REPROGRAMMING

Highly observant long-time readers are probably beginning to notice that every time Ed has a doctor's appointment he ends up posting about Fox News. Well, I had an appointment Tuesday morning. Now guess what.

Like most of you (I assume) I don't watch much Fox News. In fairness I rarely watch TV news on any network, relying instead as so many Americans do on the self-selection offered by the internet. What little I see on the FNC comes from clips circulated on the internet, brief glimpses while I flip through channels, and maybe a few minutes here and there during election season. For the most part it is an alternate universe – I know it exists and I hear about it often, but our paths almost never cross. Except when I visit my doctor. He and his unironic "These Colors Don't Run" bumper sticker have FNC playing on multiple TVs throughout the office, so I usually catch about 15 minutes in the waiting room.

Today, through sundry intricacies of our remarkable system of managed care that I needn't recount here, I waited well over an hour before the good Doctor saw me. It would guess that it has been a decade since I sat and watched 80 or 90 minutes of Fox News, probably not since I last lived with my dad and thus was indirectly exposed to O'Reilly every evening after work. That DiMaggio-like streak ended today. The volume was up so loud (the old people need to be able to hear it, after all) I couldn't bury my nose far enough in Popular Mechanics to ignore it.

I am not an unbiased observer, obviously, and I watch Fox the same way most people watch circuses or episodes of Two and a Half Men. Despite these handicaps I am confident that the following is a valid conclusion: anyone who watches this channel for multiple hours daily would be categorically insane after a few months. Everything about public opinion and the Tea Party and oddities of the American electorate make perfect sense after watching this for an hour or two. If this was your only source of news, you would become one of them. Your relationship with reality would be tenuous at best, and more likely nonexistent.

You can actually feel the propaganda techniques start to numb you after a while. In small doses it has no effect, and we see it with a mixture of disdain and bemusement. It just seems kinda silly. Watching it all day, every day (as the staff at the office in question do) would be like the prison camp scenes in The Killing Fields – listening to Khmer Rouge propaganda blared over a loudspeaker until insanity becomes the new normal. Is Fox the Khmer Rouge? Of course not. They've just mastered the same methods of persuasion.

If my hypothesis seems implausible, I invite you to try it yourself sometime. Resolve to sit firmly on the couch and watch Fox News for two uninterrupted hours. Let us know how you feel afterward.

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42 Responses to “REPROGRAMMING”

  1. Ike Says:

    This evening I was at a dinner meeting for a charitable club I recently joined. At 31 I am at least 10 years younger than any other member. Things were going fine, minutes and announcements and all that fru-fru. Then came dinner.

    I was surrounded by geriatric Fox News Watchers who were discussing politics. Personalities (dare I call them candidates) are described as either "good" or "bad." Trump, Bachman, Palin, Gingrich are all spoken of in hushed, reverent tones. The President is cursed at every opportunity. And then they started tittering about how they miss the good ol days of being able to use the "N" word and why can't everyone just stop whining about that stuff and isn't it so nice that we helped out some poor colored folks last month.

    I wish I had found the courage to throw my dinner plate at them and stomp out in a hail of profanity. Or something. Instead, like a good little liberal I made several careful, measured and articulate yet uncontroversial statements which were received with polite, blank smiles.

    Blegh.

  2. spaceman_spiff Says:

    I usually find it easy to avoid Faux News Channel, in the same way that I can easily avoid such things as Coors beer or Domino's pizza: it becomes easy to boycott those products when they are cheap unpalatable shit I wouldn't touch in the first place.
    Not so easy for Georgia-Pacific paper products however…by simple dint of the fact they they seem to be in every single public restroom I enter. The Koch bros seem to have mastered the deep capture in that regard.

  3. Z Says:

    I don't need to try your experiment to know that it will end up as you say; my own similarly minimal exposure to Fox News has made it clear that the propaganda is not just in the clips outrageous enough to be mocked by John Stewart or Crooks and Liars.

