The Fox News Challenge

jon_stewart_fox_newsOver the past week, I set out to do something I’ve never done before. I don’t watch the news that much, as I’m a bustling college student drowning in labs and English papers. Nevertheless, I constantly see conservatives urging others to watch Fox News, for countless reasons. Because Bill O’Reilly “tells it like it is,” or because Sean Hannity is “the most honest man in reporting.” A week ago,  I was reading a political discussion (on Facebook, of all places), and this suggestion came up. So, I took up the task. Over the last week, I cut out the networks I typically watch (CNN, MSNBC, Comedy Central’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and the Colbert Report), and replaced them all with one network: Fox News.

I’m not entirely sure what my goal was in this escapade, so I went in with an open mind, not drawing any generalizations or predictions about the network. I called this adventure the Fox News Challenge. I’ll be honest: I saw some positive things, and some negative things. I was surprised on both ends of the spectrum, and I actually learned a few things about the way we digest information. It was an interesting experience, and it gave me a brief glimpse into how many conservatives get their political facts and opinions. So without further ado, I present to you the five days of the Fox News Challenge. I watched one show each day, and graded them based on content, bipartisanship, and overall professionalism. Let’s get right to it, shall we?

Day One

red_eye logoUnfortunately, the Fox News Challenge had a rocky and disappointing start. The first day of the challenge took place last Saturday (February 16th). I found about an hour to spare late that night and tuned into a program called Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld. Upon first glance, I saw several young (albeit new and unfamiliar) faces, and got excited. Here was a group of people not that far from my age, who might offer a nice, reasonable approach to the issues. I have never been more wrong in my life.

Red Eye, at least from what I gathered, is the Fox News attempt at a competitor to The Daily Show. It’s full of comedic references (although most of them were either not funny or disrespectful), which come in the form of useless video clips inserted into discussions. These are mostly videos of pets doing silly things, which still provide no political or logical commentary on any subject. I found Red Eye to be both idiotic and a colossal waste of time. It is so ridiculously partisan that I didn’t even make it all the way through the program. Red Eye makes extreme insinuations with “innocent” video clips, and provides no comedic merit at all. Because of this, Red Eye earned a disappointing F on the Fox News Challenge report card. At the end of day one, I found myself wondering why Fox News continues to produce this horrendous spectacle.

Day Two

america-live-500x500Day two was much better than day one. I was unable to watch anything on Sunday, as I was far too busy, so day two took place on Monday, February 18th. I tuned into America Live with Megyn Kelly for a half hour, and I actually got some interesting news during that time. It was nice to see Fox News actually cover news, considering the level of political fanaticism typically associated with the network. Megyn covered the trial of Oscar Pistorius, and I got some new details on the story. And that’s where the actual news ended.

She proceeded to waste ten minutes on a ridiculous story about how the press wasn’t allowed to follow President Obama as he played golf with Tiger Woods. I found this to be pointless, childish, and a definitive example of useless journalism. So the press wasn’t allowed in as Obama played a few holes of golf with Tiger Woods. Who cares? Why point this out and make a big deal of it? The President is a politician, not a celebrity. If the press is that concerned about what he says to Tiger Woods, they have bigger problems that being barred from a day of golf.

Megyn also interviewed a woman by the name of Suzanna Hupp, a victim of a mass shooting in Texas. Suzanna’s mother and father were killed in the attack, in which an armed man crashed into a diner and began executing random people. At the time, Texas law required a gun owner to leave their firearm in their vehicle, which Suzanna did. She blames the lawmakers for not giving her the ability to defend herself in the shooting, and argues against federal gun control. It was an interesting interview to say the least, although Suzanna did throw out a reference to communism that I don’t think fit the discussion. I did enjoy hearing this point of view, and it reminded me that we need to hear both sides of any issue before we make a decision on how to approach it. For the most part, America Live with Megyn Kelly gets a B+, at least for this episode.

Day Three

hannity-500x500As I continued the Fox News Challenge, I tuned in to Hannity with Sean Hannity on day three (Tuesday, February 19th). Besides having the least creative name I’ve ever heard, the show was full of back-and-forth discussions on several topics. The main topic (as is on most political networks as of late) was the upcoming sequester. Most of the discussion was bolstered by Hannity throwing the blame on Obama for proposing the sequester in the first place, followed by rebuttals from a Fox News contributor and a former Obama economic adviser. It was definitely not a boring segment, and Hannity certainly brings a certain level of passion to his political opinions. At one point, Hannity called Obama a thief, which is the kind of political ridiculousness that I was hoping to avoid during this challenge. But I guess we can’t all be perfect.

