities of their avg. 68 year old viewer and their outcomes RIGGGED for the conservative to win. Just like the rigged game show scandals of the late 50’s and WWE wrestling scandal of 1994 (where the FCC made them tell the audience that the “wrestling matches” were all set-up for the good guy aka “The Baby Face” to win) the Fox News opinion programming is the same: the producers follow a careful formula to rig the outcome to the conservative debate participants in order to insure the most physiological addictive and emotionally satisfying outcome for the viewer at home.
Addiction to Fox News is DEADLY for 60+ Aged Seniors. Our research shows that hundreds of thousands of radicalized senior aged Fox News viewers have become estranged from their family and friends. Because of their de-socialization they suffer from clinical chronic loneliness that in the latest public health research data (BYU August 2017) means they have a 50% HIGHER change of premature death than non-radicalized seniors.
Book ‘Em: What sort of research do you do for your work? Based on that research, what social and political ramifications have you discovered?
Tobin Smith: I am by training a research analyst and my old company ChangeWave Research was a public survey business. In a recent survey my new company Transformity Research conducted, 1-in-5 Americans over age 25-75 know a family, friend and colleague or someone who has been negatively affected or estranged from a Fox News addict. We connected the dots with the latest public health research on geriatric chronic loneliness. UC San Francisco research says the #1 cause of chronic loneliness in seniors is “Pushing away family and friends.” Our survey data shows that one the main ways seniors “push away” i.e., become toxic and estranged from their family and friends is when the become a radicalized hyper-partisan with a binary outlook of politics and people who don’t agree with their hyper-partisan extremism. The writer/director Jen Senko portrays the damage created by right-wing radicalized parents/family member in her documentary “The Brain Washing of My Dad.”
Book ‘Em: What do you think can be done to heal our country? Are there ways we can begin to undo the damage?
Tobin Smith: To solve a problem you first have to define it correctly. The big problem we have today in our democracy is we won’t make good decisions as citizens if we don’t get an un-biased objective and agreed to set of facts from which to make decisions and judgments. Unfortunately human beings are hard wired to NOT SEEK and ignore information or evidence that in contrary to the existing belief system of our “tribe” aka our shared personal belief system (aka confirmation bias.)
I believe we need a 21st Century Fairness Doctrine for BOTH right wing FOX NEWS and left wing MSNBC and other hyper-partisan media were they disclose just like an infomercial or pharmaceutical ad that #1 the program you about to watch is an entertainment program not a news program and #2 the experts appearing on this program have been briefed by the producers on the questions to be asked and the answers/opinions of all the participants on the panel. CLEARLY demarcating “Subjective Entertainment” from “Objective Hard News & Journalism” would really help the upcoming generation to not fall for the basic right/left propaganda programming that is produced today at Fox News and to a lesser degree CNN and MSNBC.
Book ‘Em: What would you say are your strengths as an author?
Tobin Smith: I try to make complicated into not-so-complicated. I also am a research analyst as I said; I feel compelled by habit to PROVE my conclusions with 3rd party data and not subjective opinion.
Book ‘Em: How do you deal with criticism of your willingness to speak up about what you saw during your time with FOX?
Tobin Smith: It’s fair and comes with the whistleblower territory. By 2010 my comments on Bulls & Bears were basically scripted for me by my producer and I took whatever side or position she needed me to take. After my company was sold I still needed income and $5k a week to play talking head was money I needed.
My defense is simply I NEVER thought that our older viewers had not already figured out how staged and choreographed our “fair and balanced” debates actually were. The name of my book is “Fear & Unbalanced: Confessions of a Fox News Hitman.” I found out they did not and more important did NOT want to know.
Book ‘Em: What would you consider the best compliment a reader could give your book?
Tobin Smith: That someone they cared about read the book and pulled back from the radicalized hyper-partisan abyss and a family was saved or “they never realized how easy it is to manipulate and exploit innate human vulnerabilities. “
Book ‘Em: Tell about your life outside of writing.
Tobin Smith: I publish an investment newsletter and operate a website, http://www.transformityResearch.com. I live in the mountains in the winter to ski and road bike and in Scottsdale from April through November to golf, bike and enjoy dry warmth. I’ve been married for 32 years. I started and sold two companies from scratch. I never cared about politics till the rise of Trump. We have a family vineyard in Calistoga Barlow Vineyard. I visited my 44th country this year and have been to every continent except Antartica. I love ski/golf/road-cycling/food/travel/friends/animals/music/writing.
Book ‘Em: Do you have any advice for people who are considering blowing the whistle in their professional sphere?
Tobin Smith: Keep the emails/texts and dot the I’s/cross the T’s.
Book ‘Em: Was there a person who encouraged you to write?
Tobin Smith: My Mom Pat Smith…great writer and poet.
Book ‘Em: What other books have you written? Tell us about them.
