Friday, September 30, 2005

The Decline & Fall of Fox News

I started watching Fox News back when I moved to California in ’99. We were living in a river valley with poor reception, so cable was the only way to go—either that or satellite TV.

Having Fox News instead of the network news was certainly a relief heading into the 2000 election and Bush’s first term.

Can you imagine getting your news from Dan Rather or Peter Jennings or the BBC or The News Hour during the Bush administration?

Over time, though, it does seem to me that Fox has gone downhill. Now, maybe that’s just an illusion caused by moving into a different time zone as I relocated from the West coast to the East coast.

Mind you, I was never glued to the TV. It was always something in the background while I was busy with other things.

I quickly tired of Hannity & Colmes. It was a calculated scream-fest. The format was always the same: a staged debate involving a liberal and conservative guest moderated by the liberal and conservative host—punctuated by commercial breaks.

I would sometimes switch to Hardball. Before the ramp up to the Iraq War, Chris Matthews had occasional moments of lucidity, but after Bush turned his attention to Iraq, Mathews reverted to his primal partisan reflexes.

Several factors have rendered Fox increasingly worthless as a news outlet or even news analysis outlet:

i) One-minute interviews. Literally, that’s all they seem to allot now for an interview. I suppose the theory is that a TV audience has such an attenuated attention span that this is all they will sit for.

Actually, what taxes the attention span is when the pace becomes so hectic and choppy that no one can finish a sentence, much less a paragraph. You can’t absorb anything when everyone is talking over everyone else and speaking at the pace of an auctioneer.

ii) Apropos (i) is the two-minute debate. This is where you have the liberal guest and the conservative guest square off for a one-minute debate before the commercial break, following by a one-minute follow up debate after the commercial break, at which point the moderator jumps in and tells the audience that he’s run out of time.

BTW, this excuse is a patent lie. Sure, they may be coming up on hard breaks. But when you have an hour or more for each show, you can hold a guest over for as many segments as you please. You could schedule one or two guests for the whole hour.

iii) Fox has also taken to interrupting its regularly scheduled programs for a “Fox News Alert.”

The idea is that live, “breaking” news is more exciting that the scripted stuff. What this usually consists of is a news conference in which the local sheriff is introducing and congratulating all of the agencies that contributed to the apprehension of the suspect. Or it may be a car chase. Or perhaps an airplane is experiencing technical difficulties. I realize that has some photo-op potential, but why not cut away from regular programming when you actually have something to show.

iv) Apropos (iii), Fox constantly seizes on some essentially local story and blows it up into a national story, which it will run for hour after hour, day after day, week after week, as if it can only report on one thing at a time, and on something which really isn’t a national news story. You know what I mean—a kidnapping or murder or shark-attack.

v) Then you have wall-to-wall cover of a non-event, of what hasn’t happened, but is going to happen, or may possibly happen, or may never happen.

What is Bush going to say in his speech? Who is he going to nominate? What verdict will the jury render?

Of course, the reason for all this is supposedly ratings. But I have to wonder what brain-donor of a TV producer is making the judgment call. Does Fox ever poll its TV audience to find out if that’s really what they want to hear about?

Do they want a scream-fest? Do they want a one-minute interview or a two-minute debate or the pervert of the week? Who is making these editorial decisions?

I get the impression that you have some TV producer who is listening a TV consultant rather than the actual audience. It’s as if they simply intuited that this must be the sort of thing which the average viewer craves to hear and see.

Ultimately, the problem is that Fox, even though it’s coverage is center-right, consists mainly of secular conservatives rather than Christian conservatives. You can tell from their priorities.


  1. I wrote off O'Reilly as well as H&C long, long ago, personally speaking. I found the H&C material to be as you describe it. You can't in 60 seconds get your point across. BTW, I also feel that Hannity really shouldn't be a standard-bearer for political conservatism. He doesn't strike me as the brightest of the bulbs. I almost like Colmes more on a personal level, though he seems, like most other leftists, thoroughly unmoored as he drifts from one unfashionable opinion to the next.

  2. We could always get our news from MTV instead, couldn't we?!

  3. I've listened only to Hannity's radio show. His deal seems to be to get the most ridiculous liberal who has made some crazy statement about conservatives on the phone. Then Hannity asks him to explain. When the guy changes the subject Hannity goes crazy and denounces all liberals. It's fun the first or second time, but it gets old quick.

  4. Well said. I would add that the reason I do not watch Fox anymore (and I am a die hard conservative) is their obsession with "sex news." Fox is suppose to be this "family conservative or balanced" news channel yet they are the most sexual, not to mention their idiotic pop-cultural news. I would rather watch the liberal bent CNN than watch the Fox "Sex" News channel.

    This goes the same for the Drudge Report. I don't get my news from Drudge anymore because every week he has a picture of an almost naked woman to grace some pop-cultural news story. Soft porn should not be tolerated just because it is on Fox News or the Drudge Report.

    I think conservative Christians need to reevaluate Fox and Drudge.

    Calvinist Gadfly