On the positive side, Sean Hannity actually conducted a much less political interview that I thoroughly enjoyed. He talked with Len Anderson, an Air Force Staff Sergeant who was injured when an IED went off in Afghanistan.  Len suffered deep tissue damage to his legs, along with a broken eye socket, abdomen wound, a broken left arm, six finger amputations, and more. Anderson had a patrol dog with him at the time, to help find insurgents and IEDs. Once he recovered, the Staff Sergeant was able to adopt the dog (who was named Azza) as a service dog. He had Azza with him throughout the interview, and Hannity asked questions about his injuries as well as the adoption. It was a touching, interesting look at the life of one brave soldier that put his life on the line for this country. I honestly wish every network would cover more stories like this. I wasn’t very fond of the sequester debate, but I applaud Hannity for spotlighting this brave soldier and Azza. Hannity with Sean Hannity earned a B overall, because while Sean does get a bit overzealous at times, he keeps the show interesting.

Day Four

yourworld-500x500Day four (Wednesday, February 20th) was probably one of the most interesting episodes in the Fox News Challenge. Between classes, I had the chance to sit down and watch a show called Your World with Neil Cavuto. I still have mixed feelings on the content of the show, and on Neil himself. In the beginning, Neil gave a mostly fair and balanced view of the issues at hand. However, he had a few guests on the show to talk about these issues, and the guests made the show… well, a little more interesting.

Neil got to the subject of budget cuts and the sequester (if you can’t tell, Fox News is covering this as much as possible), and his guest for the issue was Herman Cain. Throughout the entire segment, it seemed to me that Neil was giving a fair approach, and wasn’t passing all the blame onto Obama as Hannity did. But any time Herman Cain got a chance, he would throw out some comment or idea that pulled the whole show to the far right. Neil just sat there, not looking very satisfied. This happened through several segments and at the end of each one, Neil looked as if he’d bet his entire life savings on a company that just went belly-up.

From these interviews, I gathered two possible reasons for his dissatisfaction, although I can’t quite put my finger on which is the most valid. Neil either doesn’t like that his show is dragged to the far right by his guests, or he wants to take it even further and jump on the “Obama is a Kenyan Muslim communist” train. I’m still unsure which direction he wants to go, but perhaps he is too.

I was disappointed in the way Neil covered some stories, and this disappointment further contributed to the growing idea the Fox News spends too much time on stories that aren’t worthy of the airtime they’re given. For example, Neil discussed Jesse Jackson Jr., who pleaded guilty to using campaign money on himself, and now awaits sentencing. This is an interesting topic, but Neil went the wrong way with it. Instead of conferring with his guest (whose name and profession escape me) about the possible sentence, Neil decided to focus entirely on the fact that other media outlets like MSNBC weren’t covering this story. He literally gave no input on how Jackson should be sentenced, or what this means for campaign finance reform in the future.

palin-shrugI found myself questioning this approach deeply. Is this what constitutes as news now? To say, “well, this happened, but the other guys aren’t showing it on their network because it makes a liberal look bad”? This is just back-and-forth finger pointing, not news. Why should anyone care what some other network is or isn’t talking about? If they cared that much, they’d probably be watching the other network, and not yours. Neil is preaching to the choir with these statements, and they serve no purpose.

I did learn that it’s not all gloomy when it comes to Your World, as Neil actually talked about something interesting. John McCain, who held a town hall-type meeting with average voters in Arizona, was called out on immigration reform. A man in the audience (as well as countless others) asked questions about the plans to build a wall, and said that McCain and other politicians hadn’t delivered on this promise. This was a story that I had not heard about at all, so I actually got to learn something new. Granted, McCain just shot down the man’s questions and called him a jerk, but I suppose that’s just good ol’ John.

BSTo close out the show, Cavuto has a segment called “The B.S. Thought of the Day,” which I found to be both ironic and hypocritical. He suggested that Obama is getting a free pass on the rise in gas prices. Neil went on to say that the President isn’t being scrutinized at all, and compared this to the criticism that Bush got over gas prices. I think it’s fair to say that if you claim someone isn’t being scrutinized, and then scrutinize them in the next sentence, your argument is completely devoid of any validity. You can’t say that Obama is getting a pass, and then talk about how he’s doing a terrible job of lowering gas prices. You just contradicted yourself, and made the entire network look foolish in the process.

I found it interesting and comical that Neil pulled the same “the other guys aren’t being consistent” argument here, claiming that more liberal networks aren’t focusing on the rising gas prices. This is the most pure form of hypocrisy in political discourse, ladies and gentlemen. Neil Cavuto is saying that MSNBC is too easy on Democrats, as if Fox News brought the hammer down on Bush during his eight years as Commander-in-Chief. It doesn’t bother me that he decided to point the finger at liberal media for not calling the President out on gas prices. But if Fox News wants to paint others as unfair, they have to practice what they preach.

Your World with Neil Cavuto was thought-provoking, but far too whiny and partisan for my taste. Neil earned a, mostly because he spent too little time actually discussing the issues and too much time criticizing another network.