    What worries me is that a LACK of exposure to Fox News renders people like me hopelessly naive when we think about how to deal with the people who are glued to this network and subscribe to every meme that it promotes in turn, month after month, year after year.

    We on the sane wing often lose track, I think, of just how futile it would be for any less-intensive de-programming initiative to get these people back to something resembling reality. Matt Taibbi touched on this a little bit in "Jesus Made Me Puke" (Google it), but really the religious retreat he describes is effectively replicated by Fox News, or the right wing blogosphere, or talk radio, or any manifestation of the echo chamber, maybe even the more "intellectual" sections of it like David Brooks or the Wall Street Journal.

    Winning over a large number of conservative voters won't be done by fighting them on any of this ground, in my opinion. It will largely be done the way it has been for the last several years: by losing enough elections to give America a front row seat to what happens when these people are in charge.

    In conclusion, sunshine and rainbows.

  4. Mike Says:

    Thankfully there's no TV available to subject myself to that treatment but I will gladly revel in your pain.

  5. Jon Says:

    Watching any amount of Fox News makes me feel as if my head will explode at any moment. The feeling is a mixture of pissed off, appalled, offended, scared, etc.

  6. daphne Says:

    Aw, Ed, can't I at least fast forward through the commercials? Or are they an essential part of the FOX experience?

  7. J. Dryden Says:

    @ daphne: Oh, yes, the commercials are essential. Of particular hilarity/creepiness are those on Glenn Beck's show in its twilight hours, when all advertisers with both oars in the water have jumped ship (to mix metaphors), and so you're stuck with a bunch of ads for things that will be essential when (*when*, mind you, not 'if') the end times are upon us. I say such ads are essential because watching Fox News gives me, at least, a sense of rushing headlong into unavoidable cataclysm–it's kamikaze television–we are invited to watch each unfolding crisis with the sense that *this* is the tipping point, *this* is the first domino–*this* is when Shit Goes Down For Good. I suspect the anchors must be forced to listen to Welles's radio broadcast of "War of the Worlds" just to teach them the proper "the Martians are coming and we're all going to die" cadences.

    All of which kind of explains the politics of the viewers–the elderly don't give a shit about next year, since they won't be alive/alert enough to experience it. The apocalyptically-minded, likewise. And if there is no tomorrow, there are no consequences to monstrous beliefs and behavior. Fox News is the Twilight Zone episode "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Monsters_Are_Due_on_Maple_Street) on a national scale. Reason cannot meet, much less match the eruption of bigoted selfishness prompted by panic. Which makes the Doom Countdown of Fox a self-fulfilling prophecy. When the Confederacy was about to fall, Jefferson Davis quipped that its epitaph should read "Died Of A Theory." When our union splits apart or (more likely) descends into the ungovernable mass that is modern Italy, its epitaph should read "Fair And Balanced."

  8. Glen.h Says:

    As an Australian, I can tell you Fox and its parent company are part of a secret conspiracy by Australia to destroy America from within. That's why we sent you Rupert Murdoch (plus we just can't stand the catankerous old git!).

  9. Ben Says:

    I had a roommate over the summer who would watch FOX. The way to maintain your sanity is to shout at the TV and make corrections and cynical remarks. Exhausting, though.

  10. Edward Says:

    I think all of the press is propaganda, but FOX does take things to a new level. Outlets like FOX may be typical of authoritarian movements; I wonder how FOX compares with Nazi propaganda?

    Fair.org does a good job critiquing the U.S. press.

  11. Mr. Prosser Says:

    Find another doctor. You trust a guy to prod your bod that endorses FNC? Ike, find another club and wait for the other pricks to die.

  12. Middle Seaman Says:

    As the official rainer on parades, let me tell you that FNC is not the only employer of made up reality cranking machines. Most of the media is. Try reading the Washington Post and you will realize very fast that doing it too long will make you Martian. Physics, math and history are totally ignored.

    During the 2008 Democratic primaries, the Obama propaganda machine was running full blast with the most absurd statements one can come up with. I was watching with horror how a average intelligence guy with zero experience and little talent becomes a star. So, there you have FNC and Obama, two peas in a pod. God bless America.

