Shhhh. Good morning. It is 6 a.m. It is “Fox & Friends” time. Do you have your coffee? Are you a little awake? The hosts, Ainsley Earhardt, Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade, are awake. And so are at least some of the 1.7 million Americans who comprise their viewing audience – and so, presumably, is the man who has become their most famous audience member, the president of the United States.
“Now, over on TBS is a show – I have never seen it – starring Samantha Bee,” Doocy begins on a recent morning, when the sky outside the show’s New York studio is still dark and the three hosts are settled on their sofa. “Apparently, Samantha Bee sent her correspondent out to CPAC, and we have got a little bit of some of his observations.”
What follows is a clip you might have seen making the rounds: Bee’s correspondent observed that many young men at the conservative conference had similar “Nazi hair.” One of the men, however, turned out to have the haircut not because he shared nationalist views but because he was suffering from brain cancer. Oops.
“Oops!” says Pete Hegseth, who today is filling in for Kilmeade. “Turns out maybe you should do research before you point things like that out.”
Other news networks were currently focused on the House Republicans’ controversial health-care plan, which had just been released. In the “Fox & Friends” universe – a chatty, right-tilting, pre-breakfast digestion of the news – the main story was the bungle on Samantha Bee’s program, “Full Frontal.” The Bee story merited four different slots in the three-hour program, culminating at 8:29 a.m. when Donald Trump, from his perch as the leader of the free world, retweeted the segment to his 26 million followers.
Later that week, HBO host John Oliver would announce on “Last Week Tonight” his plan to deliver a message to the president about health care via a commercial he would pay to air during a “Fox & Friends” ad break. A “professional cowboy” would be deployed to explain costs and subsidies specifically to Trump, whom Oliver assumed would be watching.
And earlier that week Trump had already gone on one of his famous early-morning Twitter romps, live-tweeting two full hours of “Fox & Friends” on subjects ranging from Russia to health care.
Donald Trump loves cable news. Cable news in general, “Fox & Friends” in particular, possibly for hours a day, knocking around the White House, tapping on his Android, having his sense of the country shaped by television.
Pretending to understand anyone via their viewing habits is tricky, but it did make us curious: What does it feel like, to consume hours and hours of the president’s favorite TV? Perspective-changing? World-changing?
What it feels like to watch lots and lots of “Fox & Friends” will depend on whether you are the type of person who already watches lots and lots of “Fox & Friends.” Which we were not. Until last week.
“Watch,” a news banner commands on a recent episode, “as a gust of wind blows a girl off her feet as she clings to a screen door.”
On screen, the security footage replays: A little girl runs up some porch steps and grabs the door handle, which swings open and carries her with it. “She has quite a Kung-Fu grip there,” Doocy laughs.
“Arm strength,” Earhardt says.
“Up, up and away.”
The hosts pivot to actual news: Bloomberg’s “Consumer Comfort Index,” which measures confidence in the U.S. economy, is at a 10-year high. “Is the upbeat assessment thanks to the Trump bump?” Earhardt asks jauntily.
This is the formula for “Fox & Friends” – the formula for any morning infotainment, really. Viral talkers interspersed with hard-news tidbits. On “Fox & Friends,” the hard news is Trump-friendly, the soft news is family-friendly, and everything is delivered with the same upbeat, educational tone. When they bring on the author of “Reasons to Vote for Democrats” – the joke is that the book is full of blank pages – the hosts don’t seem to hate Dems so much as deeply pity them, as they also pity “liberals” or “mainstream media.”
Are the “Fox & Friends” folks the media? Are they mainstream, with their 1.7 million viewers? No. They are on your side, which is to say the viewer’s side, which is to say the right-thinking viewer’s side. They are there to provide what the rest of the media wants to hide.
At times the hosts seem to speak directly to Trump. One day after he live-tweeted their show, they discuss what kind of tweeting would be most presidential. Serious tweeting, they tell the camera.
“Tweeting about medicine, Obamacare, immigration, jobs, policy,” Doocy says.
“Those important tweets,” affirmed Earhardt.
“Perhaps more useful to tweet about policy and important announcements,” Doocy says, “rather than, for instance, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ratings.”
(Are you listening, Mr. President?)
Fish are shot in barrels full of straw men, as when the hosts discover that a college is inviting students to “dream of diversity” for an art installation. “What do Americans who gave their life and limb think about a little nap-in?” a host asks. Military veteran Johnny Joey James comes on the show and posits that it is better to fight for one’s country than to take naps at college.
