Because I am a decent, thinking person, I despise FOX News. I believe I have good reason to do this. And yet, because I'm a bleeding-heart liberal who likes to have the facts before spewing prejudices, I feel duty-bound to give FOX a chance. So I'm going to watch 24 straight hours of FOX.
I know what you are thinking. "He is a madman!" you say. "He'll make his eyes fall out and his ears bleed!" Perhaps. But I have convinced myself that it will be worth it, if only so I can count the number of times Brit Hume's jowls bob up and down over the course of a broadcast.
I have decided to commence my torture at 9p.m. I've been deliberately waiting until after The O'Reilly Factor. I'm not sure that I can take that kind of horror straight off. I need to build up to it, like trying to boil a frog. I'll watch Bill tomorrow. For now, I'll ease into it with some less unpleasant FOX programming.
What I'd forgotten is that Hannity & Colmes is the 9p.m. program.
I think I'm ready for some punishment, though. I settle in, turn up the volume, and eagerly await the Dynamic Duo's adorable interplay.
Tonight's big news is Jesse Jackson saying he'd like to cut Barack Obama's nuts off. I picked an exciting news cycle to tune in to.
Newt Gingrich is tonight's first guest. He accuses Jesse Jackson of resenting Barack Obama's getting the nomination, as if somehow Jesse was in the running. Much gleeful Jackson-bashing is done.
But the interview takes an unexpected turn as it covers other subjects. At one point, Gingrich actually disagrees with Sean Hannity, going so far as to say that Hannity has uttered "the least Reagan-like quote I've ever heard you speak in your career." Everything is measured in units of Reagans. Nevertheless, the interview ends amicably.
The next guest is Juan Williams, who discusses the black "culture of victimization." He says Jackson is just upset with Obama for "not standing with all black Americans being contrarian and opposing everything." The interview ends like this:
HANNITY: Can you name one hard decision that Barack Obama has made and stuck to?
WILLIAMS: Wow. You know, for me, I think it's not a matter of that for him right now. I can't name it for you, so I guess I give up.
COLMES: (meekly) I have an answer.
Colmes is ignored. Williams suggests that "ending tax cuts" might be one issue where Obama is consistent. The segment ends.
So far, it's just as painful as I expected. Alan Colmes is predictably pathetic, and Sean Hannity is every football jock I ever hated in high school. I wonder what Hannity and Colmes are like together off the set. I don't think Hannity returns Colmes' phone calls.
With that, Hannity and Colmes is over, and I can breathe easy knowing that I only have 23 hours of FOX left.
Greta Van Susteren is up next. The theme of tonight's show is...Jesse Jackson!
Jackson comes on the show to explain the context behind "I want to cut Barack Obama's nuts off." After some questions on the topic, Greta asks the bizarrely SAT-like question "Do you admire Senator John McCain? And if so, why?"
After the interview, Susteren gives the result of her evening poll:
Will Jesse Jackson's comments change your vote either way?
I have no idea what the results of this poll mean. I don't think they actually mean anything.
The rest of the broadcast consists of Gene Simmons talking about his new book on prostitution, a discussion of the JonBenet Ramsey case (which occurred in 1996, I might add), and a whole bunch of sleazy gossip about somebody named Christie Brinkley (I don't know who this is. Should I?)
It really does seem as if the "trashy" bias of the network far outweighs the "conservative" bias.
Political news represents a minority of FOX's coverage , and it actually seems like a smaller percentage here than on CNN and MSNBC, who love to deluge us with "Race To The White House" pieces. So most of the news doesn't get explicitly political treatment. It's just, well, sleazy. For example, FOX runs a story about how the economic downturn has hit unexpected sectors...in this case, strip clubs. So they show background graphics of pole dancers doing their thing, and bring a stripper on to interview about her financial situation. It's sort of like having Jerry Springer host CNBC.
Greta Van Susteren ends, and passes it over to...Bill O'Reilly! What?! I had forgotten that The O'Reilly Factor repeats at 11. I can't watch this. Not yet. I switch over to MSNBC, in the faint hope that maybe Rachel Maddow will be on. She always restores my faith in people.
