The FOX News – MSNBC Taste Test : A Non-Scientific Tape-Delayed Live-Blogged Inquiry
Over the past few months I have been talking here and there about the state of today’s journalism, which I often find worrisome. I find broadcast journalism to be especially troubling. Whenever I have start these conversations, I can be reasonably sure of two things:
1. Conservatives will claim that FOXNews is in no way a GOP shill.
2. Liberals will claim that MSNBC is no way biased, or if so will use the “false equivalent” line when MSNBC is compared to FOX.
Which is correct? I have the suspicion that each is incorrect, at least when it comes to their cable TV news shows. But honestly, I can’t really say for certain. I don’t have much respect for TV news in general, and because of that I don’t really watch much of it. I have some experience with talk radio, but if it’s not an election night I never turn on cable TV news shows. So what do I know?
So I have decided to perform an experiment, though I will be the first to admit it will be neither scientific nor unbiased. My premise: Watch the three highest rated programs from both FOX and MSNBC, and compare the two networks based on what I see. If I tell people that FOX or MSNBC is horribly biased, I want to be able to say that based on more than what I know now. And if I’m wrong about either, I want to know.
In order to do this right, I decided that all the shows needed to be from the same day. After all, if the Big Story was the Mall of America being bombed by terrorists the day I watched MSNBC, and the Big Story was Brad and Angelina breaking up the day I watched FOX, MSNBC would have a clear and unfair advantage. So I decided to TIVO all the shows on the same day, or to be more precise the same evening. This weekend, I had the dubious honor of watching the May 31 edition of FOX’s top three prime time programs (The O’Reilly Factor, Hannity and On The Record) as well as MSNBC’s (Hardball, The Ed Show, and Maddow). Any decisions on what to report on (or not) were therefore the product of editorial decisions, and nothing else. I typed as I went, and tried to capture my reactions more than simply parroting what the various pundits were saying.
Some up front disclosures:
* I do not identify with any party or commonly identified political philosophy, and those that have read me before know that I think principled pragmatism is the best way to muddle through the infinite complexities that make up human interaction. That being said, it would be a lie to suggest I am unbiased. I clearly have greater antipathy toward today’s movement conservatism than I do today’s progressive movement.
* I have heard Hannity’s radio show before, and have seen both O’Reilly and Maddow interviewed on the Daily Show. Hannity’s radio show makes me worry about his TV show, but O’Reilly and Maddow are both charming enough on the Daily Show that I already had a favorable impression of each. Everyone else will be new to me.
OK. Ready? Are you a little scared to do this? Yeah, me too.
8:00 – The O’Reilly Factor
Opening sequence: Flags. Many, many flags, or at least other objects that have the stars and stripes pasted onto them. Also: A warning that I am about to enter the No Spin Zone, which I assume is meant to be ironic.
Segment One: Planned Parenthood Scandal. First up in the show is the now infamous video-taped scandal of a Planned Parenthood employee advising a fake patient on her desire to abort her fetus if it turned out to be female. Parallels between Planned Parenthood and Communist China are quickly drawn.
I’m glad we’re starting with a story I’ve actually been following and therefore at least have a passing idea of what’s going on, because Bill flies through this issue so quickly that I’m not sure I’d have come out informed if I was new to the subject. Not that it matters much. He continues to talk about Planned Parenthood’s corporate policy to promote the aborting of fetuses based on gender, and its defense of the employee who was videotaped. But I know – because of this very story! – that Planned Parenthood actually has a policy against gender based abortions, that gender based abortions is actually something that doesn’t happen except in hypothetical arguments, and that the employee in question was not defended by the embattled non-profit, she was terminated.
Bill now turns to a Democratic pollster and a Democratic consultant to get their takes; specifically, he wants to know why they support gender-based abortions. Each tells him they are in fact against gender-based abortions; also, like me it appears that they too have been following the story because they are also aware of both Planned Parenthood’s policy against gender-based abortion and the employee’s termination. Bill continues to interrupt them, asking them again and again why they support a pro-gender-based abortion policy. Eventually one of them breaks through in a rare moment of Bill not talking, and says very clearly that the employee was terminated. “She was?” Bill asks, and he seems genuinely surprised by this bit of news. (Note to O’Reilly Factor producers: When prepping Bill for his show, the lowest possible baseline you should probably shoot for is “Bill should know at least as much about the subject he’s reporting on as Tod Kelly does.”)
