Watching Fox - A Running Diary
by William Rivers Pitt, 8/8/01
[Author's Note: The format this article uses was conceived and perfected by a sportswriter named Bill Simmons, also known as the Boston Sports Guy. I steal from him shamelessly by writing this. Mr. Simmons writes for ESPN.com. If you are a Red Sox fan, he is indispensable. Thanks, BSG.] - - - - -
Condit, Clinton, Clones and Condit
A Recklessly Conceived Running Diary of One Man's Thoughts While Watching the Fox News Channel For Nearly Eight Hours Straight
"The lowest form of popular culture lack of information, misinformation, disinformation, and a contempt for the truth or the reality of most people's lives has overrun real journalism. Today, ordinary Americans are being stuffed with garbage."
- Carl Bernstein
I have not yet needed to bother with Fox News.
If I want to mainline some good GOP ideology, I peruse the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, or the New Republic. If I want to get ugly, I check out NewsMax.com. If I want to go to Hell, I peer into the jungles of FreeRepublic.com.
I loathe and despise virtually all television news. Since the election, I have treated pretty much all of it as a protracted attempt at damage control. I know from the jump that Fox News is the main propaganda voice for the GOP. I can get that propaganda in better form from other sources.
According to Roll Call, the new head of CNN sat down recently with GOP Congressional leaders and asked them how he could attract a more politically conservative viewership, thus expanding CNN's market share to it's former glory. If I hear anyone ever again proclaim the existence of the 'Left-wing Media,' I will light myself on fire.
It is likely that I have only watched perhaps 15 minutes of the Fox Channel in total. The time has come to find out what the Fox News Experience is all about.
Fox News is apparently doing something right, if CNN's brazenly public embrace of the GOP chieftains is any indication. I must discover their magic touch. Let's watch some TV.
- - - - - 10:56 am Turn on Fox to see a pearl-festooned announcer named Patty Ann Brown with a remarkable beehive hairdo talking about Steve Fosse's balloon trip. I haven't seen a do like this since looking at the pictures of Jackie at the JFK library.
10:58 am The Condit coverage begins?
11:00 am They have a female reporter standing on the Levy lawn getting sprayed by the sprinklers. I wonder if this is where she saw her career heading.
11:08 am Graphic claims Levy neighbors are parking their cars around the Levy house to block reporters. I needed to know that.
11:11 am Many grinding seconds with a totally useless press conference from DC police chief Ramsey. No evidence, no crime, no suspects, no nothing, and yet the media tracks Condit like he's a fugitive Nazi.
11:16 am It continues back at the studio "will the Levys sue Condit in civil court? Will Condit be booted from Congress" Sixteen minutes in and I want to gouge out my eyes.
11:18 am At last, they move on to lightning strikes and the new Star Wars movie. That was 20 minutes of nothing. The graphic spun up before the commercial with the voice-over: "A fair and balanced report is coming up." Well, praise Jesus.
11:20 am Shark attacks in Florida and the Bahamas. The businessman who was attacked in the Bahamas was named Krishna, and his wife is named Ave Maria. I'm eating my own face.
11:27 am A segment on the dangers of having a heart attack while working out at a gym. Bear in mind that these Fox broadcasters are getting paid for this. The graphic reads 'Killer Workout.'
11:30 am Today's headlines: clones, Libby Dole might run for Jesse Helms' seat, Shug Knight is free.
11:32 am A new face: David Aspen talking about the dangers of being struck by lightning.
11:35 am First mention of Clinton! They're rebroadcasting a portion of last night's Hannity & Colmes, and the subject of Bill's book is broached. The segment is called 'Condit & Clinton.' Is Bill an honest man? No! His book will be a self-serving grasp at a legacy that intends to rewrite history! Who would buy this book?
Jack Kingston (R-GA) is calling Bill's memoir a 'How-To Manual' for deceiving your wife and selling state secrets to foreign intelligence services.
11:37 am Back to Condit and the rally his supporters had for him in California. They're all stunned that such a thing could exist.
11:38 am The microburst of Clinton/Condit bashing has concluded. That was amazing.
11:44 am A Market report called 'Fox Stox.' Kill me.
11:46 am They've got a weatherman dancing around the studio to the tune of 'Hot Fun in the Summertime.' He just said, "Yeah baby, sing it to poppa!"