No such luck. It's To Catch A Predator, a more sensationalistic and exploitative show than anything even FOX has on. It looks like I'll be stuck with O'Reilly.
I had thought that eventually I would be numbed to the sensory assault of the channel. But you don't get used to it. It just drives you nuts. It's like your television is trying to attack you. You can turn on most other channels and just zone out, letting the gentle buzz of the TV wash over you.
But not with FOX. FOX screams at you, and won't let you turn your mind down a notch. Everything is angry, bright, and in-your-face.
O'Reilly is expectedly pompous and bullying. To Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, he says condescending things like "as an academic, you can appreciate me correcting you." When Geraldo Rivera objects to O'Reilly's categorization of La Raza as a radical organization, O'Reilly tells him "Nobody cares whether you object, not even your wife and children." He also uses the words "load of crap," "stupid," and "scum" a lot. "Far-left" is his favorite insult. Who let Archie Bunker have a news show?
He also makes sure we know that he is a maverick, free-thinking independent, and not a conservative. "I'm tired of The Washington Post putting the word 'conservative' in front of my name," he complains.
After O'Reilly's show, we have a repeat of Hannity & Colmes, followed by Greta Van Susteren again! It's amazing how much recycling there seems to be. Bill O'Reilly's show is repeated for a third time in the early morning hours.
Somewhere in the night, I fall asleep. Since the TV is on, it infiltrates my subconscious, and I have FOXy nightmares for a number of hours. By the time I awake, it is morning. As I slowly rouse myself, the first words I hear are of a Blonde FOX Lady saying this:
"It's hard to talk about climate change without talking about compact fluorescent lightbulbs, soon to be forced on you by the government. But could they KILL you?"
It was not shaping up to be a good day.
The morning chatterbox people were predictably empty-headed. "A 2nd African American could soon be running for President," referring to Cynthia McKinney's Green Party candidacy. To accompany the story, FOX put up the most deranged-looking photo of Rep. McKinney it could find, prompting the always-classy Bill Hemmer to remark "What is THAT?"
Nothing much in the rest of the day was that interesting. Wildfires, a missing pregnant marine, and Jesse Jackson were the big stories. There is an interview with a couple who is selling the naming rights to their unborn child for gas money. A further investigation into why lightbulbs will kill us all. I glance at the news ticker for the first and only time. It says "Number killed in the 9/11 attacks is now 2,975." Yes, apparently September 11th is still happening.
I start to count the number of different Blonde FOX Ladies. I soon find this to be an impossible task. They cannot be distinguished. Then there's more news about wildfires, a repeat of the lightbulbs-will-kill-you report, and a story on a suspicious package found at a mall.
After about six continuous hours of this, I can no longer deal with it. I break my pledge, I go out for a sandwich. The sense of relief is tremendous. It feels good to breathe the air once more, to be back in reality. The worst thing about FOX is not its bias, but the "panic mode" that it seems to live in. Everything is a catastrophe. Immigrants will get you. Lightbulbs will get you. Wildfires will get you. Jesse Jackson will cut your nuts off.
Greta Van Susteren introduced one of her news stories this way: "It's real, it's terrifying. All the horrible details coming up next." And I think that captures the FOX philosophy fairly well. The message of the network seems to be "It's a scary world out there. You're going to need a gun and some deep-seated prejudice if you're going to make it out alive."
Of course, all networks do this. FOX may be the worst offender, but it's certainly not alone. MSNBC has taken to airing the aforementioned sex-offender show, as well as a whole slew of "inside prison" documentaries, which show just how scary life can be among Terrifying Criminals.
My journey comes to an end at 9p.m., after another riveting episode of The O'Reilly Factor (tonight's theme: Jesse Jackson!). As I flip off the television and return to my life, I realize how grateful I am not to live in the FOX mindset. It's a world where love is replaced by fear, and flashing colors and loud noises stand in for open, honest discussions. It's a crazy-mixed up land of deceit, terror, and sleaze.
John Oliver once watched FOX for eight hours, and said afterward that "I may have lost something deep down in my soul." I did 22 (if you discount my sandwich break), and while I think I escaped with my soul intact, I'm not sure I'll ever be quite the same. But at least I've still got my nuts intact.