In Defense of Fox News
By Wil Forbis
February 16th, 2003
Hannity and Colmes art by Daniel Gordon.
Click picture for larger version.
Everybody who knows me knows that I bemoaned the loss of television's “Politically Incorrect” with a grief I reserve for the departure of my most cherished entities, such as family members or my favorite bathtub mold. “P.I.” was the only show in which people we're able to present their opinions without watering them down in the name “civility” (or whatever it is that makes Sam and Cokie about as exciting as weaving cobwebs out of your own hair.) Whether it was Michael Moore or Ann Coulter, guests on the show could make their argument, and then have the show’s host, Bill Maher, or other guests call bullshit on them. Since “Politically Incorrect’s” demise I've spent many hours scouring the airwaves for a show of similar verve. A show where real political debates – like the kind that rage at your corner bar – occur unimpeded.
The closest thing I’ve found is Fox’s “Hannity and Colmes.” I’m the first to admit that it’s no “P.I.” – it lacks the iconoclasm of Bill Maher. But it does have something I’ve been waiting to see in a political debate show: two people who hate each other. I speak, of course, of the show's two anchors: Sean Hannity (on the right) and Alan Colmes (on the left.) Unlike Sam and Cokie, Matt and Katie or Robin and Howard, Hannity and Colmes make little effort to disguise the seething rage they feel for each other. Sean Hannity openly shows his distaste for Colmes by rudely interjecting his opinions while Alan’s interviewing a liberal guest. Colmes’ rebuttals are often fumbling and dispassionate, as if he’s letting his intellect suppress his inner fury, but you don’t have to look hard to see that he would love to see a giant piledriver come smashing down on his co-host.
“And this is a good thing?” you ask. “There’s some advantage to seeing two talk show hosts who’d love to be pitted against each other in mortal combat.” To which, I say, yes, there is. At least with “H&C” we know where everybody stands. You don’t have to second guess what biases are shaping each person’s interpretation of the news. And secondly, it makes great television. What made “P.I.” entertaining was the angst and the fury, elements “Hannity and Colmes make no attempt to withhold.
Of course, admitting to watching a Fox News program automatically sets me up as a target for the many left wing detractors on the show. In op-ed pieces, online rants and personal conversations with moi, the Fox Haters accuse Fox viewers of being brainwashed idiots, much the same way they label Rush Limbaugh’s dittoheads. They seem to allude that if I let my channel changer get anywhere near Rupert Murdoch’s network, I’m setting my brain up to receive the venomous ideas of the far right – ideas my timid cranium will be helpless to resist. But I have two comments on such allegations. For one, I’m an intelligent, (and charming, and sexy) guy. I think I can ward off whatever half-truths Fox dishes out, with the same dexterity I weed out falsehoods from the left. And secondly, maybe people on the left could learn a thing or two from Fox.
When I think of the phenomenal success of Fox News, I’m reminded of a scene from Howard Stern’s film biopic, “Private Parts.” In the scene, pollsters at the radio station Stern is working for discover that a sizable chunk of Stern’s listeners completely detest him, but they keep listening “to see what he’ll say next.” This same adoration of controversy is part of what attracts Fox News to its audience. And it’s the fear of controversy that so hinders traditional left-wing media outlets, like NPR or PBS. Their programs try so desperately to avoid offense or hysterics that they come across as the media equivalent of a Sunday driver afraid to go above 35 miles per hour. Sometimes you’ve gotta switch into high gear!
What’s stopping the left from coming up with their own Fox News Channel? They’ve certainly got a plethora of adrenaline fueled talking heads to chose from. I might even recommend a few. Gay sex columnist Dan Savage has been a rising star in the world of print, why couldn’t he jump to TV? (He even had a column on ABC’s web site for a while, so don’t tell me mainstream America won’t accept him.) Bill Maher may not be a traditional lefty, but he certainly tilted that way after being told to watch what he said. (Though even Maher stated that the majority of those who defended his comments were from the right, proving that lefties need to be less absolute in their criterion for who they’ll support.) Online personality Oliver Willis is begging for a media job. I find Saturday Night Live alumni Al Franken loathingly self righteous at times, but I don’t doubt his quick wit. And I have a healthy respect for the zingers of Molly Ivins.
The talent is there, but many will say that the financial backing isn’t. Perhaps the countless Hollywood elites should put their money where their mouth is. If Barbra Streisand, Sean Penn, Ed Norton, Danny Glover, Susan Sarandon, Rosie O'Donnell, Harry and Linda Thomason, etc ad infinitum, can’t support a cable network between them, then they’re spending too much on fake fur and Botex injections. For that matter, the millions of kids who throw away their college education to be faux-poor and work at used bookstores should realize that they could get real jobs and accomplish much more for their political movement. (I was in Seattle during the Internet explosion and watched it turn several progressive leftists I knew into millionaires. The bastards!) The problem isn’t that the lefties have been forced out of the democratic media – it’s that they’re too enslaved to the appearance of integrity to get their hands dirty.
I firmly believe that there’s room for everybody in the ring. News is created, aggregated and reported on by people. People are biased. There’s no way to escape it. Embrace it.
Update - Feb 19, 2003. Well, I'll be damned. A day after I posted this article, the announcement came through that a venture capital firm was going to back a left leaning radio broadcasting network. I'm pathetic... I mean prophetic. Stay tuned for my next piece entitled, "Wil Forbis Inherits a Billion Dollars and Marries Cameron Diaz!"
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Wil Forbis is a well known international playboy who lives a fast paced life attending chic parties, performing feats of derring-do and making love to the world's most beautiful women. Together with his partner, Scrotum-Boy, he is making the world safe for democracy. Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit Wil's web log, The Wil Forbis Blog, and receive complete enlightenment.