Sunday, September 1, 2013

First TVs, Then Fox News on TV

Increasingly, Fox News seems to be the default station in restaurants and other establishments that I visit. I live in Western New York (also known as the Buffalo-Niagara region), a place that a friend once described as "a red part of a blue state." There obviously was a time when flat screen televisions weren't playing in grocery stores and diners; now it's common for me to see Fox News airing in these and other places.

The experience of being in airports with CNN on every screen is familiar to many. When CNN is on the screen, it's easier for me to grasp. After all, CNN was the first cable news operation, and is still considered by some to be a neutral news source (or at least to provide the appearance thereof). If Fox and MSNBC occupy polar opposites of the cable news spectrum in their overall presentation of politics, CNN exists somewhere in-between, at times closer to MSNBC, other times nearer to Fox.

It's rare for me to see MSNBC airing in local establishments. MSNBC projects something resembling the liberal viewpoint, however 'liberal' is to be understood when presented by a corporate-cable news entertainment operation. MSNBC hosts and pundits don't always flatter President Obama and other Democrats. But the channel tends to give Democrats the benefit of the doubt in its construction of 'progressive' politics and viewpoints. MSNBC, in a 'lean forward' corporate way, sends signals about politics and culture that are qualitatively different than those that come from Fox News.

The most recent instance of seeing Fox News on a screen in public was when I went to a diner with my family. I'd never been to the diner before. We were seated at a booth. Two big TV screens were easy for me to see: a local news station on one and Fox News on the other. A music station was playing, so the TVs were muted. So one screen was Fox News (known for sensational headlines and coverage obviously unflattering to President Obama and anything approximating the liberal cause). The juxtaposition was interesting: local news doing what local news does (crime stories, pet stories, profiles of local businesses, weather forecasts) alongside Fox News (consistent undermining of President Obama and other Democrat politicians).

I'm not sure what place Fox News has in a diner. Or a supermarket. If you're wondering, it's not MSNBC that I want to see on these screens. The torso and head of Chris Hayes or Ed Schultz doesn't naturally fit into a diner or supermarket scheme either. I don't walk into a coffee shop hoping to see Morning Joe on the screen ("brewed by Starbucks"). I don't know any self-described liberal who eagerly anticipates the next opinion from Ed Rendell or Eugene Robinson. Corporate cable news-entertainment from any station at the pub and elsewhere in public feels to me like an intrusion; an unwanted and unnecessary infusion of politics into my everyday life.

All of this to say: It used to be that television screens were reserved for sports bars and airports, now they appear in more and more places where I live, and usually set to Fox News. Why? To what effect?

I hope a few readers will share observations. What is it like in your daily life--TVs set to The Weather Channel, ESPN, local news, or something else? How do you feel about what's on? In terms of the stations that are on, what messages do you think are being sent to patrons?