Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Can Fox News make you thick and thin at the same time?

It seemed like any other afternoon. But Andrea Tantaros shocked a nation when she became the week’s second news anchor to be struck down by NAFS.

Tantaros, co-host of Fox News show The Five made a light comment amid the gentle right-wing repartee. Amongst the usual casual fare, this time about the poor living off food stamps, she said:  “I should try it because, do you know how fabulous I'd look? I mean, the camera adds ten pounds. It really does. I would be looking great.”

But as the condition known as NAFS set in, it prevents her from justifying her alarming comment. Instead, it sounds as if she has decided food stamps are a new slimming plan for masochists. NAFS, or News Anchor Forgetfulness Syndrome (geddit?) freezes neurons like a snowman’s knackers - right at the moment a person should explain comments... comments which, on their own, sound like something uttered by things in your most shiver-soaked nightmares.

The reaction? What do you expect? Twitter, to begin with, lit up with the ferocity of a Hammer film lynch mob. Women’s site Jezebel said she deserved the heartless demon-lady award, saying of Tantaros “she giggled. She fucking giggled at the thought of slumming it that hard.”

Luckily, this cruel bout of NAFS later released its grip on Tantaros’ mind, and she used Twitter to explain what she was saying: “Food stamps were sold as a fitness plan to "look great" by our liberal, dense government - remember?”

She is actually right – bizarrely enough, there is an obscure radio advert which says someone looks great because they have been on the food stamps plan. Some might needlessly complicate the matter – saying perhaps she should have well, you know, made reference to the largely unnoticed advert to explain what she meant. Or maybe that there is a difference between “looking great” and losing weight. Thankfully, as the argument raged on, her very adult use of capitals on Twitter meant everyone could just SHUT UP.

Unfortunately NAFS affected another Foxreporter the same week. In this case, one brave news anchor forgot to reveal hitherto unknown information – this time to justify a seemingly sexist comment.

Brian Kilmeade said to a caller, when they asked how Fox assembled its news team, that they opened a Victoria's Secret catalogue, and then checked if they could talk and went to college.

NAFS stopped Kilmeade from explaining himself, halting his many quick-witted neurons from justifying what he said. What people didn’t know was that a fellow anchor, Kimberly Guilfoyle, actually was a Victoria’s Secret model years ago. Luckily, this small missing piece of information somehow found its way into the papers in the next couple of days. Some might say it was coincidence, and that reporters happened to look into something on the back of Kilmeade’s bonkers comment – that perhaps he knew nothing about Guilfoyle. Some might say we don’t need to know anything like this about Guilfoyle herself, and that the past is the past. Even more might say was that even if Kilmeade was armed with this information, and explained it on air, what he said was sexist. I would say that these jelly-legged girly-men don’t appreciate the important house-style of Fox punditry, or appreciate how NAF is triggered.

NAFS - the cause

So how does my not-at-all fictional NAFS come about? I think it is from the ongoing stresses Fox presenters tirelessly endure, to bring people the best in 24-hour punditry. Punditry means you have to have some sort of opinion, and at Fox it may well mean you have to run this in line with a memo sent down by Fox management, who clearly want the best for their media teams, and to guide them in the kindest way that they can. The writer of Flat Earth News, Nick Davies, highlights one which said everyone had to refer to the “political courage and practical cunning” of the Bush administration throughout one particular day. I’m sure that, caught in amongst all these news stories you have to report on, this particular insight is easy to forget. But the memo is a great way of getting people to remember what’s important. And fun too: like a news version of Balls of Steel.

And an additional stress will have been caused by the mean and nasty things being said about everyone at Fox News. All these “studies” by “academics” and their “facts.” In one of these, the University of Maryland ran a survey on the channel’s viewers to find out the effects of the channel on its audience back in 2004. It said that 67 per cent of respondents thought Saddam Hussein had ties with Al Quaeda – as opposed to 56 per cent at CBS, 49 at NBC, and 16 per cent who just listened to NPR (formerly National Public Radio). Thirty-three percent of Fox viewers had thought Iraq had WMD, when just 11 percent of radio listeners thought this was the case. Meanwhile 35 per cent of Fox fans thought the world wanted the USA to have its war with Iraq, as opposed to 5 per cent NPR.

Equally, they need to deal with mixed and totally unfair attacks on their channel which actually say it makes people thick. These allegations followed two tests of people’s knowledge conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University. Although researcher Prof. Dan Cassino stepped in to rebuff some interpretations of his findings, many of which had said that Fox News makes people stupid, his mincing of words, well, make it worse:
“Overall, Fox viewers were not better or worse than the average respondent at answering the questions. That said, and all salient variables being geekily controlled for, there was not merely a zero effect but a negative effect of Fox News on viewers' ability to answer the questions; meaning that Fox viewers would have done better had they been using almost any other news source, or no news source at all. Results for the similarly partisan MSNBC were... well, similar.”(my italics)

Quickly Fox responded. “Considering FDU's undergraduate school is ranked as one of the worst in the country, we suggest the school invest in improving its weak academic program instead of spending money on frivolous polling – their student body does not deserve to be so ill-informed.” Yay Fox! You hit that professor – and about 12,000 students who had nothing to do with the research – where it hurts. And well done on striking back using a sound, reasoned argument.

But things have more recently been made worse by a self professed “mole” called Joe Muto, who had hidden amongst the rank and file at Fox, and stepped forward with his own shocking “opinion”. I’m sure some might say he was on some sort of Democratic mission to destroy the channel, drunk on West Wing box sets. “The people at Fox are not stupid,” he said to the Huffington Post. “They know when they have Dick Morris or one of these other pundits on predicting a landslide victory for Romney, the people behind the scenes know that it's all bluster. They know that this is sort of an entertainment. They know that a lot of these people are just hucksters ... we producers know that this is all a farce. The reason we don't step in and give a reality check to our audience is because that's terrible for ratings.”

Nonsense. How could I possibly share conclusions with this man? I mean, like I told that survey, Romney won... didn’t he?

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