Fox adds a brunette to blonde weaponry against the President
January 18, 2010
There are so many blonde women on the Fox News Channel that I ploughed through the channel's website to get the exact number. Thirty-five. It means that of the 53 women who appear regularly on air for Fox, an unnaturally large proportion - two-thirds - are blonde or near-blonde. Even the non-blondes on Fox News are unmistakably Fox News, because almost all come with the same chiselled chin-lines, big hair, radioactive lip gloss and glowing conservatism.
Fox News, the most profitable, most copied, most opinionated major news network in the world, has reinvented TV news by becoming Foxy News.
But this column is not about blondes, lip gloss or even glamour. It begins with the superficial because the superficial is important in this story, which is about the exercise of power. It is about the obliteration of the old lines - you could say the Botoxing - between news and opinion, objectivity and partisanship, celebrity and journalism, honesty and horse manure.
The narrative begins a year ago, January 20, 2009, the day Senator Barack Obama was inaugurated as President of the United States. On Wednesday, he celebrates his first anniversary as President. It will be a hard day. Fox News will attempt to make it harder.
Obama's arrival in the White House coincided with disasters beyond his control. Even though his first year has been spent in a state of ambitious hyperactivity and crisis-management, the glittering charisma that swept him to power has become increasingly pale and irrelevant. His approval poll ratings have sunk from euphoric to sceptical.
The US debt mountain, to which the Obama Administration is greatly adding, is ominous. The interest burden alone, almost 13 per cent of federal revenues, is bigger than most government programs. By next year national public debt will have almost doubled in three years, approaching 100 per cent of gross national product. This has never happened in peacetime. The debt mountain is casting a shadow as dark as the 10 per cent unemployment rate, which itself is understated.
Obama's anniversary will thus be marked by a furious political struggle in Massachusetts, where the President is making a last-minute dash. He is trying to save the special election tomorrow (US time) to fill the Senate seat of the late Ted Kennedy. Massachusetts is bedrock blue-ribbon Democratic. But even here the Democrats are in trouble.
Defeat in Massachusetts, after defeat and large swings against the Democrats in the two recent governor races, in Virginia and New Jersey, would foreshadow an electoral disaster for the Democrats if the economy does not turn around. In the November mid-term elections, they could lose their comfortable majorities in the House of Reps and even the Senate. This was inconceivable a year ago, when Obamamania gripped Washington.
Fox News will do everything in its power to ensure this is exactly what happens.
Since Obama became President, the network has become even more fervently pro-Republican. It got rid of its single Democrat anchor, Alan Colmes.
It hired Glenn Beck, the closest thing US politics has to a TV evangelist, who preaches into the camera about America's descent into debt and socialism. It hired one of last year's Republican presidential contenders, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, as an anchor and commentator.
Every day, in every way, before an ever-growing audience, Fox News beats the drum of ''socialism''. It is portraying Obama as a two-faced ideologue who is doing dirty deals to get his sweeping left-wing, big-government agenda through Congress, bankrupting the nation in the process.
In this context, last week's announcement that Fox News had hired the former governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, was significant. She is the most glamorous, high-profile Republican woman in America.
Did I mention chiselled chin-lines, big hair, radioactive lip gloss and glowing conservatism?
It also means Palin has a new patron: Rupert Murdoch. The publishing arm of Murdoch's News Corp media conglomerate, HarperCollins, is her publisher. The Fox News Channel, another arm of News Corp, is her employer.
Palin is using her perch on Fox to campaign rather than analyse, which merely accelerates the network's obliteration of the divisions between news, entertainment and partisanship.
In the process, Murdoch has also become the greatest patron of the Republican Party. Fox News, not the Republicans, is the leader of the opposition in America. Its most prominent and combative anchors, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, fomented the grassroots upswelling against the Obama Administration. The Republicans have been following Fox News, not the other way round.
Palin was hired by Roger Ailes, the president of Fox News Channel, and the brilliant media impresario who created the network. He would not be thrilled by Palin's first week at Fox. She was vacuous, saying nothing, at length.
She can only get better, and she has an adoring following among blue-collar white voters. Her memoir, Going Rogue, about her sudden emergence as the Republican candidate for vice-president last year, sold 300,000 copies on its first day in November. The print run has been extended to 2.5 million copies. Going Rogue was the biggest selling non-fiction book in America last year.
And Palin is a brunette. Since I first checked the blonde quota on Foxy News in 2008, it has declined modestly from 73 per cent to 66 per cent. Perhaps this is Fox News Channel's idea of becoming more ''fair and balanced'', the phrase the network uses to define itself, without irony, despite the patent and increasing absurdity of the claim.
Nothing about Fox News that I haven't heard before, but the blonde quota idea interests me. No sinister secret that Murdoch should own Fox and HarperCollins, since he owns everything. Also, I'm now attuned to the radioactive lipgloss on the lips of every female news anchor I see. It's the new frozen hairdo.