Written by Eric Boehlert
Oh sure, staffers and hosts working for Rupert Murdoch are doing their best to convey a sense of grave importance when discussing the historic turmoil playing out in Cairo and throughout Egypt. But you only have to watch Fox News for five or ten minutes to see their hearts just aren’t in the story. The usual Fox News juice is completely missing. There’s no swagger on-screen these days.
Instead, it’s like watching students hand in homework, or little kids eating their vegetables.
It’s true. Egypt is killing Fox News’ mojo.
The short answer is Fox isn’t actually a news-gathering organization in the traditional sense in that it reacts and responds to breaking news around the world. Nor is it one strives to inform its viewers. It’s just not. Instead, Fox News is a political organization. Under Obama, Fox News exists in order to attack Democrats and to try to destroy the Obama presidency, while at the same time boosting Republicans. Period.
Specifically though, here are ten reasons why I think Fox News is just going through the motions when covering Egypt.
1. It’s a foreign affairs story, not a domestic politics one.
Admit it, you can count on one hand the number of countries the Fox newsroom cares about and is willing to cover in any detail. And Egypt is not among them. (I’d suggest America, Israel, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Great Britain make the cut.) The channel devotes a comically small portion of its time and resources to covering the world, which means it’s instantly at a disadvantage when news breaks six time zones away. Add in the fact that Fox News usually doesn’t care when news breaks six time zones away and you have a recipe for today’s somnambulant coverage from Egypt. After all, it took them at least a week to get a correspondent over there to cover the situation on the ground.
2. Obama can’t be blamed. Well, not in any kind of coherent way.
Sure, Megyn Kelly wrung her hands about how Obama could “go down in history as the president who lost Egypt.” But wait, lost? As in Obama was president when potentially historic, pro-democratic reforms were finally implemented in Egypt? You mean that kind of “lost”? Doesn’t hold up very well, does it? Fact is, whenever a big news story is missing a get-Obama angle, Fox News appears adrift and unsure. That’s been especially true with its Egypt coverage.
3. It’s not a hate-based story that divides Americans.
So far, the uplifting tale about how the Egyptian people are altering the course of their history doesn’t really have a villain who Fox News can demonize state-side. Sure, President Hosni Mubarak is starring as the out-of-touch autocratic leader who is being forced from office. But Fox News really prefers stories that pit entire segments of the U.S. population against each other and where paranoia, as well as resentment, are allowed to fester and then be amplified. (Think: Terri Schiavo.)
4. It took Fox News a long time to find a boogeyman.
The Muslim Brotherhood now fits the bill, and the Fox team relentlessly fear mongers about the group and warns how Egypt will turn into a cauldron of Islamic extremism if the group rises to power. But that fear angle has only really emerged to the forefront in the last couple days. For more than a week Fox News had to cover the story without its prescribed level of mistrust and alarm.
5. There are no bombs going off in the street of Cairo.
When Fox News does cover that part of the world it’s usually because there are dead bodies and because Arabs or Muslims are responsible for the dead bodies. And if Fox News is going to cover a news story that far away, it damn sure wants to be able to portray the locals as active, they’re-setting-off-bombs-in-the-streets type of terrorists. But Egypt today? Not so much.
6. Egypt today can’t be explained by retired generals or terrorism experts.
Since 2001, Fox News’ foreign coverage has most often consisted of a revolving cast of retired military men as well as terrorism experts who are ushered on and off the air to talk about invasions and troop levels and extradition and WMD’s. (Don’t forget the WMD’s!) But Egypt doesn’t fit into the framework and Fox News doesn’t seem to have a plan B in terms of dealing with that fact, other than straining to find ways to turn the crisis into an excuse to fearmonger about Muslims.
7. It exposes Glenn Beck as being even more insane than people already thought he was.
Beck’s been doing his best crazy-uncle-in-the-attic routine, trying to connect dots between Egypt’s grassroots democratic revolution to communists, Marxists and, of course, ACORN. But c’mon, I don’t even think anyone inside the cable channel buys Beck’s hard-to-follow nonsense. Instead, my guess is his loony tunes performance in recent days is prompting even more head-shaking in the hallways than usual.
8. Fox News producers don’t know any prominent Arabs or Muslims.
Well, that’s an exaggeration, but you get the point. (The channel does, however, enjoy access to lots of discredited guests.) Fox just doesn’t know what to do with stories that are told exclusively through the perspective of Arabs or Muslims. Fox is extremely comfortable trafficking in Islamophobia. But Arabs or Muslims peacefully protesting for change and demanding Egypt practice a more open form of democracy? The folks at Fox News just don’t know what to do with that kind of script.
9. The GOP doesn’t seem to have a clearly defined position on the Egyptian revolution, nor is it passionate about the turmoil.
If the Republican National Committee doesn’t have an angle on the story, then neither, apparently, does Fox News. It’s a symbiotic relationship. If for some reason the Republican Party felt passionately about the Egypt story and if the script were different and Republicans aggressively opposed the uprising, you can bet Fox News would condemning it on the hour, every hour.
10. It’s an actual news story.
Like, with breaking events, shifting storylines and one that requires journalism to bring the sprawling story into focus. By contrast, Fox News is essentially a talk channel (it’s AM radio with pictures). And it’s a talk channel about partisan American politics, which is why breaking news from Egypt is of no interest to Rupert Murdoch’s team.
Let’s face it, the sooner this Egypt story recedes into the background the happier everyone at Fox will be. And the sooner they’ll be able to get back to doing what they do best: Practicing non-news.
About the author
A senior fellow at Media Matters for America, and a former senior writer for Salon, Boehlert’s first book, “Lapdogs: How The Press Rolled Over for Bush,” was published in May. He can be reached at email@example.com.