11:47 am A commercial for Bill O'Reilly's show: "Who's looking out for us, the working people of America?" When was the last time you actually met a working person, Bill? How's that trust fund treating you?
11:52 am The new Star Wars movie!
11:53 am They're running a phone poll: "Would you read Clinton's memoir?"
11:56 am I've made it through the first hour. I counted seven mentions of Bill Clinton, and 24 minutes of Condit coverage that offered absolutely nothing in the way of news.
11:58 am The 'Fair and Balanced' graphic is back?we report, you decide. I might decide to walk into traffic before too long.
12:00 pm A rehash of previous headlines, and the Condit show begins anew. That reporter is still standing in the sprinklers on the Levy lawn. The pro-Condit rally is getting lots of play, as are the Freepers who showed up to bust it up. According to Fox, 65% believe Condit was involved in the murder that hasn't been proven yet because no body has been found.
12:06 pm First Bush sighting. He's on his working vacation down there in Hell. 110 degrees in the shade in Crawford. Further proof that Bush is Satan.
12:07 pm A discussion on how police locate decomposing bodies. Yes, they're talking about Chandra.
12:11 pm Rehashing the old news, heavily spiced with commercials.
12:26 pm Is Gary Condit's political career over? Is there such a thing as 'Doggy Profiling' that gives some pooches a bad name? Will I be begging for death before this is over? Yes on all three.
12:28 pm Cloning again. Breezy overview of the Academy of Science roundtable on the subject.
12:29 pm According to Fox, 75% of Americans think Bush's month-long vacation is not too large a time to be off the job. Another random mention of Clinton's name wedged in there.
12:36 pm "As the search for Chandra gets cold, will the Levy family turn up the heat?" We're back on Condit again, and a writer for the Nation named David Corn is debasing himself and his magazine by participating in this conversation.
They're running captions at the bottom of the screen titled "Fox Facts." Among these facts: 70% of people say Condit isn't telling all he knows; 51% say Condit is acting guilty; 47% think he should resign. It's a drumbeat across the screen.
12:38 pm A talking head named Cliff May, former RNC Communications Director, claims that no one is using this story for political gain.
Fox Flash! The bombing of Iraq 'according to national policy.' We bombed Iraq? Whahuh?
Cliff May: "Condit is not shameless enough to survive this." More Fox Facts: 50% say the cops are giving Condit special treatment.
12:41 pm Condit was just compared to Marion Barry. They are leaving no stone unturned here on Fox.
12:42 pm Condit microburst is concluded. Commercial break. My eyes are beginning to feel dry and scratchy. A tremor shakes my hand.
12:44 pm Was Tom Selleck drunk and disorderly on the streets of Manhattan? They called him 'Magnum Pie-Eyed.' I wish for death.
12:48 pm After an agonizing wait, filled with anticipation, they're finally doing the story on 'Doggy Profiling' giving some loveable mutts a bad name. The music in the background is 'Bow wow wow, yippie-yo, yippie-yay.'
Oh my God. They stuffed some Fox reporter into a puffy padded suit and sicced this massive bulldog/bull mastiff hybrid on him. This has been the greatest moment of my life.
12:55 pm Here comes a phone poll What would you name Clinton's memoir? I see this generating scads of intelligent dialog.
12:56 pm Two hours down. A truly disturbing blizzard of Clinton, Condit and cloning just paralyzed my higher brain functions.
12:59 pm They've been lobbing teasers about the cloning debate all day. Here comes the first real substance on it, given in the appearance of straight reporting. The Fox Facts scroll on the bottom describes, in chopped sentences, how one might go about creating a human clone. I hope everyone at home is taking notes.
1:01 pm Cloning conversation concludes, on to a 'tax revolt' happening in Nashville, TN. The Governor of TN is daring to institute an income tax. I guess these folks didn't get their check from Bush yet
1:03 pm First mention of the missile defense plan. The Russians are in Washington D.C. to talk turkey. I hope they don't mind if Bush peers into their souls.
1:04 pm Back to Chandra and Condit. They're rehashing the last two hours. That reporter is still in the Levy yard.
