Roger L. Simon

Fox News Needs a Chill Pill before Thursday's Debate

Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump speaks to Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, at a break during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

There comes a point — and we are long past it — when one media outlet shouldn’t be able to control the fortunes of one political party the way Fox News does the Republicans.  For that alone, we should thank Donald Trump for demurring to participate in Fox’s final Iowa debate Thursday night.

The spectacle of Bill O’Reilly fairly “begging” Trump, as Drudge put it, to appear was almost embarrassing to watch. (Hasn’t Bill learned by now that Donald — like Tom Petty — “won’t back down“?) And enough about Megyn Kelly, whose metastasizing ego is starting to make her resemble a cable news version of the ambitious Eve Harrington in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s All About Eve.

When Kelly wrapped her show Wednesday night, winking at the audience and assuring us that they (the debate panel) would be asking “tough questions” of the candidates, I wondered to what end?  “Tough,” usually meaning “trick,”questions may make for entertaining sound bites, but do they really tell us anything at all about how someone would fare or act as president? Not often.

Exactly how many times do we want to see Cruz and Rubio bickering over who said what about immigration? Both of these guys are obviously smart and good debaters, but what does that actually mean in terms of what a president actually does… unless we want to ship them over to the Oxford Union to take on a team of Brits? Wouldn’t it be better to, um,  read an article about their various policies that would tell us so much more, assuming that we really do want to know more and don’t just base our opinions on gut likes and dislikes (something, I’m willing to wager, more people do than would admit). And that latter, instinctive preference may actually be more valuable since, whatever the sturm und drang, the differences between the Republican candidates are minuscule compared to the differences between them and the Democrats.

Nevertheless, the debate show must go on.  But someone ought to remind Kelly, et al. that this election is not about Fox and its performer-hosts.  It’s about the candidates and the American people. For 2016, the medium (or the media company) is way too much the message.

Trump, who knows their game better than they do, has taken yet another risk by calling them on it. Whether he has done this out of petulance or clever strategy or a combination is unclear, but we shall soon see the results — or at least be able factor them into the vote count at the Iowa caucus.

In fairness to Fox, much of their power and importance can be ascribed to the skill with which they do their work and the often surprising sophistication of their programming.  Though conservative or libertarian, they are far hipper with Greg Gutfeld and Tom Shillue than the mega-stodgy and unwatchable MSNBC of Maddow and Matthews and CNN where the only halfway decent show is hosted by a traveling chef.

Fox is a form of addiction for all of us on the right.  I admit to watching it daily.  But like all addictions, even good ones like exercise, they must be kept under constant evaluation lest they and we lose our way. And none of us should back down.