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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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“So,” I began tentatively, “we should talk about the sorts of things that would make me stop doing this Fox News story.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know.” My mind was full of shadowy catastrophes that might be, at that very moment, playing themselves out just over the horizon. “You know, big things.” There was a palpable silence. The conversation, I realized, had already gone seriously awry. I thought for a few moments. “Like something that might make us think about hoarding food.”

She was watching me out of the corner of my eye, in the way that one might keep track of a shouting person on the street. “OK,” she finally said. “I’ll let you know when it’s time to start hoarding food.”

On October 17, the shutdown was lifted, and Fox switched coverage to something closer to its normal mode of operation. At this point, I made a second discovery—I began to find Fox News extremely dull. Their one-note coverage of events, their simplistic interpretations of people’s motives, their attraction to the lurid, all began to make the network seem tedious in the extreme. And then there is the outrage.

Fox is a network founded on outrage. There is a constant barrage of stories of righteous people wronged by the forces of evil, usually in the form of government. A cheerleading squad was forced to terminate its fundraising carwash because of water pollution concerns, a school board asked teachers to stop forcing their children to sing overtly Christian carols, there is an increasing level of anti-Christian rhetoric in the military (Fox is also, by the way, a very Christian network)—the list of abuses perpetrated on the hard-working patriots of this country seems never-ending.

I will admit that I too am something of an outrage addict. I find myself drawn to web sites and stories that will stoke my ideas that there is a great right-wing cabal out there attempting to destroy the American way of life. In a way, I suppose my beliefs are just a mirror image of those flogged endlessly on Fox.

But in the end, I am not a Fox viewer. To the Fox audience, I fear that I am one of “them” rather than one of “us.” And unable to join them in their self-righteous, unifying anger, Fox News left me behind.

The government, the economy, and even the Affordable Care Act survived October, 2013, and I lived through a whole month of nothing but Fox. I am discovering lingering effects, however. I find myself much more skeptical of news outlets—all of them. Having seen the way in which Fox, in both obvious and subtle ways, constructs an information framework that supports its political views, I look for similar editorial decisions everywhere, even in information sources I trust. And I am much more careful about my outrage. Yes, the world is full of outrageous things—acts of astonishing dishonesty. But outrage, or, I should say,other people’s outrage is really, really tedious.

Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” and I don’t regret the time I spent among the Foxians. I still believe that what the network does, and the way they do it is deeply damaging to our society—but I think I understand the Fox universe much more clearly. And if, as a result, I wind up being more skeptical of my own certainty and less apt to bore people with my anger, then it was time well spent.

On the final day of my vigil, Fox had one extra surprise for me. As I tuned in to my last episode of The O’Reilly Factor, I realized that I was going to miss Bill just a little bit. If nothing else, Bill O’Reilly seems to offer a sense of permanence, something dependable and constant in a world of increasingly rapid and often disturbing change. Tomorrow the tides will ebb and flow, the sun will rise, and Bill O’Reilly will be pissed off about something. I settled back on my couch and let it all wash over me.  “We are in the twilight zone. America has entered another dimension,” he began, and I gave out a small, satisfied sigh. Take me home, Bill, take me home.

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