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November 30, 2010 / Dan Whipple

Off topic: In defense of Fox News

Me on the gymnasticon watching Fox News

Me on the gymnasticon watching Fox News

My personal acquaintance with Fox News ends at the gym, where I was forced to watch it, with the sound off, while I sweated through an hour on the arc trainer four times a week. I mean, hey, it was that or Judge Judy. Nobody can watch that much Judge Judy. Then we moved to Kenya, where we are Fox-less (and CNN-less and MSNBC-less, and so on).

I’ve never seen a full program of Bill O’Reilly, or Glenn Beck, or Chris Wallace or any of the other incendiary personalities who inflame the national debate. However, it is impossible to go through life without absorbing some of this contrarian culture. As I said, I watched it at the gym with the sound off, but it’s remarkable how much you can absorb just from the news crawl, pull-out quotes and poster headlines that scream from Fox’s studios.

I occasionally read the Huffington Post jeremiads against the network, whose authors seem convinced that pointing out the contradictory positions, illogical arguments, and occasional faked news item is going to convince the network’s viewers that they aren’t getting the straight scoop.

Yeah. That’ll work.

Unlike HuffPost, though, I have come to praise Fox, not to bury it.

Not too many years ago, say around the time of George the First, whose New England belligerence we now see through a gauzy haze of fond nostalgia, American political thought ranged the spectrum from A to B. Gerry Ford to Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan to George the First. They stir the blood like Rutherford Hayes to James Garfield to Chester Arthur to Grover Cleveland.

Since Fox has come along, though, they have expanded dramatically the policies that may be seriously considered in the American political milieu. They have moved the goalposts. Even as recently as 1990, it would have been political suicide for any American politician—Democrat or Republican—to argue that the U.S. government should endorse and practice torture, that people should be put in jail indefinitely without trial, then tried in secret, or in military courts, that people should be held without habeas corpus, that we should spy on our own citizens.

But now, thanks in large part to Fox News’s eager support of these kinds of policies, they have become part of the political debate in America. I won’t call them mainstream, because I don’t believe they are, but they are in the mix, something that couldn’t have happened less than 20 years ago. Fox deserves a lot of the credit for this goalpost movement (or blame, if you prefer). Then they have the brass to call people in the center and left “Nazis.”

But all this expansion of the spectrum has occurred on the starboard tack. The left is stuck talking about same old stuff. Sure, they’re opposed to torture, but how about agitating for the torturers to be arrested and sent to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for war crimes? Not a peep. When the Obama health care reforms were being debated, it took the left six or eight seconds to quit on universal health care coverage (which, unlike torture, actually achieves its goals). Folded like a two-seven off-suit.

I’m not saying that these things are necessarily politically realistic. But neither were the glorification of torture, forced renditions, and imprisonment without trial just a few short years ago. I’m talking about moving the goalposts at the other end of the field.

The only group I know that has both the intelligence, showmanship and courage to move the boundaries of the debate is Greenpeace. But the other environmental groups leave them out there alone shivering in the cold.

The American left secretly believes most Americans agree with Fox News and its obliterati. This isn’t right. There are some who do, of course. It’s also probably true that most Americans don’t believe in free universal health care. That’s not the point. The idea is to expand the list of alternatives.

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