Day Five

the-factor-500x500The end is nigh! On the final day of the Fox News Challenge (Thursday, February 21st), I finished homework just in time to tune into perhaps one of the biggest shows on Fox News: The O’Reilly Factor. I’ve seen Bill O’Reilly in debates, discussions, and countless arguments, so I’m familiar with the format and basic motives of his show. I have to say that I wasn’t necessarily surprised by the content of the show, although it was somewhat bipartisan in some areas, which is always nice to see.

Bill opened the show with a discussion about Samuel Betances, who is all over the news for his controversial speeches in the “cultural sensitivity” sessions that he was hired to conduct for federal employees. O’Reilly had Alexis McGill Johnson, Executive Director of the American Values Institute, on the show to debate the morality of the speeches. Bill claims that Betances is forcing liberal policies and ideas onto federal employees, and that the U.S. government is “out of control.” I’d say the government has been out of control for quite some time, but that’s beside the point.

The main argument here rested on the fact that Betances himself is a federal employee, so his salary comes from taxpayers. “I don’t want to pay for that,” O’Reilly complained. While it is partially true, we don’t get to pick and choose which government employees get our tax dollars. By Bill’s logic, I don’t want to pay for my inept mailman because he’s a Tea Bagger, so he shouldn’t be a mailman anymore. It’s an insane idea, and O’Reilly wasted a whole fifteen minutes on it. Face the facts, Bill: we’re never going to agree with every single expenditure of our tax dollars. But we get over it.

He then moved on to the Tiger Woods-Obama-press story that Megyn Kelly covered earlier in the week. He asked viewers if it mattered that Obama played golf with Woods, and his guest went on some incoherent rant about how the Obama administration has roped in more celebrities to spread their agenda than any of Obama’s predecessors. Thankfully this segment only lasted a few short minutes, and didn’t get nearly as much airtime as Kelly gave it.

Buy your ownMoving on, O’Reilly (as is typical of him) covered a story on welfare. Apparently some mother in Pennsylvania may get over $80,000 in welfare for herself and her children. He rattled off a bunch of numbers, talked about childcare, head-start, and other things for which she’s getting government subsidies. I found it interesting, however, that he never discussed why she’s receiving this money, or if she even deserves it.

It’s no secret that O’Reilly attributes much of the federal debt to those living off the government, so it didn’t surprise me that he took this stance. He and other conservatives seem to think that Democrats just want to give handouts to anyone that applies. But as Jon Stewart said in a debate with O’Reilly,

We have already decided, as a society, to take care of people who need help. But nobody is arguing that people with fraudulent claims should get them.”

Despite all that, Bill did make a decent point: living on government programs like welfare tends to make able-bodied people less inclined to work their way out of that dependency. He showed an interview of another woman that’s living off the government, and she talked about the loss of motivation to get out and find a job, because she has everything she needs. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t really thought about that side of the issue, and it was nice to actually learn something.

OscarFinally, Bill covered an actual, relevant piece of news: the Oscar Pistorius trial. He had Megyn Kelly on as a guest to discuss the possibility of Pistorius “getting away” with it. They talked about the lead prosecutor, showed diagrams of how the shooting may have happened, and more. It was interesting, although most of it seemed repetitive after Megyn had discussed it on her show earlier in the week.

The end of the show took an unexpected turn, and completely destroyed any hope I had for liking The O’Reilly Factor. Fox News attempted to conduct an interview with President Obama’s uncle, who is apparently an illegal immigrant (and has been for 43 years). Bill called Onyango Obama “the most famous illegal immigrant in America,” and Fox News sent an interviewer to Onyango’s liquor store to question him. I find it funny that the interviewer asked people on the street what they thought about this. Most of the people said that Obama’s uncle is getting special treatment, as he hasn’t been deported. Because the President totally had control over his legality for the first 39 years he was here.

Onyango apparently has a hearing in September, although O’Reilly thought it was necessary just to point out that one of Obama’s relatives is here illegally. This ties back into my previous points about Fox wasting time on pointless stories that serve no purpose. Bill had no logical reason to harass this man and give this story twelve minutes of airtime, but he did it anyway.

After an hour of The O’Reilly Factor, I found myself having mixed feelings. Bill covered some interesting stories, but he also wasted a fourth of his program on something pointless and stupid. In the end, I gave the show a solid C+. Keep it relevant, Bill.

jonstewartSo there you have it, the five days of the Fox News Challenge. This was an enlightening experience, although I don’t see myself doing something like this again for some time. I learned some new things, both bad and good. Fox News has its ups and downs, but nobody can deny that they’ve built a model that draws conservative viewers (both moderate and radical) by the truckload.

Above all else, I can hold this as a message to any conservatives that may tell me, “watch Fox News, you’ll learn something.” I watched Fox News. For five days. I learned a lot. Now it’s your turn. I survived the Fox News Challenge, so now I offer the chance for anyone to do what I did. Take a similar challenge. Watch a network that offers views mostly opposed to your own, for five days. I learned something through my experience, and you might learn something through yours.

I showed that I can sit down and listen to the other side. Can you?

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