His main point decimated by a reality he had not been counting on existing, Bill moves on to what I am already anticipating will be the chutzpah-iest argument I will see in my six hour crap-a-thon: He argues that Obama as president represents the entire country, but then points out that Obama is pro-choice. Bill argues this is isn’t kosher. Bill says that the President shouldn’t have a public opinion on a any political issue that the country is not in total agreement on, since he represents everyone. I wait for either of his guests to challenge him on this – either simply pointing out that it is a fabulously stupid thing to say, or asking him if he said similar things when Bush had uttered any opinion about Roe v. Wade, Social Security, the Iraq War, or really any subject that might have come out of Bush’s pie hole between 2000 and 2008. Shockingly, no one does, and the statement stands. Bill has won the debate. I am a little dumbfounded.
Segment Two: Where was Obama Really Born? Yay! Every time I bring up the wacky nut sundae that is Birtherism, conservatives tell me that it’s a liberal ghost that FOX won’t even discuss. So it’s fun to see it come up in the first fifteen minutes of my cable news sequester. With Dick Morris no less!
Not surprisingly, the discussion stems from the much anticipated Romney-Trump fundraiser, and it has all the tell-tale conservative having-cake-and-eating-it phrasing that always seems to accompany birther chats. (Dick Morris: “A lot of people believe Obama wasn’t born in America. A lot. I don’t know, I can’t say. I wasn’t there when he was born.”) Morris guesses – correctly, I think – that the reason Romney attended Trump’s $2 million fundraiser had nothing to do with Birtherism or Trump, it had to do with someone handing him $2 million.
Morris isn’t biting on the Birtherism thing so much, so it’s time to change strategy. Bill then goes back to the previous segment issue, and asks Dick if Obama’s and Planned Parenthood’s promoting gender-based abortions and the employees that advocate it won’t hurt him (Obama) come November. It’s a shame that neither Bill nor Dick had the time to tune in to the first segment.
(Ooo! In the Coming Up! tease, we learn Dennis Miller will joining Bill later in the program. Did we know Dennis Miller was still alive? Is he a FOX employee now? Awesome!)
Segment Three: Mark Rubio Interview. I’d have thought having Mark Rubio in the studio for a live interview should bill higher than Dick Morris talking about Donald Trump, which is probably why FOXNews would never hire me in a million years to be a programming director. I know who Rubio is, of course, but this is the first time I’ve heard him talk in anything more than a carefully selected sound bite.
I can see why many are hoping he gets the VP nod. He’s calm, measured and comfortable, which after the two previous segments is a breath of fresh air. In addition, he doesn’t rise to any of the partisan bait Bill keeps tossing his way. For example, Bill tries to get him to say that Obama’s SSM stance will make hispanics flock to Romney, and Rubio gently points out that this would be wishful thinking on Bill’s part; and then shockingly (at least to me) admits that the way conservatives package their anti-illegal-immigration rhetoric makes it difficult for even anti-illegal-immigration hispanics to support them.
The interview is pretty much a series of milquetoast softballs. (Quick aside: What does it say about cable news, that a Democratic pollster you’ve never heard of before – one that is trying to point out to the host that they agree with him – is raked over the coals for disagreeing with the host, but no one has a single policy question to ask the man many presume to be the next GOP VP nominee?) However, I still find the segment interesting in two ways:
The first is Rubio’s current talking point regarding a potential VP nomination. For months all he’s been saying is that he would refuse if asked. Now that it appears he says might be willing; he says he does not wish to discuss it because he has to respect Mitt’s “process.” Should he be asked, there is no question he will accept. You know, “for the people.” This series of cynical hard-to-get play acting is what everyone that might get a VP nod does in every presidential election. We all know no one means any of it, and they know we know they don’t mean any of it, and we know they know we know, and yet we all do it every four years. Deciding to politely engage in this dance is one of American politics’ most bizarre Emily Post moments.
