The Fox, the Fool and the Facts

Watching Jon Stewart's appearance on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, it would be unlikely that one would walk away doubting that he is a comedian first and a political commentator second or that the comedian/pundit/macramé enthusiast was in any way disingenuous about his show's portrayals of Fox's many detestable attributes (although when he said he'd voted for G.H.W. Bush, visions of a spindly, younger Stewart being shoved into a voting booth by a cigar butt-chewing construction worker wearing an "America: Love It Or Leave It" sticker on his helmet mitigated the wholly improbable admission). After all, his show airs on Comedy Central, and a more truthful and less misleading advertisement -- other than, say, The Food Network -- would be hard to find.

It would be equally unlikely (a pairing of words that Tom Brokaw would have pulled a muscle trying to pronounce) that anyone who wasn't a devotee of Chris Wallace (whose fan base must consist of those left disenfranchised after the death of Lawrence Welk) wouldn't wonder what Stewart was doing spending his morning defending himself. Did you understand all that? I'm not sure I did.

Wallace has the bearing and the regally smug heft of an old style heavyweight network anchor, amid trappings which suggest to the Fox viewer that "it's Sunday -- God's day -- so we're gonna tone down the garishness -- until tomorrow", but with a touch of Ted Baxter thrown in; the smirk is printed into his puss as if it had been kicked there.

And as Wallace rolled clip after clip in an effort to debunk Stewart's description of the network as being anything but fair and balanced, he, being an archetypal Fox bully-boy, inadvertently proved Stewart's point. No one but an organization with an enormous chip on its shoulder engages in schoolyard "see-I-told-you-so" antics, especially an organization which continually bullies people into believing it isn't a bully. But Stewart, unfazed by the snarky posturing, mostly took it all in stride.

But the telling moment when Stewart said to Wallace "You're insane!", to which the veteran newsman responded with a rather weak "I am?" seemed to boil the dynamics of the so-called culture war down to the small. The moment and the interview overall was redolent of the exchanges between King Lear and his Fool, the jester's barbed truths vexing the exalted bully, now deposed and dithering.

It's not like Fox and the rest of the right-wing media hasn't got the talent to get its messages across, though their casting is a bit labored, consisting mainly of square-jawed daddy-warriors and comely mommy-pinups. It is, rather, the message itself that fails to convince the audience outside the one it's aimed at (the one that prefers victory rather than veracity) that it is in any way fair or balanced. An organization which has to resort to fear mongering, intimidation and flat-out bullshit kinda loses its journalistic credibility.

It's almost as if Jon Stewart was giving Chris Wallace and Fox yet another chance to come clean and stop with all the nonsense about their not being possibly the most successful propaganda arm of a political ideology that there's ever been. Of course, those with an opposing political bent might say the same about Stewart. But they'd be wrong (See what I did there???).

The artfulness with which Fox can deliver its product is a wonder to behold, but owes more to the reach technology has within our media-addicted culture than the actual validity of what's being broadcast. That, and the relentless repetition of suggestions both superficial and subliminal, has an impact not unlike the hammer has upon a nail.

But when the hammer is wielded by Fox News, the truth -- and Jon Stewart -- prove to be rather slippery nails.