I recently read that Gawker’s Fox News Mole just got a six figure book deal for exposing such hard-hitting insight as how shitty the bathrooms are at the News Corp building. Apparently, I missed my literary opportunity. Because I too, peed there for years. But my perspective is quite different than his. My perspective is not one that most people want to hear. I won’t make any friends, admirers or allies with what I have to say. But fuck it. That’s never stopped me before. So listen up. I have a confession to make:
I used to work at Fox News Channel.
This is not something I readily admit. While this was not my first job, it was the first one that prompted such instantaneous, weird, often shocked reactions from friends, family and passersby. The three words “Fox News Channel” are charged with political controversy, much like “New World Order” or “Health Care Coverage”.
Maybe if I didn’t live in New York City, it wouldn’t be such an issue. While Fox News Channel is based here, I’m guessing their base audience isn’t. Consequently my place of employment routinely inspired snap judgments. Incorrect assumptions about my politics were derived from a simple News Corp ID badge. People snorted “Faux News Channel” like I’d never heard that one before. They’d smirk about “Fair and Balanced” coverage. References to Goebbels were made.
The topic of filthy Fox News lucre came up at cocktail parties in chic dwellings and there was an awkward silence as people wondered how a vile person like me, clearly lacking in social and political conscience could have wound up in the same room with them, sipping the same Sauvignon Blanc and eating the same smoked salmon appetizers. How could this happen? Who let this individual in here? On the other hand there was a strange fascination, as though I were part of a shady underworld organization. In hushed tones they’d ask,
“What is it like there?” “What do they do there?” “Do you have to tell your boss how you vote?”
(And plenty of other questions with implied italics.)
It made no difference when I told them that:
A) Fox News employees are not mandated to sport a Beltway comb over and matching conservative ideology
B) I don’t do anything important or particularly useful there. I’m a low-level freelancer, pushing a few buttons in their cavernous basement digs.
They were not deterred. Apparently, my very presence in that building; each breath, each clack on my germ-ridden computer and every trip to the vending machine to buy a bag of Doritos meant that I was instrumental in building a ruthless media empire. In their eyes, I was in cahoots with Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes, all of us greedily rubbing our hands together, triumphantly cackling, plotting together to destroy free thought, journalistic integrity and career opportunities for unattractive female reporters with chubby thighs.
I found this ridiculous, since I don’t hold ushers at the Loews Cineplex accountable for the sorry state of American cinema, or waiters at the Olive Garden for the bastardization of Italian food.
When I wasn’t in the mood to deal with their disdain, I claimed to be unemployed or mumbled something about “import/export” and looked shifty. But it was strange to be shamed into lying about my workplace, mostly because I don’t shame easily. I have admitted to bubbling in heart-shaped patterns on the math section of my SATs, wearing cheap heels from Payless Shoe Source and drunkenly peeing on the street in downtown San Diego.
Of course, there was also the opposite reaction, which mostly happened when I left the city or ran into tourists. The Fox News fans had an equally strong response, despite the fact that I was just a lowly button pusher. Once when I visited my parents in Florida, the airport shuttle driver asked what I did for a living. I told him and his eyes lit up. It was as if J.Lo, the ghost of Babe Ruth and a pack of Keebler elves had suddenly appeared in his shuttle. He treated me like royalty, named off every Fox News anchor and reporter he knew and their time slots. He named people I’d never heard of before. When I got out of the shuttle, he took my hand and kissed it.
Then again, maybe he was just an enthusiastic person. And really fat. So I wonder if I’d said I worked for Little Debbie Snack Cakes he would have rattled off every honey bun, blueberry muffin and fudge brownie he’d ever enjoyed.
But I’ve noticed that Fox News fans automatically assume that I am “on their side.” There’s an idea that we are part of some club, sharing values and a special handshake.
After one of News Corp’s legendarily ostentatious holiday parties I met some friends at a nearby bar. (And yes, it was a “holiday” party, despite FNC’s valiant battle to fight the war on Christmas.) I had my holiday gift bag in tow. (And no, it did not contain a pair of Ann Coulter scratch ‘n’ sniff panties or a Karl Rove potholder.) A complete stranger (a tourist) asked about the bag and when I explained, he jovially slapped me on the back like we were at a lodge meeting. With a nicotine-stained grin he announced how wonderful it was to meet a fellow Republican. It did not matter that I have always voted for Democratic candidates. He introduced me to other fellow Republicans. They openly discussed the terrible problem of immigrants, unaware that both of my parents are immigrants.
I think these extreme reactions to any tentative Fox News Channel connection provide further proof of how divisive American politics are, and how American society tends to favor good guy/bad guy scenarios. It also shows you how much we Americans just love conspiracy theories. The idea that a person could be subjected to such polarizing reporting and still just clock in and out seems improbable. It also doesn’t make for a juicy story that will get me a six figure book deal.
But here’s the way I see it: working at Fox News Channel doesn’t mean signing up for a certain lifestyle and perceptions can be faulty. I worked with lots of interesting people who run the gamut politically. Just like at any other business.
Paychecks and ideology aren’t always connected.
Sometimes you just have to pay the damn rent.