Kellyanne Conway comes on, cheerful and confident, the morning after she told the American people that Barack Obama may be spying on Trump via a microwave.
A priest in a collar comes on and affirms that the moral thing to do is oppose immigration, because while humans have the inalienable right to “emigrate” – to leave their countries, he spells out – they do not have the right to “immigrate,” i.e. to arrive somewhere else.
Fifteen hours into this experiment, we realize that the trouble with “what does it feel like to watch eleventy billion hours of ‘Fox & Friends’ ” is that is presumes we all feel the same things, or start from the same place, or have much common ground at all.
If you are already a connoisseur of the show, then bingeing it will feel both reassuring and entirely unremarkable: a place where Trump is finally getting a fair shake, and people are finally able to call the mainstream media out on their piles of B.S. by saying things that need to be said. If you’re not, it will feel like a parallel universe where up is down, and down is backward, and two plus two equals purple.
Which isn’t surprising. We increasingly live in a choose-your-own-facts society. If you are worried about your job, your health care, your safety, you might choose whichever news source made you feel the most justified in your beliefs. If you were a president whose most recent approval rating was 39 percent, you might do the same thing.
If, on the other hand, you are trying to watch “Fox & Friends” merely as an anthropological exercise, then what you’ll think of it is that they are masters of tone and delivery. The show is an object lesson on how you can say the darnedest things, so long as you do them in a sunny-side-up way.
“Fox & Friends” is much more pleasant to watch than MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show,” for example, where the host’s smirking indignation wears old and starts to feel like a stress test delivered via the television. It’s also more pleasant than CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” where opposing views are lobbed back and forth like tennis balls: Kayleigh McEnany to Van Jones to Kayleigh McEnany to – oops, the ball has gone wild and Jeffrey Lord is chasing it.
If Rachel Maddow is faux outrage, then “Fox & Friends” is faux peacemaking, wondering why the other side persists in being so mean, while casually throwing frosting-coated grenades over the fence.
Opposing viewpoints are piped in infrequently, and usually in discrete sound bites (a clip of Bernie Sanders railing against the proposed health-care plan) that can then be dismissed without having to delve too deeply into unpleasant arguing.
But for a comparison, let’s flip briefly to what’s on the other morning shows right now and see what they’re doing that’s different.
“Good Morning America” has the girl with the screen door, whipping through the wind in Ohio while her surprised mother looks on. MSNBC has the girl with the screen door. CNN has the girl with the screen door.
“Fox & Friends” shows the girl swinging by the screen door again, the third round of the broadcast. They are obsessed. They cannot get enough of the little girl swinging by the screen door.
“What a ride!” one of the men exclaims.
“Shows the difference between men and women,” Earhardt says. “All the guys laugh and all the women are, ‘That poor child.’ “
The little girl flies across the screen again, holding onto the door. The nation is the little girl.
Another morning, another “Fox & Friends” episode.
Over the weekend, two NASCAR drivers got in a fight at a race in Las Vegas, and at the top of the hour, the hosts are commenting on this matter. “I love going to hockey games,” Earhardt says. “You can drink beer, and always watch a fight. And now you can go to NASCAR. They love country music. They love America. They fight. They race. They go fast, and then you saw some blood.”
“What is this, an episode of ‘Cheers’?” one of her co-hosts asks.
“I love it,” she responds.
“I can tell.”
It’s peak “Fox & Friends,” the reddest of red-state stereotypes crammed into one paragraph. The liberal equivalent would be, “I love going to ‘Hamilton’ performances with my undocumented same-sex partner.”
Then they talk about how fans at a high school football game were forced to apologize for wearing “patriotic” colors, because the players on the other team come from refugee families (the fans were also reportedly yelling “Deport them.”). Then they talk disapprovingly about a woman who filmed an encounter with White House press secretary Sean Spicer at an Apple store.
Then they wish happy birthday to actor William H. Macy.
Then they cannot believe anyone who thinks that Obamacare is working.
Then a pizza arrives, which the hosts had previously ordered via an app that installs in the tongue of a shoe.
Then Donald Trump is tweeting. “It is amazing how rude much of the media is to my very hard working representatives,” he writes a little before 8 a.m. “Be nice, you will do much better!”
Maybe he is watching a different show today.