Here’s the other interesting thing: After the first segment, I had assumed that interrupting people was a debating technique Bill used: Someone’s making a point against you and it’s your show, so rather than deal with their point you simply drown them out. But during the Rubio interview Bill will ask a question, and Rubio won’t be done answering it before Bill interrupts with his next question. So now I’m thinking that Bill just interrupts people in general, and am starting to suspect that regardless of who the guest is Bill doesn’t actually listen to what they say. I think he might just have a pattern where he’ll ask a question, wait about 30 seconds, and then ask the next one.
Segments Four, Five and Six: Huh. I’m combining the rest of the show into one mega-segment, as they kind of hammer home how difficult it must be to put on an hour’s worth of meaningful news content every day. To sum up what I sit through:
* Reporter John Stossell does an “expose” where he goes to a food bank and asks people in line if they own TVs. It turns out that many of them do. This apparently is a sign that either they do not really need or do not really deserve food. To his credit, Bill points out to Stossell that even if poverty isn’t as bad as it was 100 years ago or as it is in many 3rd world countries today, many people are still legitimately suffering and need food. Stossell, who looks a little taken aback that Bill is challenging him, stands firm with his thesis. “Well, yes, it is really terrible that they suffer, but most of those people have televisions.” Also, not one of them has been forced to shave their heads and rub dung over themselves! How can they claim they “need” food? Neither Stossell nor O’Reilly, I note, have anything nice to say about the state safety nets that have made today’s poverty so much better than poverty 100 years ago or as it is in many 3rd world countries today.
* Dennis Miller shows up to be “interviewed” in what is an obvious pre-written series of gags on Obama, the Queen and unmanned drones. All if it is that “kind of amusing but not really laugh-worthy” schtick that Miller is famous for. It was a welcome respite, actually, and I really liked his line about “Unmanned Drone” being the Secret Service’s call-name for Biden. And I have to say, his FOX gig isn’t painful to watch like his Monday Night Football gig was. I like Dennis Miller. It’s nice to see he’s found a good home.
* Another expose has a FOX reporter asking an elderly Pakistani man on the street in New York if Pakistan had a right to arrest and jail the Pakistani doctor who spied for the US, allowing us to locate and kill Bib Laden. He answers “yes,” and when pressed why explains that spying for another country is an arrest-worthy offense. Then the FOX reporter interviews a couple of other Pakistani guys in New York that say Pakistan shouldn’t have arrested him, and that they think Pakistan’s government is corrupt. Bill comments that all of this is a sign that those people just hate America. (huh?)
* Next up is a human interest story: An 81 year-old woman goes skydiving and there is a mishap with her parachute harness. However, it’s not much of a mishap and she and the instructor she is attached to land safely. Bill points out that the woman was never really in danger, and wonders why we are spending time on this story – which was exactly what I was wondering at that exact same moment. Then we have some emails from viewers (“Bill, thanks for showing us how Planned Parenthood promotes gender-based abortions!”), and finally we move to the Pinhead or Patriot segment, where Bill declares someone in the news a Pinhead or a Patriot. Tonight Bill shows us a video clip of David Letterman saying that even though he’s liberal, he is a registered independent. Bill graciously leaves it up to us to decide if that makes him A). a Pinhead or B). a Patriot. (I went with C. a Talk Show Host who is also a registered independent.)
Aaaaaand….. we’re done with the O’Reilly Factor.
Holy fish, have I really committed to watching six hours of this shit?
