Wednesday, February 02, 2011
Into the Void
I've read about and watched clips of Fox News quite a bit over the past several months, certainly enough to have a working knowledge of what the network is doing at any given time -- what tack it's taking on a particular story. But I freely admit that I gave up actually watching Fox News about a year ago, when I came to the conclusion that there was enough in my life that terrified the living shit out of me on a daily basis and the post-apocalyptic hellscape the network and its stable of angry/psychotic/overwhelmed-with-concern anchors, reporters and contributors crammed down the public's throat 24/7 just made me too anxious. I'm not breaking any new ground when I say that since the election of Barack Obama, Fox News has been a lifetime addiction to Cymbalta waiting to happen for each and every one of its hapless, frazzled viewers.
But yesterday, I did something that in hindsight feels like an act of unimaginable courage -- or maybe unfathomable stupidity: I listened to Fox News on Sirius XM for three straight hours, as I was driving from Central Florida down to Miami. Now I know that given the format I was availing myself of I was missing out on the epilepsy-inducing flash-graphics, the lower-third banners asking questions like, "Barack Obama: Anti-Christ or Simply Hates America?" and of course the smug winks and nudges of the anchors to their captivated audience of petrified elderly white Christian middle-Americans, a slightly subtler version of the one-eyebrow-raised mug to the camera that Mike Myers's "Dieter" character from Sprockets used to be famous for on Saturday Night Live.
Trust me when I tell you, though, that Fox News is as batshit crazy on radio as it is on TV; the effect of letting its alternate-reality worldview wash over you is exactly the same. It's honestly like listening to a broadcast from another dimension, one where up is down, inside is out and black is white (well, black is still black -- and inscrutably dangerous, but you get the point). Immerse yourself in it for a little while and it's easy to see how the people who live and die by this crap become, in short order, almost impossible to have an intelligent conversation with. It's not simply that Fox has a slant to its coverage or distorts the occasional fact slightly to suit its end; the network is almost across the board horseshit and you feel like you're getting crazier and more frenzied just exposing yourself to it. Like you're Alex strapped in a chair submitting to the Ludovico treatment. And after a very short amount of time it just becomes numbing.
I know that this isn't much of a shock to anyone -- and really that's the point. More on that in a minute, but first just a quick rundown of what three-hours of Fox was like:
Egypt: At no point during the time that I listened did the network do a live report from anywhere in Egypt. Not Cairo, not Alexandria, nothing. What Fox did do, however, was go live to Jerusalem -- twice. The first report was from a correspondent who warned that Israel was concerned about the uprising going on to its west and that the whole democracy thing had proven to be an iffy proposition when it came to Arab nations -- namely because they tend to be self-absorbed and willing to overthrow despots who make their citizens' lives a living hell but don't much bother Israel in favor of pro-Arab groups who hate Israel's guts. The second report was from -- wait for it -- Fox News contributor and potential Republican presidential candidate in 2012 Mike Huckabee, who happened to be in Jerusalem to tour the city with Pennsylvania's Keneseth sect. His traveling companion, by the way: Jon Voight. And no, I'm not making that up. Like the Fox correspondent, Huckabee expressed concern about the revolution in Egypt and hit the Fox News Islamophobia Panic Button by referencing the supposedly shadowy "Muslim Brotherhood" and the danger it poses as it engages in various Machiavellian machinations behind the scenes in an effort to turn Egypt into a caliphate.
By the way, the Muslim Brotherhood was mentioned nine times in the three hours I listened, and former IAEA chief and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Mohamed ElBaradei was cast as a Senator Palpatine-like figure who seemed vaguely anti-American and couldn't exactly be trusted to make the best interests of the United States a priority should he be elected to lead Egypt.
Oh, and Huckabee went on to mispronounce Riyadh -- calling it "Riyadhi" -- twice.
Healthcare: Every mention of the renewed battle over the healthcare reform law began with some slight variation on the phrase, "President Obama's controversial and unpopular healthcare reform law is dealt a serious blow by a federal judge, who says it's unconstitutional." Not one but two people brought on-air to debate the issue claimed that the law had been almost uniformly rejected by the American public and the state governments, and that that lack of support crossed party lines -- as in, "Even those on the left think this bill should be scrapped." The almost giddy talk of the ruling in Florida by one septuagenarian judge who had been appointed by Reagan culminated with yapping poodle Megyn Kelly expressing outright shock that the White House's defense of the bill involved "attacking the judge" by calling him an "activist." The level of shameless hypocrisy was so staggering at that point that I finally threw in the towel and changed channels. In the end, I only made it through sixteen minutes of Megyn Kelly.
The Royal "Some": Fox has been lambasted ad nauseam for this in the past, but you really have to watch or listen for a little while to truly appreciate how often the network does it: make a highly critical or outright inflammatory statement and provide hilariously nebulous attribution for it. In other words, "Some people say Barack Obama keeps midgets as pets," or, "Critics claim that putting a mosque near Ground Zero is spitting in the face of the 9/11 victims." Yeah -- you know who those "some people" and those "critics" are? The people at Fox News Channel.
Founding Fathers: Referenced or invoked four times in three hours. Think about how many times you personally bring up the founding fathers in conversation (provided you're not a 63-year-old self-proclaimed tea partier living in Ocala, Florida). The Founding Fathers. Four times in three hours. In the year 2011. If that doesn't make you think you're losing your fucking mind, nothing will.
And this really just scratches the surface of the overriding sense of wild-eyed paranoia that permeates every second of every single thing Fox News does these days. It's so removed from reality -- not simply the left or even centrist viewpoint but reality -- that it feels like jacking directly into the mind of some guy standing on a street corner talking to a telephone pole. And the effect is so jarring that when I finally got where I was going and logged onto Facebook, I was half-expecting to see a shitload of status updates that read something like, "Did you hear what they just said on Fox???"
But then I realized that I was back in the real world -- where Fox News Channel's nonstop surrealism had just become an accustomed-to dull drone.