Fox News has long used the slogan “Fair & Balanced” to fool you into thinking its news coverage is, well, fair and balanced. New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman quotes the late Fox News founder Roger Ailes as once saying, “If you come out and you try to do right-wing news, you’re gonna die. You can’t get away with it.” Ailes got away with it for decades; now, after his death earlier this year, his channel is dropping the slogan. Stephen Colbert had a bit of fun with this move on his show Thursday night.
But if you think this is just a silly or unimportant advertising shift, you’re wrong. Getting rid of “Fair & Balanced” coincides with a new hardening of Fox News’s arteries. Its lifeblood — getting viewers riled about perceived persecution by liberals and the left — has become Fox News’ primary reason to exist. On any given night in primetime, you can go from 8 to 10 p.m. without hearing any extensive stories about the most important news of the day. Coverage of the health care bill making its way into legislation through secret meetings? Nope. Any coverage of international news other than riots or fires? Nada. (The exception to this rule is Shepard Smith’s dutiful afternoon news rundown.) Instead, Fox pumps out many variations on whatever talking points it seems to issue to platoons of producers daily.
Right now, that means you can watch a dozen variations on a shameful theme Fox News is pumping out like poison gas. Its shows take the appalling gun injuries inflicted upon the Republican baseball players by a deranged, Bernie Sanders-backing liberal shooter and then conflate that awful occurrence with Kathy Griffin’s stupid Trump-head stunt and the Public Theater’s current production of Julius Caesar. (Fox has drummed up a lot of fake agony over the fact that that the new Shakespeare production features an actor playing Caesar dressed as President Trump — a directorial decision that is both trite and nonsensical, but not the call to assassination Fox insists it is.) Tucker Carlson Tonight, The Five, and Hannity all led off their shows with this falsely yoked-together trio, insisting there is common ground. “Out of Control Violence From the Left”! screamed a chyron on Carlson’s show Wednesday night.
When Ailes and Bill O’Reilly were ousted from Fox due to their sexual harassment scandals, there was a raft of stories saying that Rupert Murdoch and his sons — owners of Fox News — wanted to evolve the network to keep pace with the 21st century. This was most commonly interpreted as meaning the network would become less overtly sexist (women can wear pants on-air now!) and its tone less strident, more middle-of-the-road.
It certainly hasn’t turned out that way. On Thursday afternoon, a chyron on Your World with Neil Cavuto blared, “Shooting In Virginia sparks debate over whether lawmakers should be armed,” and folks, the only place that debate is occurring in on Fox News; no one else in the mainstream media is having that debate. Carlson’s 8 p.m. show is, if anything, more shrill than O’Reilly’s was. His version of Fox “fairness” is to invite a liberal guest on and then interrupt and mischaracterize what the guest is saying. As for “balance,” it’s provided by only one or two voices that might be encountered over any random 24 hours. (I’m thinking of Juan Williams, the token “liberal” on The Five, and Gillian Turner, who stands out by being refreshingly unpredictable and thoughtful in her various takes on the news as a Fox News contributor.)
Colbert mockingly suggested that Fox’s new slogan could be “Thanks for Watching, Mr. President!” or “You’d Be Pretty If You Smiled More.” I wish I could laugh, but the way the network deprives its audience of a diet of nutritional news leaves me worried about the country’s health.
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