There has been a meme circulating around the InterTubes for some time saying that “I get my news from Comedy Central and my comedy from Fox News.” It’s a concise way of articulating the reality that programs like The Daily Show are far more reliable sources for information than Bill O’Reilly or Fox & Friends. Expanding on that theme, Fox & Friends did a segment this weekend that asked perhaps the dumbest question of the year: Should comedy shows take on politics?
Are they Kidding? Politics has been a staple of comedy for centuries. The desire to mock our governments and leaders is pretty much an element of being human. But from Fox’s point of view it’s easy to understand their comic anxiety. First of all, they are terrible at it. Second of all, they are thin-skinned whiny babies who can’t take a joke. The F&F segment was a preemptive strike against last night’s Saturday Night Live season debut featuring Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump.
[What follows is a reprise of an article first published last year]
But something that seems to have been developing without much notice is that Fox News is actively reshaping their programming to be more like an actual comedy network. Alone among cable news broadcasters, Fox News is airing actual comedy shows. Already on the schedule is their late night entry Red Eye. Earlier this year they premiered The Greg Gutfeld Show, spinning off the former Red Eye host. And they just recently introduced a new show starring Bill O’Reilly stalker/producer and Fox Nation editor, Jesse Watters, that will expand on his Watters’ World segments from The O’Reilly Factor. [See this epic smackdown of Watters by Steven Colbert]
Setting aside the fact that there is scarce evidence of actual humor in any of these programs, what is interesting is that Fox News is investing so much of their airtime in a form of entertainment that literally makes a mockery of their pretense to being journalists. And considering their epic failure in this genre back in 2007, the execrable “Half-Hour News Hour,” they have some measure of courage to attempt it again. For a network that whines so often about not being taken seriously as reporters, this trend will do little to enhance their already tattered reputation.
Making matters worse is the fact that Fox News has been so fiercely derisive of comedy programs that deign to direct their barbs at news subjects. Over many years there has been a constant drumbeat of outrage from Fox aimed at comedians whom they regard as unqualified to have worthwhile opinions on the news or the talent to find humor in it.
And no one has taken more abuse from Fox than Jon Stewart. Sean Hannity called him “a sanctimonious jackass.” Megyn Kelly said that “He was not a force for good.” Bill O’Reilly labeled him “a key component of left-wing television.” O’Reilly also went after Stewart’s audience saying that he has “stoned slackers watching your dopey show every night.” And this anti-Stewart doctrine comes straight from the top. Fox News CEO Roger Ailes publicly scolded Stewart saying that “He hates conservatives. He’s crazy.”
Fox News generally demeans anyone in the entertainment field who speaks out about politics, unless it’s Ted Nugent or Dennis Miller, but then it’s a stretch describing them as entertaining. If George Clooney or Sarah Silverman exercise their rights as citizens, Fox News considers it an abomination and unleashes a rancid stream of unreserved hostility. Fox contributor Laura Ingraham even wrote a book titled “Shut Up and Sing,” to advocate for silencing show biz folk who want to participate in American democracy.
How Fox News Deceives and Controls Their Flock:
Fox Nation vs. Reality: The Fox News Cult of Ignorance.
Available now at Amazon.
So after disparaging entertainers, and especially comedians, for engaging in the centuries old art of satire, it is rather odd to find Fox News devoting a significant amount of time and money to doing what they hate so many others for doing. But while it is common for comedians to take on political topics, it is unheard of for news networks to commit whole programs to comedy. Certainly a news network can interview a comic or report on a humorous news story, but Fox has just launched their third comedy show. And they still want people to take them seriously as journalists? Well, that ship has sailed. If anything, Fox could continue to debut new comedy programs until they fill the schedule. Then, at least, people will be laughing at Fox for the right reasons.