Saturday, November 01, 2003

Faux News = Dumbing it Down for the Know Nothings

It's widely known, I believe, that USAToday is written to a sixth grade reading level (we laugh about it at work every day - I work for an educational publisher). Turns out Faux is carefully designed to appeal to dimwits and cretins as well, according to an interesting letter from a former Faux employee posted at Poynter Online:

As a former editor at Foxnews.com -- and therefore clearly a disgruntled ex-employee -- let me just say that the right-wing bias was there in the newsroom, up-front and obvious, from the day a certain executive editor was sent down from the channel to bring us in line with their coverage. His first directive to us: Seek out stories that cater to angry, middle-aged white men who listen to talk radio and yell at their televisions. (Oh, how I'd love to stick quotation marks around what is nearly a direct quote.)

What followed was a dumbing-down of what had been an ambitious and talented news operation. Stories could be no more than 1,000 words, then 800 (I heard it was reduced further after I left, in March 2001). More and more effort was devoted to adapting FNC "scripts" into Web stories, which meant we were essentially correcting the errors of FNC "reporters" who couldn't be bothered to get the facts.

To me, FNC reporters' laziness was the worst part of the bias. It wasn't that they were toeing some political line (though of course they were; see the embarrassing series on property rights from 2000), it was that the facts of a story just didn't matter at all. The idea was to get those viewers out of their seats, screaming at the TV, the politicians, the liberals -- whoever -- simply by running a provocative story.

Most of the success of Faux and the duckspeakers of talk radio and the right wing media is that they just scream, over and over, that liberals are traitors, liberal ideas are traitorous, liberals are out to destroy America, etc. Evidently the people who listen to this garbage want to be spoon fed handy bits of information that they can then spit out whenever provoked (check out Orwell's discussion of duckspeak in his appendix to Nineteen Eighty-Four sometime - the idea of duckspeak was that Party members would be able to always "quack out" the right responses automatically). One of the big differences - perhaps the defining difference - between liberals and the loony right is that liberals realize that issues are complex, shades of gray, and need to be discussed and studied. Right wingers like their world simple and stupid - black and white. Unfortunately, the truth is very often shades of grey, and people listening to the quacking of Faux or the quacking of Rush are being denied the opportunity to decide on their own. But of course they don't want that opportunity. It's hard to think. They want to live like animals. And we all know what happened at Animal Farm, don't we?

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