1:09 pm A 'Breaking News' graphic interrupts the Condit coverage. Have my prayers been answered? No, the world isn't ending. An Italian scientist is defending his desire to clone humans. His English is completely indecipherable. Ever hear someone say 'spermatozoa' with a heavy Italian accent? I didn't think so.
Still, this man deserves my thanks. He may be getting ready to breed monsters, but at least he got Fox off the Condit story.
1:16 pm We're back to Condit. That didn't take long. Two more talking heads have appeared to regurgitate all the non-news that I've been listening to. This is completely unreal.
1:18 pm Condit rant over. They're back to 'What would you name Bill Clinton's memoir.'
1:22 pm I am logging on to the internet to check if any non-Condit-related events have transpired. Lo and behold! CNN.com says we bombed Iraq, and the story here was posted at 11:51am. We blew up a rocket launcher. With the exception of that quick blurb at 12:38pm, Fox has made no mention of it at all.
1:23 pm I've fled the internet because Fox has callers on the air offering potential Clinton memoir book titles. The suggestions:
"How to tell a lie and get away with it."
"Bill and Hillary's Greatest Blunders."
"Memoirs of an Unrepentant President."
The last caller gets on and froths all over the phone about Clinton. His final remark: "Harlem is a good spot for him."
Wow. I hope a CNN executive saw that. These are the people they wish to attract to the channel. Where is Willie Horton when you need him?
One caller squeezes in an impressive list of Clinton accomplishments and dismisses the other titles that have been offered as partisan nonsense. While he speaks, the Fox broadcasters smile and shake their heads.
1:26 pm Back to the heat wave, the shark attack, a tad on cloning.
1:28 pm A funny moment. Bob Villa of 'This Old House' fame is selling some home refinancing firm. He's asking people to sell their mortgage to this company so they can get cash and pay off credit card debt. Bob used to build houses. Now he's taking them away.
1:29 pm Condit. A car accident in California. Ave Maria, Krishna, and the shark. The heat wave. Condit. Scary lightning.
1:36 pm I need a context check, so I'm switching quickly to CNN. They are focusing on the cloning debate.
1:39 pm Back to Fox, and 'The Chandra mystery continues.' They have a graphic up which reads, "What went wrong?" The fact that Condit hasn't taken a second lie detector is damning proof of culpability, as far as Fox is concerned.
1:43 pm "It's amazing with the 24 hour news coverage that they haven't started a grand jury investigation yet," says Fox person. Perhaps that is because evidence is needed to present before a grand jury?
1:44 pm Saith Fox: "It definitely wasn't a suicide because women who kill themselves always make sure their bodies can be found." OK, lock the bastard up.
1:45 pm Condit screed over, back to the report about scary lightning. Didn't we blow something up in Iraq today?
1:51 pm More lightning, and a teaser for a show coming on at 6:00pm: 'The Levy's turn up the heat.'
1:53 pm Condit again.
1:54 pm Kool and the Gang are reuniting. I just started scanning the Book of Revelations. There's got to be something in there about this.
1:59 pm Back to Condit again. That reporter is still in the Levy driveway. Her parents must be very proud.
2:02 pm Condit rant over, back to the headlines. Bush playing golf, the TN anti-tax protest.
2:04 pm Back to Condit. "Bill Clinton did it. Gary Condit did it. They all get away with it." A talking head from Fox in Dallas claims Chief Ramsey is protecting Gary Condit.
I need a break.
2:21 pm Back from the store, they're talking about the heat wave.
2:24 pm Sharks.
2:27 pm - A teaser about a segment where they will check out Wilt Chamberlain's fabulous bachelor pad.
2:30 pm Heat wave.
2:32 pm More non-news about the cloning debate.
2:38 pm They're walking through Wilt's house. I wonder if they'll find Chandra in there. Background music: 'Love Shack' by the B-52s. I want to die now, please.
2:41 pm An expose about women who wear shirts that expose their belly buttons. Background music: 'Stuck in the Middle with You.'
2:44 pm Fox lets me know that a fair and balanced report is coming up next. I wait with baited breath.
2:48 pm The comeback of Kool & the Gang. Two Gang band members are in the studio. Homogenization Breach! There are two African American males on the set of Fox! These are the first non-Caucasians I have seen all day.
