By Chez Pazienza:
Despite the grotesquely incestuous nature of TV news, I’ve known only a few people throughout my career who’ve worked at Fox News at one time or another. When it comes to on-air talent, particularly high-profile talent, the place is generally a final destination: Plenty of people have made the decision to jump over to Fox News from other places but very few do the opposite, moving on from Fox to the warm embrace of more traditional news outlets. There’s the occasional stunt-casting, like the hiring of Fox News regular S.E. Cupp over at MSNBC, but for the most part it really does feel like once you’ve got the stink of relentlessly shilling for Roger Ailes’s political views on you, it’s tough to wash off completely. Truly making a name for yourself at Fox is a zero-sum game: Unless you’re Shep Smith, who’s become famous for being a tiny island of reason in a vast sea of nonsense, you can’t do it without assuring that nobody else will take you seriously ever again.
Most of the people I know who’ve done time at Fox News or Fox Biz have been producers. Rank-and-file producers are typically immune to the negative reputations of the places they work simply because it’s accepted that they’re usually just drones busting their asses to earn a paycheck and if they toe the company line at all it’s merely as a matter of necessity; your average producer is an impossibly overworked basket case whose cynicism is matched only by his or her ability to consume inhuman quantities of alcohol without falling over dead. In other words, the producers at Fox are for the most part just playing along — in reality they couldn’t fucking care less about the political talking points coming down from on-high, they just hold their nose and do what they’re told because it pays the rent. Sure, this may seem inexcusable to the profoundly and vocally self-righteous, but sometimes you just need the work, you know?
I bring all this up because, to me, the most surprising thing about today’s almost farcical shut-down by Fox News of an interview that went horribly awry for them isn’t that it happened — it should be obvious by now that Fox News doesn’t allow anyone on its air, not even its guests, to deviate from the tightly controlled script — but the reason that was given for why it happened. In case you haven’t seen the video for yourself — and it’s now pretty much everywhere — during a scheduled three-minute hit with Pulitzer Prize-winning defense reporter and author Thomas Ricks, Fox News anchor-bot Jon Scott brought up the subject of Benghazi, which as you know has been the network’s White Whale since it first realized its audience was stupid, gullible and full of enough indiscriminate rage to buy it as a legitimate scandal. What happened next — well, see for yourself:
If Fox News gave a crap what anybody thought of it outside of the bubble it generates and perpetuates it would probably worry about how bad it looks that it abruptly killed a live interview just because the person being interviewed — someone with nearly unassailable credentials — called it out for being exactly what it is on its own air. Alas, Fox doesn’t care and it knows its audience doesn’t care, so, you know, whatever.
What’s interesting, though, is that in The New York Times, Ricks says that the reason he was given for the quick dismissal was his “rudeness” toward the host — and, presumably, the network — and that it came from the producer of the segment. He’s more than a little incredulous about this, given that during the requisite pre-interview he apparently told them his thoughts on Benghazi and how he believed it had been over-hyped by Fox News. Pushing back against Scott’s horseshit concern-trolling on-air was to be expected. Regardless, the claim that Ricks was silenced because he was rude is, of course, absolute nonsense; Fox likely shut him up because he spoke the truth about the fact that they’re not a real news organization and they’d be damned if they were going to let somebody get away with that on their own air.
I’m curious, though, whether the producer who both scrapped the interview on the fly and gave Thomas Ricks an entirely BS reason for doing so did it because he or she truly swallowed the company Kool-Aid or was merely protecting his or her job. I’d like to believe that the poor bastard just didn’t feel like dealing with the flak sure to come down from upstairs, but there’s always the possibility that there are in fact people behind the scenes at Fox who buy into its nightmarishly unethical philosophy — people who really do consider it “rude” to be invited into someone’s on-air home then insult the host by arguing against his politics and not simply sitting there nodding politely. That, more than anything else, could be the giveaway that Fox News realizes it’s not a real news organization: Any other outlet would’ve debated Ricks’s points with him because it’s, you know, a news organization and not your angry uncle’s living room.
Whether the producer behind this entire debacle was acting as a True Believer or simply a guy who accepted the parameters of his or her job, we’ll likely never know. But knowing what I know about TV news producers, about the friends I have who’ve worked for Fox, and about the business in general, I like to think that there’s one Fox News employee who went home tonight and took a longer-than-usual shower.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.