9:00 – Hannity
Segment One: Pakistan Doctor/US Spy Arrested. Wow! Sean Hannity is a mother-fishing fast talking guy! Segment One was maybe 5 minutes long, but the sheer numeric volume of random movement-conservative talking points spewed by he and guest Donald Rumsfeld is truly impressive. When discussing the arrested Pakistani doctor they do an amazing job of talking about almost every foreign policy issue you can think while barely mentioning the foreign policy issues surrounding the arrested doctor. In just a few minutes, we got a conservative talk radio greatest-hits bitch session. Among my favorites:
Liberals are pro-Nazis. Obama’s entire foreign policy is based on apologizing to other countries. Obama spends way to much tax money and refuses to cut back in any government program and this makes us weak, then (literally he next sentence) Obama wants to decrease military budgets instead of increasing them which make us weak. “The Blame America First crowd” is actually uttered. Repeated accusations that Obama gave the doctor up to the Pakistani government (see note below). Rumsfeld saying he and Bush are the ones that “really” brought Bin Laden to justice, which is proof that Gitmo and enhanced interrogation work. It appears Obama wants the terrorists to win. Because he hates America.
Most Colbert-esque question asked of Rumsfeld: “What’s the biggest reason we should most fear another four years of Obama?”
Best Circle Jerk Exchange: After agreeing that the White House wasn’t doing enough to help the imprisoned doctor, Hannity asks Rumsfeld what the they should have done – and asks for an exact plan. Asking for an exact plan was unexpected, since it kind of puts Rumsfeld on the spot. What can he really do? After all, they guy’s in a jail in another country for a crime of treason he actually did commit. Rumsfeld says Obama should be “strong,” and use “leadership,”and maybe even use “strong leadership,” and then everything will be OK. Hannity praises his wisdom. And who could blame him? What foreign power has the might to withstand a few choice 90’s cliched business-bestseller aphorisms? Genius. It’s hard to believe this guy botched Iraq so badly.
(By the way, seeing Donald Rumsfeld reminds me of O’Reilly’s Pinhead or Patriot segment, since in Bill’s universe you are either one or the other. So now I’m wondering, does Donald Rumsfeld exist in Bill’s universe?)
(Note: The claim that the White House gave up their spy to the Pakistani government, repeated 13 times in this five minute segment, is apparently based on a statement GOP Rep Peter “85% Of US Mosques Are Hiding Terrorists” King made a week ago where he said, “They [the White House] put him out there.” He has since walked that back considerably, saying that he was overstating the case and that in fact he doesn’t have any of the details about what happened. This last bit, by the way, I found in a report on the FOXNews own web site posted a week prior to this show’s taping. In other words, it appears that my bet that Bill O’Reilly’s “Presidents Shouldn’t Have Public Opinions” argument would be the biggest showcase of chutzpah didn’t even last five minutes after The Factor’s credits had rolled.)
Segment Two: Planned Parenthood. I’m not sure what to discuss here. Sean obviously believes Planned Parenthood is evil, and had two women debating it with him. Except that no one debates, really; everyone’s just talking or shouting over one another. If you really want to get a flavor, just go back to the above bit where O’Reilly discusses the same issue, but pretend far less is said. Instead of deconstructing this again, then, I’d like to take a moment to discuss FOX’s gender-related hotness disparity.
For reasons that are not entirely clear, all women appearing on FOX shows seem to be required to be young, attractive, fake blondes that have that car-show model look. There are some exceptions, but they are the occasional young attractive ethnic car-show women and as such are allowed to simply forgo the fake-blonde. Men appearing on FOX, on the other hand, are allowed to look like Dick Morris. I’m really curious: to what extent is this an actual programming policy, and to what extent is it simply that whoever is in charge of these things has a thing for young, attractive, fake blondes that have that car-show model look? I assume it has to be the latter. I mean, you wouldn’t actually have a policy about something like that – right? And this makes me wonder about the women that work at FOX: Does this ever creep them out? I’m sure they love their jobs, and can’t imagine any of them ever speaking in public about this. But it’s hard to believe there aren’t these tiny moments when they sometimes get home after a long day’s work, have a glass of wine, and unload on their husbands or boyfriends that the hiring guy keeps finding reasons to come around and talk to them in a way that makes them want to take a shower.
Segment Three: Michelle Obama Is Evil. Now I’m wishing I reported the last segment better, because one of the things Sean talked about (in respect to Mitt Romney’s wife) was that politicians’ wives are unfair game in politics. It is therefore somewhat surprising to find that the very next segment is a talk with PJ Media’s Michelle Malkin about what a grade-A commie devil bitch the first lady is. That it surprises me makes me feel a little foolish. I am promising myself right now that this is going to be the last thing I allow myself to be surprised by when watching Sean Hannity.
