My nephew made a good point the other day when he asked, tongue in cheek, “Who would watch FOX if they didn’t constantly make it sound like the sky is falling?” I had been mocking the network’s cynical claim to render the news “fair and balanced.”
FOX’s motto is an affront to many of my political ilk. Embedding rightwing talking points into its “hard news” reporting is commonplace. Likewise, introducing a discussion of immigration policy with a Rush Limbaugh rant, conducting a rhetorical war on Obamacare with one-sided coverage and newsroom graphics such as “HEALTH CARE LAW INCLUDES 20 NEW OR INCREASED TAXES ON AMERICAN FAMILIES OR SMALL BUSINESSES,” or featuring former Reagan aide K T McFarland to discuss White House “excuses” for Benghazi—all of this is business as usual (Eric Wemple, “Fox News All Day: Hard and Conservative).
Bill O’Reilly, host of FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, knows the motto well. By his own account, he is “the fairest guy on the planet.” Mitt Romney knows that FOX News viewers are “true believers.” And nearly half the people in a 2011 poll (including 77% of the Republicans surveyed) believe FOX News is “fair and balanced.”
An academic colleague of mine vowed to watch FOX News only. I feared for his soul. A year later he was still sane and seemingly not possessed.
I took courage from my colleague’s example, enough to watch a little FOX News myself. It was a breathtaking experience, nothing like the daily news I glean from mainstream print media. I discovered first hand, as columnist Derrick Baker put the matter, that FOX is “as fair and balanced as water is dry.”
FOX may be unfair and unbalanced, but it is definitely entertaining, and it gets very high cable television ratings. It commands the attention, as Baker notes, of “sycophants and critics alike.”
FOX gets it. The drama, spectacle, and histrionics of war are the complete entertainment package. Political theater doesn’t get any better. Lambasting the Islamic State momentarily substitutes for ripping President Obama. Color-coded maps, action shots of aircraft carriers, and war briefings by the generals fill the television screen with scintillating images (Howard Kurtz, “Airstrikes Aftermath”). War talk is politics on fire. FOX invites us to watch Oliver North tell heroic war stories.
Okay, other media outlets do it, too, but FOX is the best at making a farce of the news. They make a fool of anyone who takes them seriously. It is all profit and game. Critiquing FOX is as pointless as taking FOX seriously, which only keeps the gag going.
The comic voice is the proper response to farce. My nephew understood this when he posted a quote commonly attributed to Mark Twain: “God created war so Americans would learn geography.” Although un-sourced, the quote captures the wit of the wag that described war as “a wanton waste of projectiles.” Reasons for war are “conscience-soothing falsities,” Twain observed. We should thank God for such “grotesque self-deception” and the “better sleep” it provides. In “the intervals between campaigns [man] washes the blood off his hands and works for ‘the universal brotherhood of man’—with his mouth.” (Twain quotes)