Fox News and Fan Service
The conservative cable news channel was tested and found wanting. What about us?
I’ve really enjoyed the third season of Star Trek: Picard, a series that is a sequel to Star Trek: The Next Generation. Set 30 years after the original series, Jean Luc Picard, the captain of the USS Enterprise in the Next Generation. The first two seasons included few characters from the old series. While the first season was enjoyable, the second season did not live up to expectations. What makes the third season different is the fact that the original cast returns. This is an example of “fan service”, which is doing something that pleases (and sometimes placates) the fans. Picard is an example of fan service done right. It brought back these characters but placed them in an exciting storyline that pays off for the series.
But fan service can also be done poorly and that is the case more often than not in science fiction and fantasy genres. The desire to give fans what they want can come off poorly. The most recent example I can think of is the most recent Star Wars trilogy. Many fans (or at least the most vocal) hated the second movie in the trilogy, The Last Jedi. As a result, the original script for the third movie was scrapped. The result was Rise of Skywalker which was a poor rehash of Return of the Jedi. In trying to atone for its sins, management at Disney ended up creating something that no one was pleased with.
But fan service isn’t relegated to geeks like myself who love science fiction, fantasy, comic book films, and television shows. That’s because fan service in the end is really about trying to please people — which isn’t an awful thing necessarily, but it can be. It can be downright dangerous when we do fan service even when we know it isn’t helpful for the people in the long run.
Sometimes you can find fan service in the strangest of places, such as cable news. I’ve never been a fan of cable news. It doesn’t matter if it’s Fox News or MSNBC, I just find these networks that tend to give people what they want to hear.
Fox News especially is in trouble these days. Fox News has been a conservative news channel since its inception. Despite what some on the left believe, there is nothing wrong with a conservative-leaning news channel. Fox might lean right, but it has as good a news division as its competitors. However, something changed during President Trump’s tenure in office. For one, commentators like Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson had more sway in the network than its reporters. Things came to a head in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election. A recent filing in a lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems reveals that opinion journalists knew that Donald Trump and his acolytes were not telling the truth that Trump had the elections stolen from him. However, they never shared that information with the public. In fact, these same commentators pushed as far as to threaten the actual Fox News reporters who were doing their jobs by reporting the facts. The management and the commentators wanted to “protect” the brand, which meant they wanted to retain credibility among the many Fox viewers that were diehard supporters of the then President. FOX management and the opinion leaders were afraid of telling the truth because they feared losing market share.
What’s surprising is in some way how much the commentators believed that Trump had lost the election and was repulsed by the lie. Tucker Carlson went as far as calling Trump a “ demonic force. “ And yet Carlson, Hannity, and Laura Ingraham were also calling for journalists who did their jobs by reporting the facts to lose their jobs. Fox News is guilty of fan service in the worst way.
The point of sharing this is not to shame Fox news or Trump. In fact on the left, MSNBC tends to engage in fan service though not to the extent that Fox has. The point, to wonder about when we have performed fan service in our own lives. When have we not spoken up, but instead went with the crowd? When have we told people what they wanted to hear and not the truth?
What are our values? What matters to people? Are we willing to hold on to those values at some cost?
In Matthew 4, the Spirit sends Jesus out to the desert. After 40 days, the devil shows up and tempts him three times. The first two times the devil tempts by offering things that seem to make sense. Hey, turn these stones into bread. You’re hungry, right? It’s in your power to do this, so why hold back? Over and over again, Jesus tells Satan that he won’t give in. When the devil tells him to turn stones into bread, Jesus responds by saying that he values more than mere wants, he values God’s word. When the devil tells him to throw himself down from a high tower so that the angels will protect him, Jesus responds by saying he values God’s holiness and will not rely on cheap grace. And when finally the devil shows him all of the kingdoms of the world, he reveals himself by saying all of this can be yours if Jesus would worship him. Jesus tells Satan to beat it, Jesus knows there is only one God and the tempter isn’t it.
Cable news networks like Fox and MSNBC want to people please, but then so do we. We want to please others at the expense of our values? We choose to stay silent in order to not ruffle feathers. We are always tempted to conform to not speak up in order to fit in or be popular.
I’m reminded of the song by the Canadian rock group Rush, called “Subdivisions.” The chorus keeps reminding us of the rule guiding life: “conform or be cast out.”
The temptation is to fit in, but God is calling us to be faithful and what I’ve learned more often than not is that being faithful can be very unpopular. Jesus was called to be faithful and that placed him on the cross.
Faithfulness is not as sexy as fan service, but in the case of Fox News, it is a whole lot cheaper on the pocketbook.
Life is one where we are always facing tests. Do we trust in God? Do we believe in values like caring for others and loving God? Or do we believe in being popular at any cost?
Fox News failed its test. It wanted to do fan service instead of journalism. But what about you? How are we doing fan service instead of being called to our values?
Fan service works if we are talking about television shows. When it comes to journalism? Not so much.