On Fox News, being a voice for common sense will leave you singing solo. The channel showcases choral voices harmonizing noisily as one, to trill that Hillary Clinton is the devil, or that “the media” — which somehow never includes Fox News itself — is out to “destroy” President Trump. The rare contributor who is hired to represent something other than the right wing (what is Juan Williams supposed to be, a liberal? Mmmm, he’s not really, but OK) frequently finds him- or herself shouting over the shouting just to be heard. How rare it is to come upon someone who attempts to apply simple common sense, to walk the road of reasonability, on Fox. And thus we come to praise Gillian Turner.
I’ve become aware of Turner under her official title of “Fox News Contributor” during the past year or so — in other words, since Trump turned news culture into pop culture and vice versa. (Covering the news is now a TV critic’s beat just as much as covering the latest sitcom or drama.) Turner specializes in foreign policy analysis, and is often introduced as having worked as a policy adviser in both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, which is Fox’s way of signaling, “Hey, we got a moderate here!” What first caught my attention about Turner is that she often pauses before she speaks, to gather her thoughts, and then phrases her answers in a calm, nuanced manner. You may think that doesn’t sound particularly impressive, but trust me — having watched every day-segment of Fox News’ programming more or less constantly in recent months — to pause and respond calmly on Fox is as rare as hearing Sean Hannity say, “You know, I must admit you’ve changed my mind.”
Given that our president seems hellbent on starting a nuclear war with North Korea, Turner has been called upon frequently in recent months to explain the concept of diplomacy to Fox News viewers. Oh, who am I kidding? She has to explain the word “diplomacy” to Fox News hosts, who are so trained to argue, squabble, and squawk, they often don’t even hear each other. Turner has sometimes been enlisted as a substitute co-host on The Five, where seating her in the crossfire between Greg Gutfeld, Jesse Watters, and Kimberly Guilfoyle is like asking her to stand in the middle of a Mexican town when the Wild Bunch comes galloping through.
Turner is also deployed occasionally on Outnumbered, Fox’s noon hour, whose gimmick is to have four women and “one lucky guy” discuss the day’s events. There, Turner frequently finds herself the one unlucky person on the panel who’ll speak for simple accuracy and truth. On the Sept. 26 Outnumbered, the subject was a congressional committee’s request for emails from Jared Kushner’s private email server. The panel immediately turned this into a discussion of — of course! — Hillary Clinton’s emails. When Turner pointed out that this story had nothing to do with Clinton (“I’ve sat on this couch for a thousand hours debating Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server”), her colleagues turned on her with a collective fury. It starts at about 27:30 in this clip; by 29:00, Turner is plaintively yelling, “Can I finish my point?”
I have seen Turner in this position many times. She frequently operates as a fact-checker, pointing out when whatever show she’s on takes its rightward twist. On an Oct. 11 Outnumbered, the panel played a clip of Hillary talking about her election defeat, which was then used by the Outnumbered hosts to condemn Hillary for “blaming sexism” for her loss. Turner’s turn finally came, and she — yes — paused, and then observed, “Let’s be honest here for a moment. Is that really the argument she was making in this interview? I didn’t hear her say, ‘I lost because there is a gender imbalance.’ … I don’t think it’s fair for us to be approaching this as if that’s what she said in this interview.” Well, the first mistake Turner made there was saying, “Let’s be honest,” because that ain’t gonna happen when it comes to a Clinton segment.
But more broadly speaking, Turner operates as a valuable corrective to some of the channel’s loopier tendencies. It’s interesting that the channel’s management is clearly interested in using her but has no idea where or how. She has popped up as a weekend anchor on America’s News Headquarters, where she seems quite sensibly bored reading the day’s headlines and getting condescended to by co-anchor Eric Shawn. Turner’s foreign policy expertise gets its best workout when she’s on Chris Wallace’s Fox News Sunday, but she will also — ever-pluckily — plop down onto the set of Gutfeld’s wild and woolly Saturday-night smackdown-fest, The Greg Gutfeld Show. Tucker Carlson Tonight enables her to show a more relaxed side, in his lighthearted “Top That” segment.
She’s also booked occasionally on Howard Kurtz’s Media Buzz, where I cherish a moment, during the July 16 show, when she said, “I’m one of those people that cringes when I watch cable news battles, where people attack each other.” That there’s someone on Fox News who has a core of civility gives me hope in humanity. I have no idea what Fox plans to do with Turner, although if I had to guess, I’d say they might be grooming her as a permanent replacement for Dana Perino on The Five, should Perino’s new afternoon show, The Daily Briefing, take off in the ratings. (That is a long long-shot, by the way.) All I do know is that Turner is easily the sanest opinionator on Fox News. I’m just not sure whether, from the network’s point of view, that makes her invaluable or a sitting duck waiting to be executed.
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