2:50 pm Blurb at the bottom: Bush says US will not intervene in Mideast until fighting stops. Seems to me his logic is badly reversed.
2:53 pm Condit. It's the same stuff warmed over again.
3:03 pm Top stories again. Hey! We bombed Iraq! Sharks. The heat. And, of course, a story about a race in the UK involving riding mowers.
I'm halfway through this.
3:04 pm Back to Condit. That reporter is still out on the Levy lawn. Ramsey says the only reason the press is pursuing the case is because they want to play up the sex angle. No, say the Foxies. It's about lies and deception and obstruction of justice. So there.
Fox Fact: Chandra's mom, Susan Levy, is a community volunteer. She has a son named Adam. A picture of Condit being pursued by cameras flashes on the screen. The caption reads, 'Obstruction of Justice.'
3:11 pm Sharks.
3:14 pm Sean Hannity in the radio booth, ranting about how Condit is using his father, Reverent Condit, to defend himself. Condit is using his family. Hannity wants to know if the Reverend has read that Commandment thou shalt not commit adultery.
3:17 pm Clinton again, and the poll question about naming his memoirs. A mention of the cloning debate, which the Fox broadcaster refers to as "The whole sheep thing."
3:21 pm Sharks.
3:30 pm Back to the 'tax revolt' in TN. They've shown this several times now, and I count maybe fifty protesters. I've been to a number of Bush protests that have drawn at least as many people. I assume that is not newsworthy, however. Not one little bit.
Two car accidents, one involving a plane that crashed on a highway. Roger Clinton has plead guilty to a misdemeanor reckless driving charge. The republic is saved.
3:32 pm The latest from Wall Street; everyone's waiting for Cisco's earnings report.
3:34 pm The Clinton book deal rises again. Caption at the bottom reads 'Scandal Storie$.'
3:37 pm Back to Condit. What are the PR moves he can make to salvage his career?
3:42 pm They've got a publisher named Judith Regan on to talk about the Clinton book. Regan has her own show on Fox, on Saturdays and Sundays.
Fox Fact: Clinton plans to write the book himself. I'm stunned.
3:46 pm O'Reilly asks once again who is watching out for the working folks.
3:50 pm They're airing callers again who have suggestions for a title to Clinton's memoir:
"I Beg Your Pardon."
"Feeling Your Pain."
"How to Lie, Cheat, Steal, and Get Away With It."
"A Leader's Contribution to America's Decay"
3:52 pm Moment of unintentional high comedy: they're actually having a conversation about why Clinton won't use these titles.
3:53 pm Bill from Texas offers his suggestion, "Born to be President." He then shouts at the top of his lungs, "We love you in Texas, Bill Clinton!" How that got past the screeners is a mystery.
3:55 pm Damn. Terry Keenan will be sitting in for Neil Cavuto at 4:00 p.m. I've been living for Cavuto!
I am reminded that this news is fair and balanced before they break for commercial. Three more hours to go.
4:00 pm Top stories: bacterial meningitis in college dorms; a bit on the cloning debate with the caption, 'Cloning Humans?!?'
Interesting bit here. Businesses are positioning themselves to cash in on the stem cell research. If Bush puts the kaibosh on that, these businesses will not be pleased.
4:12 pm This has been a straight Wall Street report thus far. Microsoft seeks redress from the Supreme Court. Everyone is waiting for Cisco's earnings report.
4:29 pm Another blurb about the TN 'tax revolt' before a return to Wall Street. It has been a full half an hour since anyone has mentioned Condit or Clinton. I feel like I've been paroled.
5:00 pm The vacation is over. John Gibson and the Big Story dive right back into the Condit story, with a teaser about the Clinton memoir.
John Gibson has the most remarkable hair I have ever seen. It is this ivory pompadour helmet that rises impossibly above his brow. As he reminds us that is Day 99 of the Chandra search, I am mesmerized by the studio lights glittering in his blond locks.
5:02 pm They are rehashing the last six hours worth of coverage again. Parrots do not get this redundant.
Did Chandra want Condit's baby? Did Chandra confront Condit's wife? Wendy Murphy, a criminal defense attorney, stokes the soap opera fires to a glowing blaze.
5:11 pm The first commercial break from the Big Show. It has been wall to wall Condit.
