Fox Gone Wild
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When one is in the business of correcting conservative misinformation, one spends a great deal of time watching Fox News Channel -- America's foremost purveyor of conservative misinformation.
After many thousands of hours of viewing Fox News' stable of anchors, correspondents, and spinmeisters, one begins to see patterns emerge in FNC's programming: on-screen text that bashes Democrats, reporters adopting White House terminology, etc. But after a while, the din of GOP talking points and anti-liberal screeds slowly fade and an altogether different pattern emerges.
A person idly watching Fox News all day, for example, has an excellent chance of glancing at the screen and seeing some partial nudity or a male Fox News personality hitting on a female colleague on the air. Scantily clad women and on-air sexual harassment are the orders of the day over at Fox News Channel.
Take, for instance, Fox News' premier business news program, Your World with Neil Cavuto . Cavuto, Fox News' vice president of business news and the worst James Bond since Timothy Dalton, regularly shows footage of Victoria's Secret runway models and Playboy bunnies -- presumably in the name of business.
Cavuto also has a special obsession with a certain football game played every year in early February: the Lingerie Bowl. Last February, Cavuto interviewed two Lingerie Bowl contenders in their -- ahem -- uniforms. As the News Hounds blog pointed out at the time, this interview was preceded by a one-on-one with Focus on the Family's James C. Dobson, who said that parents must monitor what their children are "looking at because pornography is everywhere, as you [Cavuto] know."
This year, Cavuto switched things up a bit and interviewed just one backfield beauty (in a slightly less revealing outfit) opposite the considerably less attractive, though certainly voluptuous, William "The Refrigerator" Perry.
Cavuto's special love for the Lingerie Bowl is shared by others in the Fox News family. This year, anchor Jon Scott had the pleasure of interviewing a pair of "uniformed" Lingerie Bowl representatives on Feb. 3. Snippets of that interview were later replayed during a straight news report on the game, which also featured some footage of the athletes stretching, bouncing, gyrating and participating in other activities clearly intended to balance cardiovascular health with rhythmic jiggling.
When not reporting on the Lingerie Bowl, Fox News was busy reporting on the partially nude aspects of the Super Bowl itself. Every year Fox sends sports reporter and terrorism expert Brian Kilmeade to the Super Bowl host city to provide in-depth, "on the ground" reports. This year's coverage from Detroit dealt substantially with the Playboy party, of which Kilmeade gushed on the Feb. 5 edition of Fox & Friends Sunday: "I've never seen so many women wearing so little."
Luckily, for those of us who are not Brian Kilmeade, Fox News dutifully aired footage from the party, allowing everybody to see so many women wearing so little, including a shot of a stripped-down model on a swing. Kilmeade later went on to describe how much "work" one must do in covering the Playboy party: "You might as well be covering a robbery or a mall opening â€¦ and, like, you know, certain times women are above you, sometimes they're below, and you don't know. You have to be flexible." So true, Brian, so true.
But Fox doesn't need the Super Bowl as an excuse to air racy footage. On the Feb. 14 edition of Fox News Live, anchor Bill Hemmer discussed "perhaps the true signal for spring â€¦ supermodels posing for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue." Accompanied by footage of eight models walking in bikinis down the beach and posing, Hemmer noted: "the 2006 issue hitting newsstands today, and features eight beauties on the cover. â€¦ I don't think they've ever done eight before."
Fox News' John Gibson, host of The Big Story , also offered a Feb. 14 report on the swimsuit edition -- devoting a full segment to an interview with one of the models and scads of footage from the photo shoots. On Feb. 13, DaySide co-anchor Mike Jerrick asked that all-important question: "Do women really want lingerie for Valentine's Day?" While that particular issue could not be resolved in one mere DaySide segment, it nonetheless offered yet another opportunity to roll some Victoria's Secret fashion show stock footage.
But just because Fox News broadcasts nearly naked women at every opportunity doesn't mean that the channel can't simultaneously criticize the "sexualization" of television, does it?
After the Kaiser Family Foundation released a study in November 2005 indicating that sex scenes on commercial television doubled since 1998, Gibson hosted a panel on the Nov. 10 edition of The Big Story during which Fox News correspondent Alisyn Camerota complained: "Seventy-seven percent of all shows have some sexual content. Even the History Channel is doing the history of sex. And, you know, furthermore, I mean, kids don't want to watch C-SPAN all day long, so they are going to get an eyeful whenever they turn on the TV."
Getting back to the Super Bowl theme, after the Janet Jackson incident at the 2004 championship, Bill O'Reilly came right out and said: "The reason the culture is in such trouble is that elites like [CBS dinosaur Andy] Rooney, network news in general, liberal pundits, and cowardly politicians have all failed to make judgments about obvious bad behavior encouraged by the media. So we have now as a culture that drowns children with sex and violence and a society that largely looks the other way." On the June 4, 2005, Fox News Watch , Fox News media analyst S. Robert Lichter said: "You know, prime-time television is a general ad for The Joy of Sex these days. We've done studies that find more than one sex act per minute on prime-time TV."
It's not just the preponderance of sexual images on Fox News that gives pause; it's also the way in which the women of Fox News are treated on the air by their male counterparts. O'Reilly's peculiar private attitudes towards women are well-known, so it's unsurprising that a certain amount of sexism should creep into his professional life. O'Reilly flies solo on The O'Reilly Factor , but he is usually accompanied by guest host and Harvard-educated lawyer Lis Wiehl when he takes to the radio waves.
Over at Media Matters, we noted that in the course of two weeks in November 2005, O'Reilly told Wiehl that she should protest outside CBS in a bikini, that she was "ask[ing] for" a "full-body search," and that she should learn to striptease because "she's a good-looking blonde." We also documented Brit Hume, managing editor of Fox News' Washington bureau and presidential historian, telling DaySide co-host Juliet Huddy, "I'm not answering any questions until I get to see [your] boots." On the Jan. 27 edition of DaySide, Jerrick told Huddy that "everybody in the audience is talking about your stockings today," and then everybody watching at home was treated to a below-the-desk camera shot of Huddy's fishnet stockings.
During its coverage of the inaugural balls this past January, Fox News featured regular reports from general assignment reporter Megyn Kendall, who was wearing a stylish red dress with a plunging neckline. Most of Fox's inaugural ball coverage featured on-screen text -- cable news channels rarely, if ever, go more than a second or two without on-screen text. But when the camera was on Kendall, the text would mysteriously disappear -- treating viewers to an unobstructed view of Kendall's plunging neckline. When the camera moved off Kendall, or Fox cut to someone else, the text would pop back up.
Fox presents itself as an organization devoted to professional journalism ("Fair and Balanced," "the most powerful name in news," etc.), and it enjoys the highest ratings share of the three major cable news networks. But how can a news network be taken seriously when it constantly airs footage of nearly naked women and then complains about TV becoming too raunchy? How can a news network be taken seriously when its female employees are treated in an unprofessional manner and objectified on the air?
It's becoming increasingly clear that Fox News succeeds not by providing quality journalism, but by entertaining its viewers, and this formula is finding adherents in other media outlets. CBS chairman Les Moonves told the New York Times in September 2005: "On the one hand, we could have a newscast like The Big Breakfast in England, where women give the news in lingerie. Or there's Naked News , which is on cable in England. I saw a clip of it. It's a woman giving the news as she's getting undressed. And then, on the other hand, you could have two boring people behind a desk. Our newscast has to be somewhere in between." Moonves basically described Fox News: It's not quite news, and it's not quite porn, but it's pretending to be both.
Simon S. Maloy is a writer and researcher for Media Matters for America.