July 27, 2007

The Rise and Fall of Fox News, Inspired by a Post of Ruthie's

This open letter to Charles Gibson is the best illustration of how I've viewed the news for years. I remember when Tom Brokaw asked Gen. Schwarzkopf on 9/11, the day itself, whether our policy towards Israel was responsible for the attacks. A fair question, to be sure, but did it have to be the second or third question in a 5 minute interview?

You know, the question that came up pretty much after "How are you feeling now watching the towers burn?"

The only question I ever had about televised news was how seriously it wanted to take itself. When Fox News arrived on the scene, I broke into open laughter. It's not serious at all - it is brazenly sensationalist, caters to right-wing rage, and looks to bring as many kooks and nutcases as possible on the air to tear them up or have them feed us news.

I guess you can tell I really like Fox News. I enjoy it a tremendous amount - the deep lesson I've learned is that arguing with liberals for the most part is arguing with believers who only hear themselves speak. I spent my time in undergrad - and I consider myself conservative, mind you - reading Kant and Marx in order to reconstruct fully what an intelligent socialism might look like (the obstacle I always ran into was the theory of history - Marxism depends on superstructure, and the idea that if we aren't equal, then someone out there is purposely causing the inequality. If one waters this down, then there's no basis for revolution. Structural change becomes idealist in tone, and material dialectic loses its potency. Hegel was once brought out to lecture to students that they shouldn't be protesting, since the forces of history were in their favor). What I used Kant for was a theory of equality that identified which types of progress would help equality, and which ones would hamper it. Generally speaking, the phenomena/noumena distinction (god, I really don't want to get into this) meant that technology created newer and newer faculties (since technology augments our understanding/appropriation of the world) which also opened up new possibilities for man to enslave each other. Pure reason is possibility and at best negative freedom, not restraint. One had to go back to the moral law and take the skepticism Kant preserved seriously: yes, experience is contingent on the transcendental unity of apperception, and that involves the noumenal realm never being strictly speaking "known." But that means that formal moral laws can exist, and are prior to our having experience in a sense. Their proofs are not "known" except through the fact we conceive of certain things, most notably freedom (ratio essendi and ratio cognoscendi). Progress itself is justified via certain formulations of the categorical: notice the relation between "publicity" and "instantiation of the law" at the end of Perpetual Peace, and ask how law changes and how such change can be considered good.

Again, these are old views, so if you want to argue with me about them, get a time machine and ask the me that existed from 1998-2002.

You can imagine what happened when I tried to talk to the Greens on campus or the Campus Democrats about these issues.

And now that I'm older, I just want to fight fire with fire. I don't care to fight with my libertarian allies, even though I think they're a bunch of cultists ultimately, and read old books very, very badly. I wanna work with them and rip up some Leftists, and work with my evangelical allies, who are also a bunch of cultists that read very badly. (For my part, I'm a self-absorbed asshole who thinks he reads well but doesn't and then puts other people down while begging them for money. I think this is an alliance made in heaven).

And I should add that it's precisely because Fox fights fire with fire that it has collapsed.

Fox needed to respond to the complaint that it didn't do serious journalism not merely by ripping on other networks for ratings. That was a breath of fresh air in the early days, when the enormous amount of bias CNN had was shown in a matter of seconds, and they weren't allowed to hide behind objective sounding language or the fact they had ratings or the fact they were boring. Objectivity is ultimately that, being so boring that people don't ask questions about your biases because they don't give a damn.

The way Fox needed to respond was by covering issues in longer documentary type pieces, like what Frontline used to be (not what Frontline is now. Frontline now is like Bill Moyers, boring Leftist tripe to help insomniacs in their hour of need).

Instead, Fox has decided that the best thing to do is be trashy and market its hosts as celebrities and complete the parody it has (rightfully) done of the way network news (and CNN) has been for years.

I actually should be mad at Fox News. If they care to inform, we can have a thoughtful, intelligent Right that shows how radical the Left is but is also concerned enough to allow and help all voices to speak as well as they can in American democracy.

But you know what? I'm tired. People everywhere have the time and opportunity to think for themselves, and there are plenty of us who know better willing to take questions. If Fox wants to do irresponsible sensationalist nonsense for money, let them. At least it keeps the Right sane in this stupid, arrogant, self-absorbed world where thinking through how another thinks is an impossibility - debate and clarifications are always expected, instead of people thinking for themselves before they speak.

5 comments:

F said...

People are attracted to Fox news because it's emotional. Emotions dominate politics and are killing democracy. Intelligent debate (even if aided by rhetoric) does not belong to a mass society. However, I believe our 'mass democracy' is changing and diversifying. It's the time for niche markets and people wanting different things. There's no common denominator and this challenges democracy and the idea of majority.

Ruthie said...

"I actually should be mad at Fox News. If they care to inform, we can have a thoughtful, intelligent Right that shows how radical the Left is but is also concerned enough to allow and help all voices to speak as well as they can in American democracy."

What a great post, as always.

I was JUST HAVING this argument with my father this evening. He was watching some nonsense on Fox News, and I said, "Dad! Turn it off! How can you stand this?"

So he launches into a long litany about how the media were all liberal until Fox and talk radio came along, and how it's a counterpart to balance the left-wing bias in the rest of the media, etc.

And I said, "But how is this better? It's just sensational, biased crap that you agree with. It's not better at all."

I don't like that all these niche markets have evolved to suit the desires and political leanings of everyone and their dog. It's not constructive. I get the overwhelming impression that most people gather their news primarily from outlets that share their political leanings, thereby reinforcing the polarization, divisiveness, and us-vs.-them mentality that already exists.

It's sort of exhausting.

"At least it keeps the Right sane in this stupid, arrogant, self-absorbed world where thinking through how another thinks is an impossibility -"

I wish it weren't an impossibility. I don't think it's too late-- yet.

Vino S said...

People don't tend to like 'cognitive dissonence' - a difference between how they view the world and what they hear/are told. As such, that's why lots of us tend to read blogs or listen to news that reinforces our existing views. Fox falls into that category. The US right like watching it because it tells them what they want to hear.

Lord Nazh© said...

"The US right like watching it because it tells them what they want to hear."

I'd say that most people on the right that actually watch it (the news parts) watch because it's the only place they feel they can get the truth.

(I watch NO news on TV :)

Gracchi said...

Ashok I think you are right about Fox it is an echo chamber- like F though I worry about a politics where people are content to merely have repeated to them what they already beleive. You see for me politics is a learning experience and taht's what it should be. Interesting post- I'm going to haver to think through this further though.