Lindsay Kneteman

FOX News

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—goes well with tequila shots

Find out about the Bill O’Reilly drinking game.

Is The Comedy Network not doing it for you? Do you like the laughs but wish it had more politics, more current events, more outrageous personalities? Are you okay with lots of yelling, loud music, and flashy graphics? Then I have great news for you; Canada’s getting another comedy station: FOX News.

Now, technically FOX News is an American cable news network, not a comedy station. It was created in 1996 by Rupert Murdoch, the Australian media giant and Ronald Reagan’s No. 1 fan. At the time of FOX News’s launch, critics wondered if it could survive in an already-crowded marketplace. Was there really enough news to support three all-news channels, plus regular newscasts by the Big Three – ABCCBS, and NBC? The short answer? No.

Like any television programming, news needs healthy ratings to bring in ad revenue. The more interesting or salacious the news, the more people tune in. But sometimes there are slow news days. Broadcast programs’ limited news hole and large routine audience usually still bring in decent ratings during those periods. But cable channels have hours and hours of space to fill. How can you bring in and keep viewers when there are no natural disasters or murders of attractive, young, white women to report on? FOX News came up with a unique solution to this problem. Instead of just reporting on the news, they appointed a bunch of people toruminate on it. Viewers would then tune in, not necessarily to get information, but to hear the opinions of their favourite FOX personalities. But FOX wasn’t the originator of this concept; CNN – the granddaddy of cable news channels – had created the talking-head program Crossfire back in 1982. FOX News just perfected the format.

And while Canadians have seen FOX’s influence on other cable news channels and laughed at the jokes made at its expense on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, they haven’t been able to legally tune into the real McCoy. That changed on November 18, 2004, when the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission approved FOX News’s application to broadcast in Canada. Television is about to get a whole lot more entertaining.

At least, that’s what John Doyle, The Globe and Mail TV critic, thinks. “The blustering and the aggressive arguments on the talking-head shows are just so outlandish that many Canadians will be amused,” he says. “It’s so out of touch with the Canadian perspective of the world. It sometimes has such a crackpot attitude that the initial reaction of most Canadians is to laugh at it.”

But, for some Americans, FOX News isn’t so much funny as it is disturbing. Nancy Anton, a member of the News Hounds, a group of American volunteers who studied FOX News for the documentary Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism, says: “It is laughable, but in the States, we have to take it more seriously.”

Anton’s concern is FOX’s right-wing bias. While FOX’s slogan may be “Fair and Balanced,” Murdoch designed the station to lean right. He hired Roger Ailes, the former political advisor to Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush, as his CEO. Ailes then proceeded to hire a slew of right-wingers as FOX personalities. Says Anton, “People who watch FOX are being told, ‘You’re right to hate immigrants, to want the 10 Commandments in the court houses, to think anyone who protests against the war is unpatriotic.'”

Sound outrageous? That’s exactly what makes FOX News so funny for non-American viewers. Peter Hart, the director of activism for American media watchdogs Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), once met some French reporters who were in the United States to monitor coverage of Iraq. Initially, they thought FOX News was satirical. “It took them a long time to understand that, no, no, not only is this real, it’s an important part of the American media landscape,” he says. “That troubled them.”

Just as troubling is how many Americans don’t view FOX as something to laugh at, but as actual “fair and balanced” news. In January 2002, FOX did what was thought to be impossible in 1996 – it beat CNN for the status of No. 1 cable news channel in the United States. While FOX News is still millions of viewers away from matching the ratings of any of the Big Three’s newscasts, it is now recognized as a major player in American media.

FOX’s use of high-volume ideological shows is often imitated on MSNBC and CNN, though the latter has recently announced its plans to put more emphasis on facts rather than editorial. Says Anton, “All of us who were doing [News Hounds] know people who are FOX fans and who parrot what they hear,” she says. “They’re not thinking for themselves, they’re hearing what someone else says, and they’re literally repeating the exact same words.”

As FAIR, Outfoxed, and various other media watchdogs have pointed out, a lot of what those people are repeating is inaccurate. So if Americans viewers are going around quoting FOX, what’s to stop Canadian viewers from doing the same?

The channel’s lack of Canadian content, for starters, says Jonathan Rose, a professor of political science at Queen’s University. “It is notoriously Americo-centric,” he says. “I would be surprised if Canadians saw it as a source of news.”

Instead, Rose thinks Canadians will tune in out of curiosity and, except for a small, far-right minority, will only keep watching because of the station’s entertainment value. He says he can’t see FOX News having any kind of impact on Canada’s political slant. Adds the Globe’s John Doyle: “It’s always a mistake to underestimate the shrewdness of Canadian viewers.”

Doyle, who frequently travels to the United States and has watched a lot of FOX News programming, recommends that Canadians check out FOX’s most popular show, The O’Reilly Factor, hosted by Bill O’Reilly. “Most Canadians will find his views pretty damn funny.” He thinks viewers will especially enjoy O’Reilly’s hatred for Canada. “He seems to be obsessed with it,” Doyle says. In fact, O’Reilly hates Canada – with its liberal drug laws and gay marriage – so much that he has threatened to call for America to boycott its northern neighbour.

To get in on this craziness, you have to subscribe to either digital cable or satellite. While Star Choice satellite only offers FOX News as part of its FYI bundle, Roger’s digital cable offers the channel on its own for $2.49 a month, the same price Shaw charges if you add the channel to an existing package.

But, really, what’s a couple of quarters and two measly loonies when you think of all the FOX loons you can bring into your household?

The Bill O’Reilly Drinking Game

The O’Reilly Factor airs Monday-Friday from 8 to 9p.m. (EST) with an 11p.m.-12a.m. repeat broadcast.

Take one shot every time O’Reilly tells someone to shut up.
Take two shots whenever he personally attacks someone.
Take one shot if the guest is conservative, two if he’s liberal, and three if he’s some poor person who doesn’t want to get political (but gets sucked in anyway.)
Drink a glass of water if the guest just sits there and takes it, or if the guest agrees with O’Reilly.
Take five shots if the guest yells louder than O’Reilly.
Flip the channel if religion comes up.
Whenever Canada is mentioned, chug as much as you can while someone sings “Oh Canada.”
Eat a falafel whenever the word “sex” is uttered.


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