I think that Fox News may be the worst thing that has ever happened to this country. This is not hyperbole. I have considered this from lots of angles and that is where I am coming down. At a glance, this seems ridiculous. ‘America has suffered a lot worse tragedies than a cable news network. Come on.’ Please hear me out on this.
Let’s start with the big one. 9/11. Thousands of lives were lost. Families shattered. Our country was fundamentally changed. Sixteen years later, we are still feeling the repercussions from that day. But I think some good did come from that unspeakably awful experience. We were able to unite as a country for a little while. We improved our security measures. We lost much of our naiveté. In a lot of ways America grew up. It was a costly lesson, but one well-learned.
The Civil War had a lot of the same consequences. A large death toll. Families torn apart. Plus the ravages of war spanning across the country. It has been over one hundred and fifty years, and recent events have proven that we still haven’t fully recovered from that. But that war also ended slavery. It somehow held America together in the face of deepest division. It gave us one of our greatest presidents, who still inspires people today. It showed us that we could weather the storm.
Pearl Harbor was one remote naval base. WWII led to tremendous technological advancements and made the US a world power. Vietnam inspired an entire generation of activists and leaders, and taught us a lot about the future of warfare. For all the bad, there always seems to be some silver lining. Except for this one thing.
There is an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where WAIT, STOP, COME BACK! Look, just give me this one paragraph, okay? I promise it’s relevant. Anyway. This particular episode deals with a crewmember, Lt. Barclay, who finds the reality of life to be so unbearable that he spends every spare moment in the holodeck. (The holodeck is a large room where the computer can create, in lifelike detail, any person, place, thing, or scenario that is desired. It’s completely interactive. Think VR, but fully immersive and tactile.) Mr. Barclay takes solace in the fantasy worlds of the holodeck because he is comfortable there. The world in there makes sense to him. One of his most preferred scenarios is almost a carnival mirror version of the real world, where things appear mostly the same, but he, himself, is dominant and respected. A version of the world tweaked in just such a way as to feel “right” to him, where he doesn’t have to deal with the inconvenient truths of reality. You see where I’m going with this.
That is why I think that Fox News is so dangerous. It is insidious. It gives people already inclined to think a certain way a haven in the mainstream. They say “not only are you right to fear and mistrust immigrants and minorities, it’s worse than you think.” It functions as a safe haven for the narrow-minded and insecure, not only supporting wildly flawed opinions, but shaping them. The President trusts the talking heads on this network more than the national intelligence apparatus.
And none of it is based in fact.
It doesn’t have to be. Facts would hurt their bottom line. In spite of their identifying as a news organization, there is zero attention paid to veracity and due-diligence. What gets reported is what their viewers want to hear. That’s where the money comes from. It is right-wing fan-fiction. And that would be fine if the network was called Fox Fiction, but it isn’t.
This ‘news network’ has completely removed the need to take a long, hard look at ones beliefs in the face of new information. ‘What I think has been proved wrong? Nah. Liberal lies. It said so on the real news.’ It has poisoned the national discourse. Devastated our ability to discuss ideas on their own merits. Turned black and white issues into a muddy murk of he said/she said. And I am personally ashamed that the majority of adherents to this toxic television purport themselves to be Christians.
I ask myself why this is. I may have a working theory.
Karl Marx famously called religion ‘the opiate of the masses.’ It was a derogatory statement, implying that the least fortunate tolerated their situation by clinging to a phony belief in God and heaven so they didn’t have to deal with reality. (Why does that sound familiar?) Now I’m a Catholic. I obviously don’t think that the idea of God and heaven is phony. Otherwise I’m wasting all of our time here. However, I do recognize that the foundation of the Christian faith is a belief in something which is fundamentally unprovable in fact. Or, put differently, a Christian does not need their beliefs to be borne out by facts. That is the very nature of faith.
I don’t believe that our faith automatically makes us suckers. I do think that there is a fine line, and we have to be careful about who and what we decide to trust. Remember that Christ was tempted in the desert, and it was only after He was able to resist temptation that the angels rewarded Him.
We live in a golden age of information. We all need to take a little more responsibility in how we process it. The next time you hear or read something that exactly supports your position, be a little suspicious. It doesn’t matter which side of the aisle you are on. If you’re on Facebook and you see something salacious that confirms what you’ve always believed to be true, Google it. It will take you literally thirty seconds to find out if it is real or not. And if somebody tries to make you feel good about yourself at the expense of others, that person is not a Christian. It doesn’t matter what they call themselves. Lead us not into temptation.
We all have to be more selective about what we choose to recognize as truth. As for myself, I will wait none too patiently for the happy day when people all over this country decide to say “Computer. End program.”