If all you saw was FOX News, you'd bet McCain and Palin would be clear victors. You'd assume nobody in their right mind would ever vote for Obama -- the communist, socialist, liar, and terrorist.
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At the onset of the Iraq war in 2003, Saddam Hussein's media clamored about the Baathist Army's impending victory. Its conviction was so strong, you had to wonder if they possessed information that we in the West were not privy to. Then, within hours of the invasion, the house of cards imploded. It was clear that Iraq's State-run media had broadcast pure propaganda, not news.

Five years later, consider FOX News.

I recently returned from a week in Israel, where the only American news station available on basic cable was FOX, as Israel replaced CNN back in 2006 in retaliation for what it perceived as biased coverage of the Hezbollah war. So with only one week left before the election, I was stuck with FOX to keep up with TV election news.

Watching FOX for a whole week was frustrating to the core, but fascinating as a social experiment. It truly felt like the Twilight Zone.

On the web, diverse polls and news sources seemed to convey momentum by the Obama campaign and its message. But if all you saw was FOX News, you'd bet McCain and Palin would be clear victors. You'd assume nobody in their right mind would ever vote for Obama -- the communist, socialist, liar, and terrorist.

As an independent skeptical of all news stations and wanting to understand diverse perspectives, I tend to navigate between CNN, ABC, PBS, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, CNBC, and yes, FOX. On the web, I surf across an even broader spectrum of sources, particularly including those I disagree with, to gain insight into the vantage point of the viewers of Al Jazeerah, or Egyptian and Lebanese newspapers, in contrast to viewers of Israeli news. I recognize that every station or every show has some bias, whether slight or pronounced, implicit or overt.

But FOX has migrated to a different league -- less a news source with a particular slant than a government-run propaganda mouthpiece detached from any sense of objectivity. Everyone that is not an ultra-conservative recognizes the irony of FOX's "Fair and Balanced" moniker, which only accentuates its actual bias.

FOX has always been oriented to the right, but until recently it remained a valuable source of information nevertheless. Not anymore.

Just like John McCain threw his lot with the base of the Republican Party by selecting Sarah Palin as his Vice-President, so too FOX has decided to appeal ... err ... pander to the far right, leaving behind any effort to appeal to independent viewers.

The transformation has been so deep that an impartial viewer cannot escape the conclusion that FOX has given up on broadcasting news, and has instead committed to telling its viewers what they want to hear, substituting "information" for an "affirmation" of the basest kind -- fomenting hatred, stereotypes, suspicions and divisions.

Sean Hannity's coverage is so appalling, one cannot describe him as anything other than a whacko. A typical show expounded 10 reasons why Obama is unfit to be elected - including, of course, the now commonplace innuendos about a "foreign" religion, about associating with terrorists, gangsters, and haters of America, about being a Marxist communist, and a host of other accusations that thinking analysts would have - or should have - rejected as baseless. How bad is he? He made me long for the time when Bill O'Reilly would come on and inject a sense of moderation to the discourse.

Then there is Megyn Kelly, whose cynical bullying of Obama spokesperson Bill Burton was recycled by FOX across all its shows with pride. How mean was she? So mean that an otherwise stunningly attractive anchorwoman appeared downright repellent.

So why should this matter to FOX and its viewers, or to others?

This matters deeply because a pillar of democratic discourse is a well informed electorate and a free and critical media. Civilized discourse demands critical thinking, self-reflexiveness, sober-headed analysis. A failure to question politicians or policies, paired with a willingness to accept stereotype as fact and fear-mongering as objectivity, tends to result in epic tragedies from the rise of Hitler to the more recent genocide in Rwanda.

America already suffers from a uniformed and increasingly polarized citizenry. FOX seems to eagerly exploit this dynamic, and in so doing, accentuate it.

This should be no less troubling to conservatives: the conservative movement, historically, was built by rigorous and disciplined thinkers, with a high premium on intellectual curiosity and an honorable pursuit of the greater good -- a legacy that is threatened and harmed by FOX's caricature of political events and players.

America (and the world) perform best when the marketplace of ideas is vibrant -- when opposing ideologies can be debated on their merits, when discourse and debate are a means of finding common ground. One major cause of the current financial crisis is the sheer excesses of a particular ideology run rampant -- allowed to operate unexamined, unquestioned, and unmitigated by the careful and critical scrutiny of those holding opposing ideas.

If FOX, as the strategic refuge of conservatives, continues to transform itself into an extreme partisan, uncritical pandering machine, it will not just cause harm to the right, but also to American discourse as a whole. It is as dangerous as it is insulting -- not just to liberals, but to anyone (liberal, independent, or conservative) who truly wants to understand what is going on.

A friend of mine recently spoke with Rupert Murdoch about all of this. Murdoch implied that he is not as conservative as his media outlets -- he simply saw a business opportunity in appealing to an audience that felt neglected by "liberal" media. That may be fine. But media has a role and responsibility to report news.

As elections approach on November 4th, we might find out that FOX knew something that other media sources did not understand. Or, its logic will crumple in on itself, and we will watch as another house of cards falls.

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