The post-9/11 spike in popularity of Rupert Murdoch's 24-hour Fox News Channel (FNC) has both allowed the cable channel to eclipse its competitors and given rise to a rather uncomplimentary turn of phrase: "Foxification" of the news. In a 2003 interview, investigative reporter and author Greg Palast put it this way: U.S. television news had gone "to viciousness, barely disguised racism and pseudoentertainment intended to be taken as news-and every station is now trying to follow that formula."
John Doyle, television critic for Toronto's The Globe and Mail, recently noted in his column that regular Bill O'Reilly viewers might have wondered why the vehement host of FNC's The O'Reilly Factor seemed negatively fixated on all things Canadian last week-but Doyle felt he had an explanation.
It began after Doyle learned of a recent request to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) for permission to broadcast FNC in Canada. (CRTC is roughly equivalent to America's FCC.)
"I'm not sure the official application to carry it has even landed on the CRTC desk yet," Doyle told CityBeat via e-mail. "A cable group has said it will apply. Some people have the impression that FNC is "banned' in Canada. No so... a cable company or consortium has to apply to carry a new cable channel, if they believe there is enough public interest. The CRTC invites interventions for and against and then makes a decision. It usually takes a few months."
In the first of his columns of the subject, the April 19 "Who's afraid of the big bad Fox? Certainly not us," Doyle remarked, "Beauty. Bring it on, I say. We're all in need of a good laugh. The barking-mad Fox News Channel is something that most Canadians have only heard about.... We'll find out if this Bill O'Reilly fella is as stupendously pompous and preening as he appears to be in the rare clips we see of Fox News."
Doyle further compared FNC to a "live theatre of the airwaves, with right-wing pundits playing journalists in an ongoing soap opera" in which the "bad guys are the Democratic Party and [there's] a dark force that is sometimes known as The Liberal Media Elite and sometimes known as The Loony Left."
The backlash was swift. Two days later, in a piece titled "Fox News. Not here yet, but already hilarious," Doyle related how O'Reilly, on his show's The Most Ridiculous Item of the Day segment, had already administered "a Fox-style whacking" to what the television host called "the far-left Toronto Globe and Mail."
(Doyle has described his political leanings as "not so much a left-winger as a laugher.")
Hundreds of FNC aficionados soon jumped into the fracas, bombarding Doyle with angry and frequently obscene e-mails.
In his April 21 column, Doyle wrote that he found it "very encouraging to know that mere newspaper coverage of a TV news channel can make some people so very angry. The people who support Fox News must be the most uncivil and foul-mouthed creatures on the planet. This is an informed opinion....
"I lost count of the number of times I was called "an a**hole,'" he continued.
But Doyle's report of these many slings and arrows prompted other Americans to also e-mail the columnist, to whom they apologized for the vitriolic comments of their fellow Americans.
On April 25, The New York Times picked up the story and printed some of the e-mails Doyle had thus far received.
Angry sample: "Your [expletive] attitude exists because you are Canadian. Canadians are worthless. Canadian equals coward. You don't need just Fox News Channel. First you need to stop being Canadian. Steve In Texas. Stay Away."
Supportive sample: "... I feel compelled to apologize on behalf of civilized Americans throughout the United States. Most of the people who live in this country are neither extreme liberals or extreme right-wingers. Most of the people who live in this country do not believe the political or social dialogue is advanced by name-calling.... Elizabeth."
"After the NY Times piece, the mail [from Americans] went into the thousands," said Doyle's e-mail to CityBeat. Doyle said he had received approximately 400 to 600 from California, of which "about 80 percent were apologetic for the insults sent to me and agreed that Fox News is a joke, albeit a dangerous one."
On April 29, Doyle began his article, "And the laugh was still there," with this conclusion: "The Fox News Channel, its chief ranter Bill O'Reilly and the channel's rabid followers are the lunatic fringe of the American culture."
Referring to the many supportive e-mails support he had received, Doyle wrote that those writers knew, "as Americans usually do, that by laughing we drain the fanatics of their significance."Doyle emphasized to CityBeat that he is all for having FNC in Canada. "I believe it offers a window into American thinking," he said, adding that whether other Canadians laugh at it or not, "I do."