Saturday, November 20, 2004

Nobody's on nobody's side

The Globe & Mail's insufferably smug TV critic, John Doyle, is today - well - his usual insufferably smug self: Before the CRTC's decision to allow the Fox News Channel into Canada, there was some speculation about whether conditions might be attached. I wonder what conditions might possibly apply -- that it be less hilarious? After all the fuss and anticipation, I think most Canadians who are curious about the Fox phenomenon will be a tad disappointed with the alleged news coverage. What they'll see is a lot of blustering and badgering, a good deal of boasting, and not a lot of news. But they will be entertained. This is, after all, the channel whose star pundit, Bill O'Reilly, referred to this newspaper as the "far-left Toronto Globe and Mail." The same gent (and I use the term advisedly) roused himself to comment on the coverage of Fox News in this paper by declaring, "Hey you pinheads up there, I may be pompous, but at least I'm honest." And he is, too - at least, to the extent that O'Reilly knows he's partisan, and admits it; he doesn't live under the ludicrous fiction that journalism happens in a bias-free vacuum. Later, when the "pinheads" comment was taken to refer to Canadians, O'Reilly declared he was referring to staff at The Globe, not Canadians. As for me, he called me "a Canadian intellectual." It was meant to be an insult. I was very flattered and amused. [...] Over the next few days I was inundated with e-mails from the United States. Most were abusive and some were outrageously so. I was called "a douche nozzle," "a douche bag" and many variations on the theme. I wrote about the mail, pointing out that it was both nasty and unimaginative. This story received some attention in the United States. I began hearing from Americans by the thousands. Most apologized for their fellow citizens, declared their admiration for Canada, and bemoaned the idiocy of Fox News and its supporters. I'll grant that some people do feel the need to apologize for things not under their control. They're representative of a self-loathing and whiny minority that is validated only in feeling victimized by their fellows, and nothing more. Next, The New York Times stepped in. Intrigued by the story, the Times wanted to know more. I gave the Times access to the mail I'd received. In a Sunday feature, the Times then chronicled the back-and-forth between O'Reilly and me, and printed examples of the sort of American mail that came my way. The Times provides stories to newspapers around the world, and this story duly went international. Soon, I was hearing from people in Australia, Britain, France and many other countries. On Fox, O'Reilly mentioned the Times story. Somewhat chastened by the ignorant, poisonous vitriol of his supporters, he tut-tutted about that sort of behaviour. That was it, really. But the upshot was clear: O'Reilly was revealed as a buffoon, and fans of Fox News were shown to be belligerent crackpots. Aww, you have the sweetest names for people whose politics you disagree with. Can anybody here possibly take Fox News seriously? Hardly. The channel describes itself as "fair and balanced" when it clearly is not. Its other slogan is "We report -- You decide." That, too, is a joke. There isn't much on Fox News that most reasonable people would describe as "reporting." There is an awful lot of talk. There is shouting, bullying and blather. It is all so ostentatiously over-the-top and biased that it's wonderfully funny. Yeah, it's friggin' hilarious what shows up on Fox News nowadays. While it's funny, it is also important that we see it. Fox News Channel has easily overtaken CNN as the most-watched news channel in the United States. It didn't achieve that position by being a sober, diligently objective newsgathering operation. It achieved it by adding an operatic quality to the news -- apparently the future of civilization hangs in the balance, and if the Fox News pundits don't get their way, democracy and decency will disappear. Fox News has taken the side that we're at war, we didn't start it, and a lot of Very Bad Things will happen if we lose. John Doyle thinks this is a gut-bustingly amusing fiction, which tells you quite a bit about what sort of a condescending prig he is. A lot of Americans are afraid of the rest of the world, afraid of change, and ignorant about what happens in other countries. What they want to hear is a news service that agrees with their suspicions and tells them that, basically, people in other countries are stupid and envious of the United States. Fox News does precisely that. Projecting much, Mr. Doyle? Try the flip-side on for size: "A lot of Canadians are afraid of America, afraid of change, and ignorant about what happens in other countries. What they want to hear is a news service that agrees with their suspicions and tells them that, basically, Americans are stupid and envious of Canada. CBC does precisely that." Fox News undoubtedly helped re-elect George W. Bush. That despite CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC, the NYT, WaPo, et al's efforts to the contrary, which is something of an achievement. In one instance, O'Reilly interviewed Bush and reminded viewers that the President was brave because he had agreed to be interviewed. Considering the overwhelming majority of journalists that are biased against him, kind of, yeah? In another instance, a report by a Fox News correspondent was posted on the network's website, just after the first presidential debate. The story claimed that John Kerry had boasted about his manicure and described himself as "a metrosexual." The story was bogus; not a word of it was true. Yet, for a time, Fox News presented it as a legitimate report. Do I even need to bring up CBS News and Rathergate by now, or is everyone good with remembering just how minor a screw-up this story was, by comparison to that debacle? Now in Canada, we're not so small-minded, petty and unsophisticated that we'd even consider making an issue about some guy's manicure. Also, we don't hate France. Loathing of France seems to be the bedrock of Fox News. I've got a funny feeling that it would be a head-slapper of a revelation to the Fox News Channel that Canada is officially a bilingual country and, for many Canadians, French is their first language. The really funny thing about that is that a great deal of them don't consider themselves Canadian, but only citizens of a latently-sovereign Quebec. Shhh, don't tell the Globe columnists; it'd only bother them if they knew. In fact, I've got lots of funny feelings about Fox. It's going to be hilarious to have daily access to its preposterous view of the world. As the one here coming across like one of the less-charming upper-class twits in a P.G. Wodehouse novel, I hardly think Doyle is allowed to call anyone else preposterous. He's like this every day, too, and somehow manages to turn everything into bashing either Americans at large or George Bush specifically. It becomes rather tedious.

5 Comments:

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11/22/2004 09:31:00 AM  
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