I can't stand the Fox News Channel. It's not the fact that it is very obviously slanted to the right. I don't usually agree, but that doesn't hugely bother me. In fact, in recent years it seems to have gotten more balanced as compared to how it was in the past, during, say, the Clinton Administration. No, what annoys me about the Fox News Channel is not its politics or its agendas (all reporting agencies will likely have those to some degree) but that it has taken news "commentary" to the brink of the unwatchable because of its willingness to indulge America's apparent interest in ridiculously combative "debate."
It may be the American viewing public's fault for wanting to tune in and see borderline-comical histrionics passed off as "debate," but that doesn't mean news agencies have to pander to them. Oh, wait — yes it does, because as we all know, everything is about ratings and advertising revenue and "entertainment value," and nothing is about self-respect, useful information, or integrity. You can tune to any network and witness the sea of reality TV dreck. The latest abomination: ABC's "Are You Hot?" which has got to set some record for how much dumber it will make you while you watch it — which I can only assume, since I utterly refuse to watch. (I can almost hear the studio pitch: "It's www.HotOrNot.com — as a TV show!") But I digress; I was talking about the Fox News Channel.
Have you ever seen "Hannity and Colmes"? I have, and I've declared it unwatchable, because no one ever permits anyone else to finish a sentence. This is not political commentary or balanced debate; this is a brutal shouting contest, a competition of who can make their opinion best heard rather than best argued, and an exercise in people starting to make points they never get to finish. It always kills me how the guests are always from the two most extreme far ends of any particular issue. After all, why put two reasonable people in a room who disagree on an issue and debate rationally when instead you can take two people who don't much care about the other side of an issue and simply want to shout about it? After all, the "fireworks" of a shouting contest are much more "entertaining" than actual reasonable people discussing something in a civil manner, right?
Another thing that annoys me: These people's conviction that they are 100 percent right, and that an opposing point of view is simply invalid. It's all the better for fireworks and shouting, as opposed to reasoned arguments and the possibility (one which does not exist on the Fox New Channel) that your opinion might actually be subject to change.
Few people make my skin crawl the way Bill O'Reilly does. (Of course, I'm sure that's the point, and why he's so popular.) Here's a guy who knows he's right and will put it in your face should you be brave (stupid?) enough to be interviewed by him. There are no manners on these sorts of talk shows; respecting others is for sissies, and being a hard-ass is a virtue, because it shows how committed to your (obviously correct) opinion you are. And, of course, it makes these shows more superficially artificially entertaining. Why be informed by actual information when you can watch people efficiently beating each other up verbally? My view is that you can be a good journalist and ask the hard questions without being a condescending jerk about it. When you've made your point, move on rather than badgering the guest like a partisan bully. This is a viewpoint few on Fox News share. And how could they? After all, they have a viewing public they must entertain.
Of course, Fox News is hardly the only guilty party. I see them more as the template which has invited (or forced, due to ratings wars) the other news channels to follow suit. We now have CNN's "Crossfire" in front of a live studio audience — which is somehow more "exciting" than four guys sitting in a room with a black background behind them. News channels have turned themselves into ratings war mongers, out to give their audiences flashier and more stylized commentary programs with more and more watered-down content and more hostile Talking Heads. These shows are straying into Political Commentary Lite, dumbing themselves down like everything else on television. ("Joe Millionaire 2" — my, how I can't wait.)
Last night I was watching "Charlie Rose." Now there's a guy who knows how to conduct an interview. It was almost moving in a way. Here I was, watching sane people discussing the obviously approaching war with Iraq in a sane way — offering actual balanced views discussed in real depth and with real examples and details. It made me feel like I was actually learning something and expanding my knowledge and seeing an issue in a new light. I felt smart.
And then I tune over to Fox News, and here's tonight's Commentary War, featuring Yelling Idiots 1 through 4, masquerading as the various viewpoints in an actual debate and thus providing "balanced" commentary. More like a balanced bar fight. These people have nothing to learn. And why should they? They already know they're right.