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And the giant stuffed panda goes to…

The Long View

I once decided to create a national prize for pandering.

It would be like the Golden Razzies, which are awarded for bad films.  Annually, we’d hold a press conference at which we would award a giant stuffed panda toy to the person or organization who so egregiously pandered to a group that we judges could do no more than shake our collective heads at with admiration at their gall and mendacity.  We would not require the recipient to personally accept the award.

I had in mind as perennial candidates for the award such national embarrassments as the Reverend Al Sharpton, who never saw a Black family’s crisis that he wouldn’t exploit for his own aggrandizement, and such TV show hosts as Maury Povich, who enhance their fortunes by egging people on to hurt each other on air (without benefit of boxing gloves), and the many unrepentant segregationists among the senators of our Southern states….   

The problem, I soon discovered, was that there were too many prolific and outrageous panderers – so many, that we would have a hard time choosing just one. Possibly we could up the ante to quarterly awards, but audiences would get tired of the spectacle.  So I forgot about the idea.

Silly me.

This year’s award – obvious already, even though it’s only April — goes to the Fox News Network and its founder, Rupert Murdoch, not only for world-class pandering, a skill that Murdoch has been perfecting for sixty-seventy years on three continents, but also for showing to the rest of us the precise reasons that he and his network engaged in their particular kind of pandering in regard to who won the 2020 election.  The settlement with Dominion voting machines, and the revelations about the “real,” off-air sentiments of the broadcast personnel (and the Murdochs) vs. what they said on air, provided all the necessary evidence to earn them this year’s award.

In the 1980s, TV land embraced a concept called the Lowest Common Denominator.  Network programming executives for ABC, CBS, and NBC — this was prior to the Murdochian Fox network — would choose from among their vendors’ pilot sitcoms, game shows, soap-operas, and cop shows the ones that appealed to the LCD, and put those on air, to ensure garnering the highest ratings, which translate into the highest ad rates and profits for the network.  Quality of production, acting, scripts, and the like were no match for LCD appeal.

Today’s Fox News Network, its Opinion shows but also its News shows — which seldom report all the news, or even an honest sampling of it — have trothed themselves to the LCD.  Fox News and Opinion’s audience demographic skews older than the norm, less educated, less moneyed, less tolerant of anyone not white and/or born in America, more tolerant of authoritarianism, and very willing to buy a wide variety of snake oils.

The Fox News executives’ experience has shown them that when your programs continuously pander to your audience’s biases, you will be able to sell and re-sell your audience’s extreme loyalty and make money.

The decision of the Fox brass to settle the Dominion suit rather than to let it drag on through the courts (and in the legitimate news media) is evidence to some that the network and its owners are willing to pay a large price to keep their dirty laundry from further public view.

I view the settlement in a different way.  Its monetary cost to Fox is minimal, mostly offset by insurance pay-outs.  Money is not the real issue.  Nor is the issue the avoidance of displaying dirty laundry in public.  Fox’s urgent need is to get the distraction out of the way so that it can go back to news-twisting, which it knows its audience wants to see and hear.

I fearlessly predict that the ratings of Fox News and Fox Opinion programs, and the loyalty of those programs’ viewers, will not be adversely affected by the settlement of Dominion’s suit against Fox.

That is to say: Fox and its “pundits” — Carlson, Hannity, Bartiromo, et al., — will remain on the short list for stuffed panda of the year.



Salisbury resident Tom Shachtman has written more than two dozen books and many television documentaries.

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