My Fox News Nightmare: How I Tortured Myself with The Propaganda of Ignorance

[….]I think that some of my fascination with the news comes from a basic fearfulness, a neurotic belief that the world is a threatening place, but that if I know enough about what is going on, I will be able to avoid the most horrific of disasters.

But now I was aware of Fox’s role as a purveyor, not only of right-wing information but of right-wing ignorance, and I began to examine my mind for things that I hadn’t gotten any information about in the past month. The most notable items that were missing, I realized, were people from other countries and poverty. Aside from the times when picturesque destruction video was available, there was essentially no coverage of foreign affairs. On the poverty side, programs like food stamps and welfare were generally referred to as handouts, and the only time poor people were mentioned was when they were a source of malfeasance. One prominent Fox & Friends story, for example, cited a woman who, because of a computer glitch, managed to buy $700 worth of food on a food stamp debit card with a balance of $.47.

The effect of this is interesting. Even in my short time watching Fox I found poverty fading from my mind as a problem. I was surprised one day when, during a discussion of deficit reduction (something that they talk about almost constantly), I found myself nodding in agreement that there was room to cut social programs that had already been radically slashed. Fox couldn’t convince me to care about the issues they are obsessed with (Obama’s treachery and the deficit, mostly), but by simply failing to mention a topic like income inequality, it managed to make me stop caring about the things it would prefer that I ignore.

I have an optimistic view of Americans. I think we are basically a kind and generous people—that if we are confronted with suffering, we are willing to act, even to sacrifice our own interests, in order to alleviate it. Perhaps, I began to think, we are not becoming progressively crueler and more callous, as it sometimes appears. Perhaps we have simply forgotten about the suffering all around us because we haven’t been reminded of it lately.

But even beyond this, the idea that Fox might not be keeping me in the loop on important stories began to seem more and more ominous. In my defense, early October, 2013 was a time of significant turmoil in the United States. One of the two major political parties had decided, for reasons that appeared to be unclear even to them, to shut down the federal government. Worse yet, a deadline was fast approaching in which that same political party might decide to cause our country to default on its debts. This had never happened before, so it was not at all clear what the effect of such a thing would be. It was almost certain, however, that it would be very, very bad. In the worst case, one might expect severe social disruptions—runaway inflation, bank failures, even riots.

The idea that the country might be speeding toward this potential disaster, and that my only source of information about what was happening was the spotty and unreliable Fox News began to prey on my imagination.

After mulling over this for a few days, I decided to broach the subject with my wife. She had been acting as the firewall between me and any news but Fox. She had also, in the past, shown a certain zeal for the enforcement of the arbitrary rules of my previous nonfiction ventures. What if, I began to wonder, she, in concert with Fox, was concealing something really big from me?[…]

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