Pima Community College    Tucson, Arizona
August 21 - September 3, 2003
Volume 48    Issue 1


Fox News a sick parody of journalism

Justyn Dillingham
Aztec Press

For as long as I've been paying attention, I've considered Fox News the funniest channel on the airwaves. I experienced a profound disillusionment when I picked up the newspaper this morning.

I've been convinced for some time that the Fox News Channel is an elaborate put-on, and I admired the crack-brained audacity of the prank. As an extended parody of all the worst impulses of American journalism, it ranks with the greatest works of art of our day, as hilariously obscene as an old Lenny Bruce routine.

And now it turns out that the creators of this monstrosity have no sense of humor! It's like discovering that George Carlin is really a decent, God-fearing fellow who believes in good old-fashioned values.

When political satirist Al Franken decided to call his new book "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right," he probably thought he wouldn't be accused of anything more than redundancy. Instead he got sued for using the phrase "fair and balanced," which FNC claims to have copyrighted in 1995.

My disappointment didn't last long, though. The text of the lawsuit that Fox News filed against the former "Saturday Night Live" writer is about as "fair and balanced" as an issue of Mad magazine. It calls Franken "shrill," "unstable," "intoxicated," and "deranged," as well as a "C-level commentator."

"Franken is neither a journalist nor a television news personality," booms the lawsuit. (Note the clear distinction being made between the two.) "He is not a well-respected voice in American politics." What was he supposed to do, run for Congress? Are they familiar with the concept of satire? It's very close to what they do, except that it's intended to be funny.

Franken's "intent is clear - to exploit Fox News' trademark, confuse the public as to the origins of the book and, accordingly, boost sales of the book." They sure have a funny way of discouraging people to buy a book: this one shot from No. 489 to 4 in sales on within 24 hours of the lawsuit.

Franken may sell more books, but this lawsuit is still going to make him look bad. In a few weeks, when everyone's sick of hearing about it, there'll be a lot of grumbling about how he's just grandstanding, using this lawsuit to boost his own name and ego.

When it comes to egotistical grandstanding, no one beats Bill O'Reilly, best-selling author of the book that caused all this fuss in the first place: "The O'Reilly Factor: The Good, the Bad, and the Completely Ridiculous in American Life," in which the One Honest Man On Television boldly flies in the face of convention as he proclaims his dislike of onion potato chips and declares his love of The Doors ("the best hard rock band ever"). Take that, liberal America!

Hard-working Americans have taken Uncle Bill to their hearts because he symbolizes a classic archetype: the cranky old relative who insists on giving you all the details of his recent operation over Thanksgiving dinner and shouts "Now hold on a minute!" whenever anyone else tries to speak.

Since the cover of Franken's book is apparently a parody of the cover of O'Reilly's, the lawsuit continues, it is "likely to cause confusion among the public about whether Fox News has authorized or endorsed the book and about whether Franken is affiliated with FNC."

Franken's real mistake was to try to parody something that's already a parody of a parody. The other cable news channels aren't any more truthful than FN; they just aren't as loud, gauche and obnoxious about their smarmy, bogus devotion to the truth.

"We report, you decide!" an announcer intones dozens of times a day, in between a cast of "television news personalities" (not "journalists") telling you what you should decide.

You get the facts on Fox News, all right. It's just that they're so surrounded by calumnies and lies, deliberate falsifications and lazy generalities, questionable reports and gaping information holes, that they're really hard to pick out. Perhaps that's what they mean by "fair and balanced" - to be fair, you ought to tell what isn't true as well as what is.

The most dangerous reaction to this channel would be to take it seriously. When we see newsreel footage of Adolf Hitler shouting and carrying on, our first impulse is to laugh. How could anyone take this corny old schmuck seriously?

Yet people did take him seriously. World War II happened because a couple of Germans looked at each other during a speech one day and said, "You know, I don't agree with everything he says, but he makes some very good points..."

What if they'd just jeered him off the stage instead? Fox News has reached the point where it's going to take a lot of hecklers to shame it into turning off its nonstop flood of lies and propaganda.

Franken may not have intended to take his crusade against "lies and the lying liars who tell them" any further than the printed page, but he may find himself defending it in court. If that happens, we should all be there cheering him on, because truth is one of the few causes left in this world that's worth fighting for.