Yes, it's true. Over the weekend, one of the interchangeable blond anchors on Fox and Friends reported that, despite the WWII memorial being closed during the government shutdown, "some things are continuing to be funded . . . President Obama has offered to pay out of his own pocket for the Museum of Muslim Culture." This little nugget of misinformation was delivered as a pre-commercial teaser promoting an upcoming interview with RNC chairman Reince Priebus. Most likely during the break, a standby blone lady working from a crimson bunker at the Fox castle did some fact-checking and discovered the source for this tip: Satirical news blog National Report.
While many of you lefties in the blogosphere see this as another straw on the broken camel's back of Fox News credibility, for me it only reinforces my sincere, unironic love for the cable-news behemoth.
I watch more Fox News than anyone I know. True, most of my friends are liberals, and I work as an arts reporter, a scene that doesn't generate too many crew-cut conservatives (apologies to Moe Tucker and Vincent Gallo). But I also have a family of Bush-loving Republicans back home in Iowa -- and I still have a more intimate relationship with Bill O'Reilly and Greta Van Susteren than any of them.
I am a nihilist who has almost no political conviction. I don't vote, and I don't get emotional about legislative debates. I compulsively watch Fox News for just one reason: my childish love of comedy.
More than just giving inspiration to Jon Stewart, Colbert and countless hours of SNL sketches, Fox News is funny on its own terms. The world seen through the lens of Sean Hannity and Steve Doocy is a magical playground of heroes and villains, where morals have a clear fundamentalism and complex issues can be explained away with simple catchphrases and flashy graphics. To steep yourself for hours in the warm bathtub of the "fair and balanced" network (as I often do) is like entering the dreams of an obese child on propofol. Liberals may have the market cornered on political-themed comedy, but a network like MSNBC will always remain a generic to the name-brand cartoon network that is Fox News.
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"Ah, but didn't you say you "unironically" love Fox News," you note. It's true that since I adore the 24-hour news station for the exact opposite of what it attempts to be -- an unbiased collection of thoughtful, informed commentators -- there is an irony in the context of my affection for them. But the love itself is free of any paradox or hipster wink.
Comedians like Patton Oswalt or Bill Maher may say they "love" Fox News. And many of my comedy-nerd friends will fall in line with the same sentiment: They get a chuckle out of how monstrously backward the whole thing is. Their love of Fox News is ironic, because at the core of that love is a hatred toward it. They want it to go away, and I do not.
"But doesn't it make you angry that so many people take it seriously?" is their inevitable follow-up comment whenever there's a discussion of Fox News. And I always respond that not only do I not mind that this all-American product consistently destroys CNN and MSNBC in the ratings, I think it's fantastic. (Again, this has nothing to do with my political leanings -- which do not exist.) If no one watched Fox News, then it would still be funny, but only as funny as the methadone addict shouting "Princess mustard stole my legs!" outside my office window.
The fact that Rupert Murdoch's televised carnival has so much power is the crux of what I find so appealing about it. While I could, and often do, get a similar fix from watching any of the dozens of comedians that lampoon Fox News, often I'd rather go for the pure, uncut stuff. My most consistent grievance with a majority of satirists is that they go too far with the caricatures they create, making it a little too on-the-nose and draining all the blood out of just how fucking weird the subject is.
The exact opposite happened when National Report did its poor-man's-Onion story on Obama personally funding the International Museum of Muslim Cultures. The satire was so deadpan, it's almost forgivable that Fox's Anna Kooiman thought it was a genuinely juicy piece of talking-points gossip. (Note: While I agree this was a monumentally stupid mistake worthy of humiliation and ridicule, the journalist in me sympathizes with Ms. Kooiman. Factual errors happen. Even the New York Times can't seem to get Daft Punk's name right.)
With this now-viral blunder, Fox News has gone from being the biggest influence on political satire to becoming the tail-swallowing embodiment of it. It is literally creating satire in real time, reporting on it and being it in the same moment. If any of you art students out there are looking for a thesis subject on 21st century postmodern performance art in political media, here's your chance!
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For more comedy commentary, follow me on Twitter at @JosiahMHesse.