  13. anotherbozo Says:

    @Middle Seaman: No.

    Obama does not equal Fox News. I would ask you to produce examples of the "Obama propaganda machine" but I don't want to encourage you. Maybe you'll find another blog that's more to your liking.

    It wasn't Obama's campaign rhetoric that disappointed, vague as it was. It was/is his right-of-center (from any historical perspective) actions.

  14. tacosone Says:

    OMG, yeah, get a new doctor. Or at least get one of these key chain remotes that works on any TV: http://www.thinkgeek.com/gadgets/electronic/9a06/

  15. Southern Beale Says:

    I've long thought Fox News was very cult-like in its operation. I do not frequent establishments that have it on the TV. I've walked out of more than one restaurant when I've seen Fox News on the screen. Frankly, I'm really sick of restaurants putting flat screen TVs everywhere, anyway. It seems to be a growing trend in Nashville — I'm not talking TVs in the bar area, which makes sense, but in the dining area too. Is there not ONE place we can go to get away from the damned box?

    Anyway, I realize a doctor's office is a bit different. I have changed the channel from the "700 Club" at my doctors' office. It used to come on right after The Today Show here and of course the reception staff never paid attention and didn't bother to change it. Time in my OB/GYN's waiting room can run over an hour, she's always getting called away for deliveries and such. So when I saw Pat Robertson on TV I said no way. I asked if anyone in the waiting room minded if we changed the channel and everyone said, "No! PLEASE! Pretty please change it! I didn't know you could DO that!" I asked the receptionist to change the channel and we got Rachel Ray instead of Pat Robertson. Big improvement.

    I wonder what the response would be in Ed's doctors' waiting room if he asked if it could be changed?

    Another time at my eye doctor's office — they are in Brentwood, a real wingnutty Nashville suburb — the TV was on Fox News and I told the receptionist I'd be waiting outside as I didn't think being subjected to GOP propaganda should be part of my annual eye exam. That was a couple years ago but every time I've been back the TV has played some doctors' video about healthy eyecare.

    I don't know that my complaint had anything to do with that – they're probably getting big bucks airing that stupid eyecare video. I just don't believe in going through life afraid to speak up because it might hurt someone's fee-fees. Going to the doctor, or a restaurant, or a sandwich shop, or the auto repair place should not be opportunities for Republican Party brainwashing. And even if speaking up doesn't change a thing, it lets people know that there are other people out there with different viewpoints who don't appreciate having theirs forced down them, and it also might make you feel better.

    /rant

    All of which was a long preamble to this Drop Fox petition I just saw. Again, it might not do anything but it might make you feel better than doing nothing.

  16. pagodat Says:

    Fox Business Channel is, I think, even more unwatchable. Just like Rupert had to pay cable systems to carry FNC in the 1990s to get the channel off the ground, nowadays he apparently pays stores in heavily trafficked places to put up TVs constantly showing Fox Business.

    One of the lucky recipients is a Hudson News newsstand/convenience store in Penn Station in NYC, and I won't even go there anymore after the last time, when a few minutes of Fox Business subjected me not only to the anchorman matter-of-factly repeating the "tax cuts equals job growth" formulation several times as though it were universally accepted truth, but also to a bit of a stock market/investing panel discussion in which one of the panelists was a professional wrestler. I'm not even making this up. Fox Business is so inane that it makes CNBC seem thoughtful and erudite by comparison.

  17. Tommy Says:

    I watched 5 minutes of O'Reilly yesterday waiting to see the second half of the Jon Stewart interview. I needed a shower and a cold compress afterward.

  18. xynzee Says:

    Is Fox the Khmer Rouge?

    Personally I have a bit more respect for the KR and Pol Pot. Many of them honestly thought they were trying to "free" their people from their programming and shackles of pre- and post European colonisation. Albeit the whole thing went south for everyone concerned.
    FNC is trying to enslave its viewers.