5:13 pm Gibson is back, and the Condit crucifixion continues. A detective from the NYPD adds to the talk about how there is nothing to talk about. That reporter has been on the Levy lawn all day, but the Levy's aren't talking.
5:16 pm Another commercial break, but first: "The police say Condit is not a suspect. Is he guilty in the court of public opinion?"
The fair and balanced graphic sails by.
5:20 pm We're back, and it's Condit again.
Fox Fact: Obstruction of justice is a federal offense.
5:24 pm Gibson raises the specter of a House ethics investigation. Nothing is happening there, because the ethics board only investigates Congresspeople who break the rules while acting in their official capacity. Gibson finds this absurd.
5:27 pm - They have said nothing new about Condit all day. As we fade to commercial, I realize that Gibson has just spent 27 minutes talking about nothing at all.
5:30 pm An ad for the Brit Hume show coming up at 6:00 p.m.: "Is Condit's career over? A fair and balanced report."
5:31 pm Top of the hour recap: Sharks; car crashes; the Roger Clinton misdemeanor pleading; Rebecca Gayheart of 90210 fame is being sued for running down a 9 year old boy with her car while talking on a cell phone.
5:32 pm Cloning. Fairly straight report
5:42 pm - The Clinton book deal again. What will he have to do to sell it? People won't want to read about his brokering of the Mideast peace accords. They want to know about Monica, they want all the dirt Gibson refers to Clinton supporters as "fawning droolers" who will accept everything he says.
6:00 pm That was eighteen full minutes of sarcastic venom from Gibson aimed at Clinton's book, which isn't due out until 2003. Good news for Fox. They'll never run out of material with that kind of a timeline.
6:01 pm Brit Hume, and the first story is not about Condit. I am jonesing already. Instead, a recap of the cloning debate.
6:04 pm Look out. Here's some real news. Ashcroft spoke at a meeting of the ABA to defend his dumping of their traditional review of court nominations. He points to a column from the Wall Street Journal, which carried an analysis by the conservative Federalist Society that climed the ABA leads wildly to the Left. The ABA president, Martha Bennet, calls the report balderdash.
6:10 pm A rebroadcast of Bush's comments regarding the Iraq bombing and the state of the Mideast peace process. Some tasty Bush quotes:
"Sanity must prevail there before we get involved."
"It's important for people to get outside, and work."
6:12 pm Unlike Clinton, Bush never takes a mulligan while playing golf. He can't remember what the Patients Bill of Rights legislation is called. He refers to it as, "The Gansky Something Something Bill." Then he told the press guys to "get lost" and walked away. All the Fox broadcasters are chuckling at the President's delicious wit.
6:13 pm Back to Condit, and a total rehash of everything. 13 minutes of other news was all they could give.
I can take no more. - - - - - -
Before I try to add some perspective to this whole experience, let's break it down by the numbers. According to my calculations:
There were 42 distinct occasions where the name 'Clinton' was raised, not including an 18 minute rant by Gibson;
Bush was mentioned 14 times. They showed the same picture each time George on his golf cart;
Monica Lewinsky was mentioned twice, and her picture was shown once;
The missile defense program was mentioned once;
The tax cut was mentioned once;
The Iraq bombing was mentioned twice.
Perhaps the most astounding aspect of my quest into the land of Fox news is this: I watched for exactly 437 minutes. Of that, by my calculations, 133 of those minutes were directed solely at rehashing the fact that Condit did it, he did it, he did it.
That accounts for nearly a full third of the time I watched. By my calculations, another third of the time was dedicated to the commercials that were shown approximately every five minutes. The rest of the broadcast dealt with shark attacks, heat waves, car crashes, tax revolts, the new Star Wars movie, and the upcoming Clinton memoir.
I have seen the beast, and it is not fair and balanced. The GOP has a marvelous voice in the Fox News Network. There is nothing in the media realm even remotely this biased that is representative of the Left. I wonder if Ted Turner truly knows what he is getting into with the new director of CNN and his courtship of the Right.
One thing is sure. If CNN chooses to become an ancillary wing of the GOP spin machine, the transformation should not be difficult. Get a reporter camped out on the Levy's lawn and cut to her every hour. Flood the airwaves with innuendo about Gary Condit. Fill the time with political opponents of Bill Clinton.
I need a shower.