Thursday, September 01, 2005

It's fair! It's balanced! It's just so darned annoying!

That was the opening I had planned for this little comment. I finally got my satellite dish a few months ago and settled down to the whole new world that was FoxNews. Was it a welcome antidote to the other networks, both American and Canadian? Oh Yes. But it was also brash, noisy, smarmy (Shep Smith), snotty (John Gibson), smug (O'Reilly at his worst), and as inane as anyone else (the morning crew). On the other hand, it has Brit Hume, Tony Snow, the Beltway Boys, and the Newswatch group (who are proof positive that being conservative is not required)-- all refreshingly unlike anyone else on the airwaves. I had lots of catty comments to make about Smith, who seems to me to have had his eyes "done" and is just too bottle-tan Ken-doll for words, plus the endless supply of "news-babes" with haystack hair, ... and numerous other deprecations of the network that was supposedly going to yank complacent Canada by the ears.

The yanking has probably been accomplished, and that's a good thing. But before I had a chance to get my licks in about its flaws, Hurricane Katrina came barrelling in and changed the whole complexion of my view of Fox. I've been watching PBS and NBC as well as CNN, and there is genuine passion to be seen in their delivery of the story (Anderson Cooper once again winning the "Dammit, there's snakes in here!" reality tv award-- can't help it-- I like him).

But Fox, and Smith in particular, have truly amazed. Anyone who enjoyed assuming that a Republican administration had FoxNews in its pocket can think again-- no other network has so outspokenly held the authorities' feet to the fire on the ill-prepared and so far less than competent government response to this escalating crisis. And no one has been more passionate, more outraged, and more blunt about the racial and social demographic of New Orleans' abandoned refugees than Shepard Smith-- on the scene from Day One, disheveled, bag-eyed, and angry. Fox takes second place to no one on asking the tough and embarrassing questions of a bumbling state government and the tardy feds.

It's been no end of fun waiting for Fox to arrive in the Great White North, especially watching the local pundits trying to trash it before it even got here, and getting into public feuds with Bill O'Reilly. It hasn't cured all our bent broadcasting ills, but many of us are grateful for the new kid on the block anyway. And now, while it's still a new face, Fox is wading full-force into the murky mess of an unprecedented news event, and proving it can make a serious and valuable contribution to the long debate that has only just begun.