    As I put up with enough of Uncle Rupe's drivel via Fox Sports down here (even with the sound off I want to throw something through the screens), as to go anywhere near your your challenge.

    @GlenH: Thank God Packer the Elder finally carked it, and Jimmy being the F'wit that he is went Crown on the empire. At least some of the media is freed up. Having said that, The Australian seems to offer the most content with its content. Sadly Aussies are easy to corral. All you have to do is keep the beer cold, snags on the barbie and footy on the TV and they're yours. And if you want to take the country you've got 4 mins. every November.

    @Beale: love the idea. Sometimes kicking them in the "market", is the only thing that makes them take notice.

  19. John Says:

    Honestly, really only half of the problem is Fox itself.

    In the end, there is a single, unescapable fact that, for some reason, most Americans seem to tune out:

    Media organizations are businesses.

    They do not exist to tell you the truth, they exist to make money. They are just like any other company. They are not beholden to facts and reality, they are beholden to the bottom line. They make money by selling ad space, and they sell ad space based on viewer numbers and demographics. Therefore their primary interest is not in giving you the truth, but in giving you whatever will keep you watching. This is true of all for-profit media outlets.

    This is why all teevee media outlets have gotten more extreme over time. Because being extreme and presenting only what your audience wants to hear is the way to make money.

    Fox didn't drop Beck because they thought he was batshit insane, they dropped him because he was becoming unprofitable, because advertisers would no longer buy ad space during his slot.

    The number one question that everyone in modern America should ask, any time they are presented with information from a business origin, is "How are you working this to make money?" Accept nothing for granted, question everything, because morality and ethics are entirely secondary to profit. That's the definition of The Profit Motive.

  20. c u n d gulag Says:

    Watch FOX?
    I'd sooner put my privates in a blender and put it on frappe.

    If PRAVDA, TASS, or Izvestia, were as good at propaganda as FOX is, you'd be reading this in Russian.
    Well, no you wouldn't, because there'd be no such thing as a Liberal website.

  21. Da Moose Says:

    After watching Faux News for more than ten minutes, I always conclude that it is time to repeal the First Amendment. Knowing that this is wrong, I change the channel to the Real House Wives of Orange County to contemplate the merits of Amendment IV relative to excessive consumer possessions. Then, I turn the TV off and begin my daily ritual of self-wounding my inner thigh with a diamond studded butter knife.

  22. Southern Beale Says:

    @Da Moose:

    Honestly you just nailed me. I'm so so SO sick of political discourse, right and left. When I start cooking dinner around 4 or 5 pm I probably *should* watch MSNBC but I'm so brain dead I invariably tune in to Bravo to watch Real Housewives reruns.

    Except for the RHNJ franchise. Those women are too tacky for words. Even Fox News has to be better than those New Jersey tarts.

  23. Vinny Says:

    @Middle

    Nowhere in the article did it say that FNC was the only employer of made up reality cranking machines. That sentence was kind of nonsensical but I think I know what you meant.
    Give some examples of how reading the Washington Post will make you a martian, and some examples of the Obama propaganda machine running full blast would be helpful.
    What's your definition of average intelligence? Being President of the Harvard Law Review?
    What's your definition of zero experience? Three terms in the Illinois Senate.? Serving in the US Senate?

  24. evrenseven Says:

    I'd rather watch my parents fuck.

  25. HoosierPoli Says:

    Rush Limbaugh for eight hours a day every day for thirty years = this country's political discourse.

    Fox WISHES they could destroy minds as effectively as that toad.

  26. Nick Says:

    I actually watched five hours of various FOX shows (not the pundits, thank Christ–if I'd had to sit and watch Beck and O'Reilly for that long I'd have shot myself) for my senior term paper comparing political and observational bias in the media, specifically across CNN, MSNBC, and FOX. So I had to watch five hours of what those networks termed news coverage. CNN was braindead (except for Wolf Blitzer), FOX was ridiculously and transparently slanted (except for Shepard Smith), and MSNBC was an even mix of the two (it was at the time of the John Edwards sex scandal, and MSNBC's response was basically to call Elizabeth Edwards a cold, unfeeling bitch who drove poor John away; this led into a story about Jon and Kate Plus 8).

