On reading Anne Strieber’s diary, “The Fox in the Hen House,” I am inspired to add my two cents.

I suppose I am a Johnny-Come-Lately, as I discovered only Friday that the “Fox News” channel has been around for years. When we were doing Coast to Coast AM on Friday night, the TV monitor was playing this channel. I did not watch it much, obviously, but during breaks I glanced at it and assumed that it was an infomercial for the McCain/Palin campaign.

On Saturday evening, I watched the programming again. As Anne says in her latest diary, we normally stick to BBC World News America, because it offers the kind of intelligent in-depth reporting that we are both used to from the days of Walter Cronkite. The current American network news broadcasts, and the National Public Radio news programs, are filled with a startling number of silly features and human interest stories that are not news. When the BBC does a feature, its purpose is to illuminate an issue. Recently, I turned on the local NPR station to find that their flagship national news program was running a feature on how best to water roses.

But this Fox News thing really takes the cake. On it, I saw the clownish “Joe the Plumber” being literally extolled as some sort of hero, and commended as a candidate for Congress. I thought to myself that we have already tried a poorly educated exterminator, in the person of the disgraced Tom DeLay. Do we really want another ideologically strident but politically innocent man in government? I don’t think being a plumber’s assistant qualifies you for anything, except–possibly–to be a plumber.

We have surely had enough of the barely qualified and the poorly qualified being placed in positions of political importance in our country. You talk about going to hell in a handbasket–that’s where we’re headed, and the reason is leadership that is too ideologically rigid and, for that reason, insufficiently informed to make useful decisions.

Nevertheless, the purpose of news programming is to present news, not to promote ideology, and for this reason, the Fox News channel is in need of profound change. That the American people not only tolerate it, but honor it with high ratings, is, to my mind, a serious sign of the decline of discourse in this country, and, along with it, the decline of the republic.

I thought that the screaming mimis of talk radio were a disgrace, as I wrote recently, but this thing, with its oddly hysterical voice and its constant harping on inaccurate and inappropriate political commentary, and its twisting of facts, is much worse. At least, when you hear some extremist howling on the radio, if you have a discerning mind, you might think to also explore the other side of whatever issue he is howling about. Or even better, to look to the center, where most Americans are.

Fox News is not news, it is propaganda.

We have gone through eight years of absurd government, and there is a possibility that there could be more to come. Certainly, Fox News is pushing for this.

I have nothing against Republicanism. I’ve voted Republican many times. But I do not think that the party has been effective in recent years. President Bush’s method of “praying on it” then going with his gut, is no way to manage so complex an enterprise as the United States of America. At least Ronald Reagan and, despite his obvious mental problems, Richard Nixon, thought out their policies with great care. Certainly, Eisenhower did.

The Republicans have failed because they went too far right. The party needs time to regroup around its more traditional ideology and get away from neoconservatism. It cannot do that while in office, so it needs a breather. Republicans need to get back to the party of Taft and Eisenhower, and put the present debacle behind them. But it cannot do that in the context of a political discourse that is being distorted by those least able to govern, which are the extremists.

The American people are not well served by vast doses of media that spout extremist ideology of any stripe. They distort the national dialog, and harm our ability to think clearly about the real needs and fate of our nation.

If media outlets choose an irresponsible path, the body politic must insist that they raise the level of their discourse or transfer their access to those who will. We are a very large country with a very small number of left and right wing extremists in it. And yet, unless you go to a news broadcast prepared by foreigners, you cannot get fair and balanced news about the United States. Your choices are either to listen to stridently politicized nonsense or warmed over pap. That’s not good enough.

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