By Ben Krull
It’s hard on my nerves and gives me nightmares. But like a rubbernecker who gawks at a highway accident, I am unable to look away.
I am addicted to Fox News; hooked on O’Reilly, Beck and the Obama-bashing Fox and Friends morning show. But my drug of choice is Sean Hannity.
A promo for Hannity’s book, Conservative Victory, summarizes his politics: “Hannity surveys all the major Obama players… He exposes their resulting campaign to dismantle the American free-market system and forfeit our national sovereignty.” His nightly show is a parade of Rush Limbaugh wannabes peddling books and Republican presidential aspirants, pandering to Tea Party types.
What differentiates Hannity from his snarling Fox counterparts is that his rants have a good-natured delivery. His congenial demeanor makes me want to punch his nose and say, “Wipe that smile off your face.”
Most of what I hear on Hannity’s show is lies and misrepresentations; double-talk and hyperbole. While watching him, I feel like kicking in my flat-screen, yet I am too enthralled to even change the channel.
You might wonder why a hardcore Democrat like myself is drawn to such toxic talk. I have come up with several theories: as a columnist I want to keep up with the latest journalistic trends; being a liberal, I want to know my enemy; I have a subconscious crush on Sarah Palin. But none of these reasons ring true.
I asked my psychologist-friend, Amy, what she thought.
“The anger you feel enlivens you,” she said. “That’s why some people like to feel pain—it makes them feel alive. Fox does that for you.”
While it is disquieting to think that my television viewing habits are akin to sadomasochism, Amy has a point. Even as it drives me nuts, Fox produces a surge of emotion that gives me a high.
Some of my politically minded friends watch MSNBC, Fox’s left-leaning competitor. But Keith Olberman, Ed Schultz and the network’s other Democratic cheerleaders do nothing to raise my blood pressure. Listening to opinions I mostly agree with is like watching a 3-D movie without the glasses: flat and boring.
I am also turned off by the network’s partisanship. While Fox’s emotionally charged rhetoric sucks me in, the same tone in liberal clothing makes me wince.
As a graduate-degree-educated, New Yorker-reading, PBS-watching (when I’m not watching Fox) NPR-listening liberal, I want the side of the political divide I identify with to be defined by rational, intelligent discourse. So when I hear my fellow travelers hyperventilating about the right (Keith Olberman on Sen. Scott Brown: a “homophobic, racist, reactionary… tea-bagging supporter of violence against women…”), it makes me embarrassed to wear my “YES WE CAN” T-shirt.
Despite my complaints about MSNBC, watching the network causes me no stress. Not so with Fox. I recently had a nightmare in which President Obama was overthrown in a coup. The plotters replaced him with George W. Bush, who was wearing a Caesar-like crown. The dream was so realistic that when I woke up I nervously turned on MSNBC to see if Morning Joe had been replaced by Joe the Plumber.
To preserve my mental health, I have taken a break from Hannity and his cohorts. To ease my withdrawal, I have been listening to sports-talk radio. Although the Yankee-haters (Richard from Queens: “Yankee fans are such hypocrites. They’re up in arms when Jeter gets plunked by Beckett, but said nothing when Clemens hit Piazza”) give me nightmares, it is less disturbing to have bad dreams about the Red Sox and bats, than red states
Ben Krull is a lawyer and essayist who lives on the Upper East Side.