    FOX takes a lot of shit, and deservedly so, but to be honest the alternatives really aren't any better. And in FOX's defense, at the times where they stop blasting their agenda and actually report a story, they're quite good.

  27. mothra Says:

    My brother-in-law and my sister have Fox on 24/7 on televisions in their bedroom and living room. My brother-in-law spends the entirety of his days in his bedroom in front of the computer, with Fox on in the background; my sister uses it as background noise for her daily activities. When I go over I ask them if they enjoy the brainwashing. They claim that they view it as entertainment, but given their political views, I'm not buying it.

    Biggest irony? My sister had to wait until she qualified for Medicare to get attention for swollen painful legs. Her daughter, my niece has medical problems for which my sister has to help her out financially. But when I suggest that we need single-payer healthcare in this country, out come the Fox News talking points. Gah.

  28. leon Says:

    I would guess that if the health and well being of his patients were your doctor's highest priority, he would turn off the Faux News stat. If you disagree with their drivel, then watching it causes heightened blood pressure. If you agree with them, then their just adding to your paranoid worldview (thereby increasing anxiety). My prescription would be a new doctor.

  29. leon Says:

    (dang, I gotta start proofing my work: "they're" just adding to your paranoid worldview)

  30. Southern Beale Says:

    Apparently the Secret Service can't handle monitoring Fox News either. God I hope this link works because it's freaking hilarious.

  31. harmfulguy Says:

    A couple of years ago, I got stuck during my mother's heart surgery in a waiting room with "Fox & Friends" playing. This is why I won't go to a doctor's office or a hospital without a TV-B-Gone, albeit one that I built myself. (I'm not going to risk the wrath of spam filters by linking the kit too, but it's sold by Adafruit Industries.)

  32. eau Says:

    Highly observant long-time readers are probably beginning to notice that every time Ed watches FOX News he ends up posting about himself in the third person.

  33. cromartie Says:

    I'd rather watch my parents fuck

    I've watched your parents fuck. I'd rather watch Fox News. Less back hair.

  34. Robet Says:

    That reminded me of when I read "Atlas Shrugged" a few years ago. Yes, I know, what was I thinking? Even though I was a grown-up with a fully gelled brain, it . . . did things to me. If I'd gotten a dose of that in college, whooo. I still call it the Necronomicon of political fiction.

    And no, I'm not going to watch Fox. Not gonna do it.

  35. Radical Scientist Says:

    I spent one term at the University of Havana, which included a class that was essentially Cuban poli-sci for foreign students,* taught by a congenial old-guard party member. At one point, we were discussing the advent of the internet or something, and he said something off the cuff that stuck with me. It went something like this:

    "You see, we used to rely on the Soviet method for propaganda. You keep tight control of the news, make sure nothing bad ever makes it into the papers. But this didn't work–the people know you're holding back, so they don't trust the state media. They go to word of mouth, rumors, underground publications. Sometimes the story that gets passed around is even worse than the one you were trying to cover up. So in the 90's we switched to the American model of propaganda. We just fill the news with so much detail that people feel informed just hearing it, and they don't bother to see if it's not all true, or if there's more to the story. This works much better."

    Watching Fox always reminds me of that. It's filled with so much detail, just enough of which is based in fact, that it's easy to imagine that the people on air actually know what they're talking about. They've mastered slipping in little jabs of insanity by acting as if everyone already knows that taxes are inherently unfair, or Obama might be a secret islamo-fascist-atheist-socialist, or whatever. If you watch nothing else, and don't already have the perspective to know that it's an insane parody of the world, you wouldn't feel underinformed. You'd be so barraged with detail (and insinuations that other news sources are the ones who can't be trusted) that you'd feel like you had all the news you need, and could go on with your life without ever looking anywhere else. Which, as near as I can tell, is exactly what happens.

    *Yes, it was slanted as hell, but all the info I ever bothered to double-check was factually correct. They just left everything else out. See how this works?