Tobin Smith: ChangeWave Investing/ChangeWave Investing 2.0 were NY Times Non-Fiction Bestsellers with Random House. They explained my investment philosophy behind good and bad transformation change and how to build and save a fortune investing in “Transformity” aka the most powerful wealth creation and destruction phenomenon on earth. $Billion Green was on investing in sustainable non-hydrocarbon energy and food production. NEXT book is The Transformity Principle: How to Double Your Portfolio Every 2.57 Years in Bull & Bear Markets.
Book ‘Em: Provide an excerpt of your writing that you would like to share with our members.
Tobin Smith: Chapter 1: Why the Fox News “Fair &Balanced” Promise Was a Scam from
Today everyone knows that when Fox News’ promised a hundred times a day to deliver a “fair and balanced” and “we report you decide” view of the news of the day it was an ironic “Trumpian” lie.
But only a handful of people in the world including me know the reality: The Fox News opinion programming and opinion panel debates on which I appeared and performed for14 years every Saturday morning were rigged by Fox News in MY favor…fixed by the producers with heavy handed, never talked about tactics to make sure my viewpoint came out on top in the eyes of the partisan conservative viewer.
The producer’s I worked with on opinion debate programming consistently tilted the rhetorical playing field strongly to my benefit so that I, the viewer’s conservative hero, could effectively disembowel the hated “libtard” rival on cue with my carefully crafted and scripted conservative partisan propaganda spiel.
The end result was basically hyper-partisan pornography designed to titillate the viewer and manipulate their emotions toward a final climax of feelings strong enough to unleash a dopamine rush of pleasure to the viewer’s brain.
Look: I understand these are strong and loaded words… “scam” “propaganda” and “pornography. . . but they are indisputably true.
First, Oxford Dictionary defines “scam” as “a dishonest of fake scheme to make money.”
In this book I will show you exactly the tactics Fox News producers used to produce fake “fair and balanced” opinion programming for $billions every year.
Second, the term propaganda is defined as “the systematic, widespread distribution of specific ideas, doctrines, practices which can help one cause or be harmful to another cause.”
The Fox News propaganda cycle is perfectly described by this chart from David Brock, a leading expert in modern propaganda techniques. He outlines the very specific particularly cruel way Fox News uses classic propaganda techniques to isolate and indoctrinate their most vulnerable viewers; lonely 65+ aged men and to a lesser degree women.
Clearly Fox News since the early 2000’s became the defacto GOP and partisan conservative propaganda distributor and broadcaster (I’ll explain more never disclosed details on this reality later in the book.) Check.
Finally, Oxford Dictionary defines the general definition of “pornography” is: “the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement.” But Oxford’s broader definition of porn is “the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse an intense emotional reaction for instance the pornography of violence.”
By this broader definition, depicting “fair and balanced” political or cultural discussion in a sensational manner and existential threat to American life so as to arouse an intense emotional reaction is, in a political/cultural context, “outrage porn.”
Look: It was never a coincidence that I almost always got “the last word” in most opinion segments from the host. It was by careful design that my liberal opponent was always a 3rd rate back bench “Democratic Party Strategist” who looked like a stereotype East Coast liberal. It should have been no surprise that nine times out of ten the left-winger booked on the opinion debate show I appeared on were not nearly as well prepared as me to argue our carefully selected hot button partisan topic.
Since the ostensibly “fair & balanced” panel debate aka “the ballgame” (the term our producers called these rigged debate segments) was neither fair nor balanced, they were fake. The reality at Fox News was we paid characters performed a rigged and scripted performance art where the outcomes were carefully fixed and choreographed by the producers to position me, the conservative hero, victorious over the hated liberal by segments end.
Only AFTER I left Fox News (fired actually—that is another story I’ll address later) did I come to understand the most important question: WHY were these segments fixed—why was the playing field of “the ballgame” purposely rigged and tilted in favor of the partisan conservative pundits like me?
Answer: Because Fox News’ founder Roger Ailes was a master of the dark arts of partisan TV media addiction…and he knew this; to make his formula work Fox needed to control the outcome of the opinion segments enough to get the addictive Audience reaction he was after.
Roger taught his production team the only lesson required to get conservative partisans addicted to Fox News; We had to win the race to the viewers brain stem in order to get their addictive emotional chemicals flowing.
As I found out later, his televised conservative propaganda plan goes all the way back to 1974, in a memo entitled “A Plan for Putting the GOP on TV News.” Buried in the Nixon library details a plan between Ailes and the White House to bring pro-administration stories to television networks around the country. It reads: “Today television news is watched more often than people read newspapers, than people listen to the radio, than people read or gather any other form of communication. The reason: People are lazy. With television you just sit—watch—listen. The thinking is done for you.”
In fact, the Fox News partisan propaganda formula had been known and proven for decades. Social science taught us long ago that all human beings can be emotionally manipulated because we all have the same identical emotional weaknesses built into our DNA.
