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Poking Into Fox News’ Political Tactics

October 31, 2016

I much enjoy writers who allow insight into the media.  Among the few at the top of my list of such people is Emily Nussbaum, the television critic for The New Yorker. I love the way she makes a point. This week she tackles Fox News.  I mean FAUX News.

Ostensibly, there are two Fox divisions: news journalists, who ask follow-up questions and include diverse guests; and pure ideologues, like the mad king Hannity. For a newbie, the border can seem awfully porous, since everyone uses the desk, the glasses, the head tilt—the ancient theatre of TV authority. In the aftermath of the third debate, these two types were united in genuine pride at the well-reviewed performance of Chris Wallace, the first Fox anchor to moderate a Presidential debate. Megyn Kelly kvelled that it was a “Fox News fair-and-balanced debate, for our critics,” adding, “You should really tick off both sides—then you know you’re doing well.” On Mediabuzz, Wallace called his selection a statement by “the Commission on Presidential Debates—a blue-ribbon panel—that they thought that Fox was a legitimate news organization, that I was a legitimate journalist.  

It is impossible not to feel empathy for Wallace—and, in fact, his show does come closest to that model, with research-based questions and an air of healthy skepticism. But, as Hannity argues, shows like his pay the bills. And watching Hannity and O’Reilly feels like being trapped in a sauna with a bunch of alter kockers smoking cigars, as Rudy Giuliani shouts for ever hotter applications of steam. Hannity’s buddies (primarily men, though Laura Ingraham stops by occasionally) resolutely insist that Trump has crushed every debate; he won’t ever have to concede, they say, because he’s definitely, certainly winning. There is no breaking into this mutually consoling bubble world, fuelled by imaginary polls.

O’Reilly is a stranger and sloppier force—and, of late, he’s started tiptoeing away from Trump, with an arrogant-uncle “I never said that!” bluster. Someone has clearly trolled the host by telling him that he looks good against neon blue. Half the screen is covered by maroon-and-purple stripes, and, often, a neon-yellow “alert” scrolls across the right-hand corner, unconnected to any news.

Amid this cacophony, Geraldo Rivera was recently the voice of reason. When O’Reilly’s other guests crowed that Hillary was universally loathed, that Trump would win a “tight race,” Rivera gingerly suggested that female voters might be swayed by the “Access Hollywood” tapes. O’Reilly and Eric Bolling, a host of Fox’s “The Five,” shouted him down, calling it “this salacious business.” Later, Lou Dobbs arrived. “The ‘rigged’ thing is one of the brightest things that he could’ve done,” Dobbs insisted, calling Trump’s refusal to say that he would concede if he lost “an absolute stroke of genius.” At first, Trump’s reply at the debate had seemed shocking, even on Fox. By the end of the week, it was normalized, a mere matter of strategy—would it win votes?

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