Monday, April 16, 2007

After the Fox

Fox News continues to amaze -- and to discombobulate. Murdoch's fabulous wealth allows extraordinarily thorough coverage of world events, but the slant is so heavily right-wing it gives laugh to the cable network's claims of being "fair and balanced," and its political pundit programs are so blatantly rightist as to merit the claim they're crypto-fascist (a term I first heard from the lips of Gore Vidal in his famous live debate with William F. Buckley at a national party convention). As anyone familiar with the books, I Hate Ann Coulter and The Republican Noise Machine, and the documentary film, Out-Foxed can attest, Fox opinion programming is like a poker game with the cards stacked in favor of Murdoch's fundie-fascist convictions.

One need not consult such studies to reach this conclusion. I did so after spending some time viewing and analyzing three shows: the weeknightly Hannity and Colmes, the Saturday evening Beltway Boys, and the Sunday evening Fox News Sunday, featuring Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes, Fred Barnes and Morton Kondracke, and a panel of "experts" made up of Brit Hume, Mara Liasson, William Kristol, and Juan Williams, respectively. David Brock's Noise Machine put the bee in my bonnet when the author suggested that the token "liberals" featured on such programs (Colmes, Kondracke, and Williams) are either dumb as posts, suckup sycophants, or less than fully palatable. That is, Colmes comes off as a myopic spoil-sport (the kind of guy Nixon V.P. Spiro Agnew once called "a pointy-headed intellectual"), while Kondracke simply sucks up to his more self-assured partner, and Williams is portrayed as a lone (and of color) dissenter pitted against three wise ones.

It's pathetic! If it weren't so transparent, one might actually swallow the "fair and balanced" bit. Sean Hannity's tack when interviewing anyone with centrist/liberal views is to interrupt them the moment they indicate having an opinion at odds with his extreme right wing philosophy, and the producer and director allow him much longer dialogues with such guests than they afford the mealy-mouthed Alan Colmes. The result is this: Colmes comes off as ineffectual and, by comparison, less worthy of belief. One is sometimes led to the conclusion that Hannity would defend Hitler if he were a 21st century Neo-Con. But he's not only blindly allied with the Right, he's completely humorless and so smug he reeks of self-righteousness.

Kondracke plays the Colmes role on Beltway Boys, only less effectively, he seems so enamoured of the more self-righteous Barnes. Although Kondracke once stuck his neck out for gay rights in one show, he almost always quickly backtracks and shifts position when he encounters opposing views from Barnes, who plays an avuncular mentor role. Kondracke is even more insipid than Colmes because he comes off as spineless, and the producer and director see to it that he is never allowed to stray too far from the Neo-Con point of view. Again, pathetic! The technique might be called "seeing to it that the liberal debates with half his mouth tied behind him."

It took me a while to figure out that the presentation of views on Chris Wallace's Fox News Sunday is much more devious than the simple three-against one lineup (actually four to one considering Wallace's own pro-Neo-Con stance). As Brock and others have noted, Juan Williams is racially handicapped. At the risk of sounding like a cracker bigot, I must say that Williams will be subjected to audience turn-off among those who cannot yet accept the fact that an African-American has sufficient intelligent to warrant hearing. Many viewers if not the whole of the Archie Bunker bunch, will look at the Wallace panel like a crime victim at a police lineup, so amusingly illustrated by an old cartoon familiar to defense attorneys, depicting a dog surveying a sextet of domestic animals: five other dogs and one cat. The victim dog, pointing at the miscreant cat says, "That's the one, officer! That's the one!"

Hume is just as intractably, blindly rightist as Hannity, and he sometimes gets so impatient with the lone liberal (Williams), he loses his cool, as when he lashed out against Rep. John Murtha with a torrent of blatantly ageist ejaculations, the Neo Con anti-elder equivalent of Don Imus's "nappy headed ho's." Mara Liasson might, considering her background at Public Radio, seem a balancing factor on the panel, someone to compliment Williams, but she appears to have been tainted by the attempted takeover of Public Broadcasting by Paul Gigot et al., or perhaps, being the only female on the panel, she suffers from some form of penis envy. In any case, the moment she departs from the right wing line, she is corrected by Kristol, and this nifty technique is a clue to the producer-director secret that I didn't quite grasp until a short time ago.

The modus operandi is deceptively simple. Wallace stacks the deck by going "down the row" from left to right, with Hume always in the first chair, Liasson in the second, Kristol in the third, and Williams last, sitting next to Wallace himself. The first question is almost always, if not always (I miss the show now and then) addressed to Hume, who is the Arch Crypto-Fascist of Fox. He gives his familiar extremist views, leaving an intimidated Liasson to more or less agree, Kristol to take a similar position (sometimes even more extreme), and Williams to half-heartedly disagree. When the next question is addressed to Liasson, she's caught between two extremists and she usually tows the line in answering, with, again, only Williams to voice moderate dissent. By the time a question is addressed to Williams, Brit takes over like a master inquisitor, backed up to an extent by Liasson, and a more sceptical Kristol. Watch it if you don't believe me.

Worse, when Williams says something even marginally liberal, the cameraman is told to cut to Hume, revealing a scowling, scoffing countenance, intermixed with two-shots of Kristol and Williams during the latter's comments. Pay particular attention to the expressions of Kristol at all times. If he is in agreement with someone, he smiles or dead-pans, but when Williams is talking, he smirks as if he thinks the statements unbelievable or unworthy of an intelligent person's consideration. His smirk outdoes that of Bush! (Kristol is also the worst-dressed of the lot. Some of his neckties look as if he bought them in 1960, a sure indication he's a thorough- going anal retentive, he's so tight with his shekels. But, hey, that's an ad hominem remark, isn't it?) It's the smirk that disgusts me.

These are but three of the Fox lineup of unfair and unbalanced bullshit pundit programs. I do not have time to analyze all of them, but I recommend highly the two books and documentary DVD mentioned above. After the Fox, give me Keith Olbermann's Countdown on MSNBC, or Real Time with Bill Maher. They don't even pretend to be fair and balanced, but at least they're honest about it.

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