Our exploitable DNA encoded emotional needs? Simple; all us homo sapiens are driven by our innate personal needs for:
our life’s meaning
for a “tribe” to defend us.
What Roger Ailes exploited was simple: Think of our reptilian brain stem as our on-board fight-or- flight risk assessment computer. What small town born and raised Roger Ailes tapped into and exploited in our average 68 year-old conservative partisans were:
A) their visceral existential fear of liberalism and the non-God fearing secular world
B) Their deep-seated resentment of what they perceive to be cultural disrespect from America’s elite classes especially the coastal liberal media
C) Their very real perception that their Red State/small or rural culture and religious beliefs were being made fun of every time they turned on liberal dominated entertainment or late night TV.
Roger also knew we humans, rich or poor, college or high school educated, possess a core innate need to feel that our voice is being heard. We all need to feel that the other person in a conversation or on our TV acknowledges that our feelings or perspectives are as equally valid or worthy of consideration as theirs, even if we don’t agree.
Small town born and raised Roger Ailes knew in his bones that the mainstream media had stopped connecting with his tribe for decades. Roger knew all he had to do to win the hearts and minds of partisan conservatives was to create a televised vehicle that could exploit ALL of these innate, raw and UNMET brain stem based emotional needs 24/7. He’d call his opinion programming “fair and balanced” and wrap it in the patina of “news” but no one in opinion programming at Fox News that I worked with was under any illusion we were in the news business.
Roger also knew I suspect that IF he could exploit the DNA encoded weakness and vulnerabilities of those Americans who self-identify as “culturally and politically conservative,” he could actually addict them to his programming in the same way the NFL or college football fan is addicted to thrill of victory and the agony of defeat watching football on the weekend.
The Fox News addiction formula:
1) Create and deliver a highly orchestrated cadence of profoundly visceral and emotional triggers over and over again within a six minute segment while the politically and culturally partisan conservative 65+ aged viewer zones out passively at home that
- Defines and demonizes their political & cultural enemies into fear worthy opponents
- Features a liberal antagonist that insults and disrespects the viewer’s pre-existing cultural and political values and ideology
- All while the conservative hero/protagonist glorifies their pre-existing ideological narrative and ABOVE ALL respects their pre-existing cultural and political decisions and world view.
2) Moderate this exchange with a relatively young, physically attractive/seductive host who manipulates the discussion toward one or more secretly prepared paid conservative contributors in order to deliver a rhetorical victory for conservative partisan ideology/propaganda over the hated liberal tribal perspective.
IF correctly executed, Fox News’s carefully choreographed and scripted opinion programming would get:
3) A brain-stem induced happy dance from the hyper-partisan viewer celebrating yet another victory over the evil liberal empire powerful enough to
4) Auto-trigger the hard-wired physiological rush of dopamine that delivers a very real and very addictive hit of a highly addictive pleasure chemical.
For Roger, producing addictive partisan TV is like watching the Super Bowl with your favorite team playing and winning every day. It’s like the movie “Groundhog’s Day”; every day the Fox News viewer watches their feared and sworn tribal enemy say terrible apostasies until they are gored to death in glorious high def.
Every 6-12 minutes the Fox News viewer is fed the same thrill of victory, over and over again, when their right wing hero conquers their hated political enemy.
The very real high comes from the automatic dopamine rush that our brain stem sends to the pleasure feeling part of the brain whenever the viewer feels vindicated…when the viewer feels the superiority and existential righteousness of their pre-existing belief system over their hated partisan tribe they get a hit of that extra special pleasure chemical serotonin.
‘I was RIGHT, dammit.” Neuroscience has known and proven this phenomenon for decades: Human beings who hold a specific belief system encoded into their individual and group identity also have a brain that through evolution has become hard-wired for “confirmation bias.”
Confirmation bias is simply the technical term for the brain’s strong tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs. More important to partisan TV producers, neuroscientists tell us once a person has settled on a tribal core belief they are more likely to seek out information that validates that belief and avoid information that challenges it.
Why? Because being a member in good standing in a tribe equals feelings of safety…remember that innate DNA encoded emotional need for safety? As such, getting along with your chosen tribe is an existential imperative (particularly in the days of saber tooth tigers!).
This is the key to the popularity of partisan media: After 10,000 years of evolution, our brains are hard-wired to embrace or reject information that confirms the pre-existing attitudes of our tribe. The practice of accepting only information that confirms something you already believe while rejecting any information that challenges that belief is pleasurable. Having core beliefs challenged is literally painful—it causes cognitive dissonance.
Key Point: Via survival bias, we humans are, in fact, confirmation bias seeking machines. Roger Ailes knew this better than anyone in TV.
We are forever in search of data that confirms that which we already believe because it feels so damn good. It’s our catnip. “Illusion is the first of all pleasures,” Voltaire wrote a few hundred years ago.