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My Fox News Nightmare: How I Tortured Myself with The Propaganda of Ignorance

I'm a card-carrying member of the ACLU, so here's what happened when I watched 3 hours of Fox every day for a month.

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After my initial amusement at this episode, I began to find the whole thing alarming. Karl Rove is, by all accounts, a smart man. How could he and so many of his colleagues on the right have been so thoroughly, so publicly, so humiliatingly wrong? The theory I eventually arrived at was that the right wing infosphere had become so large and self-referential that people like Rove were seduced by its alternate view of reality. What then, I wondered, would happen to someone like me, someone who has abandoned the Democratic party because it is not progressive enough, who thinks that Barack Obama is, politically, very similar to Richard Nixon but without the personality disorders, someone who is literally a card carrying member of the ACLU—in short, a member of the evil cabal that Fox News guests routinely rail against?

Thus, on October 1, 2013, I sat down on my couch and, armed with nothing but a remote, vowed to consume three hours of Fox News programming a day for an entire month, while strictly abstaining from any other sources of information about current events. I couldn’t sample all of Fox’s wares, of course, but after looking at their lineup, I chose three shows to concentrate on—Fox & Friends, because it seemed like it might be representative of the network’s populist, aw-shucks conservatism; Shep Smith’s News Hour, because Smith has a reputation as being the straightest shooter of the Fox anchors; and, of course, the network’s browbeater-in-chief, Bill O’Reilly.

One of the first things I noticed was how similar all of the on-air personalities were. The men come in a variety of ages and weights, but are almost exclusively white, and almost all seem coated with a film of weary exasperation at the antics of the enemies of our nation. Shep Smith seems to be the exception to this. In contrast, he comes across as refreshingly candid and good-humored, and doesn’t indulge in the sort of winking innuendo that passes for news on much of the rest of the network. Within a few days of the commencement of my Fox project, I developed a fervent, Stockholm syndrome-style crush on Shep Smith. (The women of Fox are attractive, which is not an unusual requirement for female TV personalities, but they are dramatically, disproportionately blonde and share a particular ebullience.)

The quintessence of the Fox News style is found on Fox & Friends. It is the network’s morning show, a competitor to Good Morning America and Today. It features three hosts, Steve Doocy, Elizabeth Hasselbeck, and Brian Kilmeade. Doocy seems to be the brains of the three, a blond fifty-ish man with a long face who is always ready with a sarcastic smile or an eye roll at the sad state of political affairs. Hasselbeck seems as if she might be too nice for the role in which she is cast. She has only a few go-to facial expressions—compassionate concern (generally reserved for children), an angry moue that comes off more as a petulant pout, and a bright smile that she occasionally tries to repurpose, Doocy-style, into one of outraged disbelief. She can’t quite pull the latter off, however, and the effect is sort of disturbing, resembling a fear/aggression response more than anything else. Kilmead plays the part of the dumb little brother, often starting sentences with, “What I don’t get…” He handles all of the sports stories, and there is something behind his small, close-set eyes that makes me think that he once spent a lot of time pushing the heads of nerdy classmates into toilets.

As the days went by, I began to get comfortable with my cast of characters, and for a while things seemed to be going pretty swimmingly. As a liberal I was skeptical of the Fox version of events, and their news coverage tends to be fairly monochromatic, but I otherwise felt on top of things. Or I did, that is, until October 9.

 
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