But it does make me wonder about people that watch this show. When they see these things in juxtaposition, what happens in their head? Do they not see the irony at all? Do they recognize it and give a little laugh, “Oh Sean! You minx!” Do they recognize the double standard and cheer it on at the same time because it’s what those bastards deserve? Or is it something else altogether? Anyway, let’s get back to the show…
… And oh my fishing God, really? We’re in the middle of this 10-minute “Michelle Obama Is The Worst Human Being Not Named Barack In The History of The Word” orgy, and they’ve just gone back to criticizing the Lame Stream Media… for covering Mitt Romney’s wife. Wow! Wow! Just five minutes after I promised Sean’s disregard for my intelligence wouldn’t surprise me again, the guy steps up to the plate, knocks it out of the park, and I am embarrassed to find that I am shocked yet again. Seriously, Sean Hannity is the Matt Kemp of chutzpah.
I pause the TIVO to give a golf clap to Michelle Malkin’s and Sean Hannity’s giant, swollen, brazen balls.
Segment Four, Five & Six: Basically More of the Same. Unlike the Factor, Hannity segments just kind of blend into one another like the stream-of-consciousness thoughts of your crazy uncle that still bitches about Roosevelt. There is an interview with GOP Wisconsin governor Walker, who is facing his recall election. That he is potentially being recalled at all is reported by Sean (natch) as a victory of the right over the left. Then there is a discussion panel with two men and a woman (two old dumpy guys and a young fake-blonde car-show model-type, natch) about an award Obama is giving to someone (a communist usurper of freedom, natch) whose latino name Sean takes the time to pronounce with exaggerated accent and disdain (natch). Lastly the awesomely staged Mike Bost rant I raved about here; Sean believes this rant makes Bost a true American patriot (natch).
Boy, whoever watches Hannity and still believes that FOX is “fair and balanced” should not have any of their other opinions on anything else taken seriously, ever. Man, that was painful. I wish I’d had a drink before I started watching Hannity. I think I may have one now. Fortunately, however, I have just one more FOX program to go, which is…
10:00: On the Record with Greta Van Susteren.
Segment One: Romney Closes the Gender Gap/Mia Love Interview/Rand Paul Interview. Unlike the previous shows’ hosts, I barely know anything about Greta going in. I know that Sarah Palin loves her, but that’s about it – though that one tiny factoid would not seem to bode well for viewer Tod. But I have to say, as the show starts it’s looking really, really good. Mind you, it’s looking great coming right after Hannity. But still, it looks like we’re making progress.
First off, her reporting that Romney is closing the gender gap might have been a bit of a pro-GOP piece in a very nuanced way, but in order to discuss it at all Greta has to actually say that women as a group haven’t been thrilled with Romney – something I can’t see the other guys admitting. Also, she seems to be allowed to break the FOX gender hotness rule, which is oddly comforting. And now she is interviewing a woman named Mia Love, who seems pretty cool. Love is the mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, and because of this I’m not exactly sure why she was scheduled. My mother’s family is from Utah and growing up we camped all over the state, and so I know Saratoga Springs – but I don’t know who else outside of Utah would. Unless the town grown a lot over the past decade, I’d be surprised if they had a population of 1,000.
I confess I am a little disappointed with the interview of Mia Love as it progresses. At first, it seems to be a human interest success story: Black woman in a small Utah town gets elected mayor, Makes A Difference. But, wait… what? What’s happening now? Oh no. Oh gosh, this is bad. Greta, please tell me you’re not about to do what I think you’re about to do. STOP! PLEASE GRETA, DON’T DO IT!!!
Mia Love is being interviewed so she can talk about why she is voting for Mitt Romney instead of Barack Obama, even though she’s a woman (!) who (like the president!) is black. Oy. And we were starting out so well. I’m not sure what I find sadder about what this says about today’s GOP: That they still believe their “Let’s Roll Out A Token Black Women To Show How Much Women and Black People Like Us!” tactic works with anyone that isn’t a white conservative male, or that they had to run that drill all the way down to fishing Mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah (population: several families and a small dachshund named “Colin”) in order to pull it off. Mostly I feel bad for Love, who really seems like a nice, competent woman and is clearly intelligent enough to know why she’s been asked to sit in the Big Kid chair for five minutes.