  36. SaminMpls Says:

    Ed,

    A few years ago I read Lisa Wedeen's Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria for a class on repression and democracy in the world: http://j.mp/jCfqh9

    I would be very interested on your take, because from what I remember she found that the constant bombardment of rhetoric produced by the Assad regime failed to engineer support for the regime and in some ways underminds its own authority/ The level of political repression there is obviously higher and more overt than anything we've seen here since WWII but it doesn't serve to bolster support for the Assad regime. She found this subtext showing up in print media, probably because, just like the Tea Party, you can only hype up attendance at events for so long before the event itself becomes a punchline. This doesn't matter all that much to the Assad's, who really only care about selling the Us vs. The World dynamic.

    FoxNews and the like seem to me to be about inclusion. For White "Christians" who wish to collectively dominate other groups (both inside and outside of the nation) the rhetoric on Fox is as much an invitation to participate in their/your/our own manipulation of the nation than it is to reinforce existing beliefs or to actually provide information.

    The reason I am tying thsee two flavors of propaganda together: they limit the vision people have of the outside world and of the other. A media outlet like Fox and the Assad regime both desperately want to be able to explain the world as small; with easy moral answers for anyone with the will to dominate others.

    What I do not think as that Fox viewers are being duped. I simply do not believe that they are even remotely interested in what is or is not true. Every conservative I know with the TV on at work watches CNBC almost exclusively and none of them watch as much Fox as I do.

  37. Arslan Amirkhan Says:

    Fox does have cult like qualities in the sense that they sort of develop these neologisms depending on the outrage of the week, and when they pop up somewhere in a debate the Fox-viewer just assumes everybody knows what they are talking about(including himself). Feel free to add to this list of words Fox viewers throw around, with sinister connotations.

    Flip-flopper(John Kerry)
    Elitist(meaning rich person who doesn't fund them or who espouses liberal social values)
    ACORN(yes, ACORN is a real organization, but the way Fox viewers use it we should imagine ranks of heavily armed stormtroopers)
    Terrorist = Muslim = Terrorist
    Racist = person who challenges the idea that white conservatives fixed racism in 1964.
    Socialist/Communist/Fascist = terms to describe anyone they dont' like.
    Community organizer/organizing = Communism, Red Terror
    Death panels, self explanatory
    Fiscal Responsibility = I'm full of shit and I have no fucking clue what I'm talking about, nor does my memory or reasoning capacity exceed that of a hamster.

    So any of you who have seen the typical Fox/Tea Party influenced comment on any random blog can probably recognize a post like this: "OH YEAH?! WELL WHY COME THAT MARXIST/SOCIALIST/ISLAMIC/FASCIST RACIST COMMUNITY ORGANIZER BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA SENDING HIS ACORN FASCIST THUGS INTO (insert country or city here) TO DO (insert action here)?!

    News headline: "OBAMA TO SEND RELIEF WORKERS TO (city mentioned in conservative's comment)"

    next comment, by another(or possibly the same) conservative: "WHY THE HELL IS OUR MUSLIM COMMUNITY ORGANIZIER-IN-CHIEF SPENDING MY HARD EARNED TAX MONEY TO HELP A BUNCH OF ILLEGAL ALIENS IN (city), JUST SO THEY CAN ALL WORK FOR ACORN AND VOTE ILLEGALLY TO PASS FASCIST HEALTH CARE WITH DEATH PANELS TO KILL OFF US WHITE PEOPLE AND/OR MAKE US ALL WORK FOR ACORN IN THEIR SALT MINES?!!

  38. Southern Beale Says:

    Jonathan Chait perfectly summarized Fox News in this throw-away post, The Quintessential Fox News Image.

  39. My Says:

    Thy gawn take ur gunz…then they gwine'ter take urrr jaaabz…

  40. Mike Says:

    Arslan: I thought "elitist" meant "college educated / lives on a coast."

  41. uri Says:

    i'd rather not participate in your sick little experiment, dr. mengele.