Sunday, March 11, 2012

(No.190) Cruising with Fox News

"Cruising with Fox News"

by Alastair Rickard

I have written occasionally in columns (see, for example, the examples cited at the end of this column) about the great political divide which exists within the U.S., one that is widened, reinforced and promoted by certain partisan media, in particular cable news broadcasters: Fox News on the right and MSNBC left of centre. In their political news and commentary they follow familiar paths of sycophancy or disdain.

For a Canadian context understand that on the American political spectrum these days Prime Minister Stephen Harper would qualify as middle of the road, not quite an 'Obama socialist' but at least a 'red Tory' in our political lexicon.

The bizarre fracturing of the American body politic is increased this year by the rise of the Tea Party movement on the Republican right, the endless Republican presidential nominee debates in which candidates have repeatedly trashed each other in the competition for votes in state primaries and by the run-up to the Nov. 2012 presidential election.

As Jeffrey Simpson, the longtime (Toronto) Globe and Mail columnist and one of the very best in this country, recently wrote of this year's current and former Republican candidates for the 2012 nomination: "A more dismal group has not been assembled since Sarah Palin dined alone. ... [They are] a group characterized by insularity, intellectual shallowness and meanness of spirit, coupled with an unshakeable eagerness to pander to every holy roller, Tea Partier, gun worshipper, global warming denier, government hater, nativist and millionaire financier ...."

This is the Republican Party's group of candidates for the presidency among whom Fox News urges its viewers to discover a saviour of America. To which some readers may say: what can you expect from a pig except a grunt? But ....

The divisive and and destructive political gulf between right and left in the U.S. was underlined for me during a recent transatlantic cruise when one's hard copy news options are non-existent and broadcast news outlets severely limited. For a news junkie like me this produces a certain desperation leading to a lowering of the news bar, i.e., any port in a storm.

For some reason both the Fox News and the MSNBC cable news signals were provided by the ship's limited television service. To switch from one to the other searching for news from North America was to produce a feeling of wonder: did the hosts and commentators live in the same political universe? One could only conclude they do not.

Not only were they yelling at one another across what was clearly an unbridgeable political chasm but if it could be said that there was any sort of dialogue at all, it was a dialogue of the deaf. In any case one can't have a dialogue with nonsense.

President Obama, a middle of the road and fairly pro-business chief executive, is routinely referred to as a "socialist" by Fox News' talking heads and by others on the American right. Such references spring either from ignorance or deliberate misrepresentation; they cannot reflect any real understanding of what actually constitutes socialism.

Awkward facts highlighted by President Obama (among others) are routinely ignored. For example: that Americans with incomes of more than $1 million per year paid on average 47% tax in 1972 but 25% in 2010; that the best off 5% of American families had a 16.1% share of ALL income in 1985 and a 20% share in 2010. Clearly the Republican/Fox News view that Obama is a socialist springs from both a fervent and fervid resistance to any political suggestion that the steadily growing economic inequality among citizens of the United State should be addressed by government.

As between the two cable news outifts, the liberal MSNBC (in a Canadian political context think mid to somewhat left of centre segment of the federal Liberal Party) and the extreme right wing Fox News (de facto the Republican Party's official broadcaster), Canadians generally would find it easier to identify with MSNBC news coverage.

The Fox News talking heads occupy an ideological cloud cuckoo land where they apparently feel free to make up their own facts as "responses" to what they routinely refer to as the American "mainstream media", i.e., apparently anyone to the left of Fox, any media which don't see the U.S. and the world as Fox does.

Whenever I watched Fox News it reinforced my view that relatively few Canadians would buy into the Fox News right wing approach to news and politics; it is just too simple-minded, parochial and unsophisticated.

I think my view has been borne out since the spring 2011 launch in Canada of the Sun News Network, what has been dubbed by its critics as 'Fox North'. It is a cable news channel owned by Quebeccor Media and headed by a former press secretary of Prime Minister Harper, Kory Teneycke. By June 2011 its average audience was 12,900 [sic].

I have made it a point to watch the Sun News Network from time to time. It is pathetic to the point of being laughable in its efforts to imitate the right wing tone and approach of Fox News. Indeed Canada's own "Fox News North" seems to be following a format dedicated to presenting the journalistic equivalent of Monty Python's silly walk.

Footnotes: selected archive references:

1. "Inferior news & canned travel advice," column No. 157 posted to on June 30, 2011.

2. "Fox news, Obama & U.S. fantasists," column No. 126 posted Dec. 8, 2010,

3. " Wankers, wingnuts and Fox News," column No.66, posted Dec. 2, 2009

4. "Cable news toothache," column No.22, posted April 12, 2009




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