Next up is Rand Paul who, in addition wanting to cut off foreign aid to Pakistan, has an actual, real, concrete idea how to save the Pakistani doctor that’s in prison because he spied for us. Mind you, it’s a mind-achingly stupid idea that’s obviously designed more to fire up the base than help the imprisoned doctor – but hey, it’s still one more actual idea than Donald Rumsfeld could come up with. Rand’s plan? Pass a bill that makes him a US citizen instead of a Pakistani citizen. Then Pakistan will have to release him! (Seriously, libertarians – this guy is your great white hope?)
Segment Two: Rush & The Tea Parties. Now we see a clever solution to a seemingly intractable problem for FOX: They don’t necessarily want to pay Rush Limbaugh the exorbitant fees he would require to be a FOX commentator, but they certainly want all the conservative street cred Rush brings to the table. The solution? Play a really, really long segment of Rush’s daily radio commentary under the guise you are “reporting on it,” and then talk about what Rush said for a while. Even I must tip my hat. Well played.
The rest of the segment is on this new Tea Party movement, which perhaps you’ve heard of. No? Basically, what you need to know is that they’re awesome, and they’re not going anywhere! And, of course, a quick nod to Palin.
Segment Three: The Wisconsin Governor Recall. Now we finally have the kind of reporting I have come to associate with FOX news. Experts are brought in to discuss Scott Walker. What do they have to say? The people love him, even as they’re recalling him! Polls show that those voting against him are (I swear I am not making this up) “confused,” and somehow have gotten the misinformation in their head that a vote against Scott Walker is a way to support him, otherwise why would they be voting against him? Greta also reports that while three famous GOP governors have come to Wisconsin, Obama only kind of flew over it once – and doesn’t that really tell you everything you need to know about how to vote in this most important election? This is the FOX I know and love.
Segment Four: Mike Bost Rant Again! Yay!
Segment Five, Six and Seven: More of the Same. First up is Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus, who is a Republican and FOX commentator. (wtf? The creator of Home Depot is a FOX commentator? Did I hear that right?) Greta has invited him on the show to ask the following pressing question: Would Home Depot have survived if he’d tried to start it up when Obama was President? The answer: No! It would have crashed and burned, and Americans would be unable to complete even the simplest do it yourself project on their homes. I’m on pins and needles waiting to find out if Home Depot would survive its start up under President Romney. Oh, wait! Here it is! And they answer is… It would survive and be awesome! Hooray!
There is also a lot of talk about how the Republicans have spent the past three years trying to compromise with Obama, but he refuses to talk to them. This just goes to show how much the Lame Stream Media hides the truth. Here I had been thinking the GOP was being fairly obstructionist, what with them saying all the time that’s what they were doing. Thankfully Greta and Bernard are here to set me straight and now I know the insider truth, which based on what they’re saying I think looks like this: Every night the GOP leadership walks over and stands on the White House lawn. They throw tiny pebbles at the windows, whispering for Obama to come out and talk to them but also trying hard not to wake Michelle up. All they want to do is sit down and give away half their demands in the spirit of compromise. Instead, dogs are released on them as Obama stands on the balcony, laughing maniacally. Disappointed, they all slowly walk home taking tiny, tiny steps, their shoulders sagging, too sad to speak to one another. They eventually arrive at their respective homes, each alone, each microwaving a hot pocket to eat in the dark as they sit and stare into space.
The show wraps up with a few human interest stories: A guy in Florida running for office has his name legally changed to “voteforeddie.com,” ensuring he will never have any friends or be elected to any public office ever. A man tries to sneak on a plane but is caught. And a guy from Oregon choreographs a wedding proposal with 60 dancers to make it look like a scene from Glee, an act which even though he and his new female fiancé are straight will, I believe, make their marriage void in North Carolina.
And now, finally, I am done.
Where’s that drink?