Watching Fox
A blog about the president's favorite channel.

Nov. 3 2017 2:30 PM

What I Learned From Three Weeks Watching Fox News Nonstop

For the past three weeks, against my better judgment, I have been watching Fox News non-stop. I have come away from the experience with a persistent headache, an irrational fondness for The Five, and a keen sense of the many ways in which we all are screwed. Though you might not watch Fox News on a regular basis, lots and lots of people do, including President Donald Trump. The results illuminate the wisdom of the phrase “garbage in, garbage out.”

The network isn’t all garbage, of course. Shepard Smith is a quality anchor. Neil Cavuto and Bret Baier are basically fine. Geraldo sometimes speaks truth to stupid. Fox’s breaking-news work is competent and its panel discussions are occasionally enlightening. These periodic spurts of adequacy are what makes Fox News so very frustrating. They prove that Fox could be a reasonable platform for conservative news and commentary if it wanted to be. Instead, the network has chosen to travel a much more stupid path. The network flatters its viewers’ sense of moral superiority while validating all of their latent resentments, cultivating in them a constant state of righteous rage that can be easily exploited by wealthy demagogues.

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For a television network that has “news” in its name, Fox News is oddly stagnant. The same guests and contributors recur across multiple programs, clearly valued less for their insights than their availability. The same topics are discussed ad nauseam, show after show after show. The same catchphrases are uttered, the same straw men erected and dismembered. It’s as if the network’s agenda is set each morning by picking topics from a hat that includes exactly three slips of paper, all of which say “CROOKED HILLARY.” It’s exhausting.

Exhaustion is the point. The network persuades through repetition. Some people think that Fox News poisons the minds of viewers, like a drug slipped into an unwitting victim’s food. It’s more accurate to say that the network wears them down. Even the dumbest conspiracy theories can start to sound plausible when you hear them again and again and again—especially if you are not listening very carefully to begin with.

The network’s programming does not just wash over its viewers like rain. As studies have suggested—and as you probably already know from studying the Facebook habits of your opinionated uncle Frank—the more you watch Fox News, the more conservative you become. Who are these impressionable people who are so easily swayed by Sean Hannity’s sweet words? After three weeks, I think I can tell you a few things about them. They trust their pastors more than they trust their elected officials. They despise the media despite not actually consuming very much of it. They have an insatiable lust for purchasing retirement gold from websites that advertise on television. They subscribe to a spiteful populism in which the people seize power for the sole purpose of annoying those who preceded them in office. Their vision of America resembles one drawn in crayon by a child on a placemat.

“The people took their power back on Election Day, and the establishment is mad as hell,” said Laura Ingraham during the inaugural episode of The Ingraham Angle on Monday. “Let’s face it. They really don’t like the American people—not very much, at least—or their forefathers.” This observation, delivered during a monologue meant as her show’s mission statement, is a window into the network’s dominant mind.

The first sentence—The people took their power back on Election Day, and the establishment is mad as hell—implies that any opposition to the Trump agenda is a function of elitist resentment. This theme recurs throughout Fox’s programming, from Sean Hannity’s relentless media-bashing to the chipper brutishness of Fox & Friends. In Fox’s telling, elites resent the erosion of their own status under the Trump regime, which explains both the unsympathetic coverage the president has received from the media and the resistance he has met from the so-called deep state. Government and the media—with the sole exceptions of Donald Trump and Fox News—are not and can never be of the people. They are inherently un-American.

Let’s face it, far from a throwaway phrase, is an appeal to the wisdom of “just plain folks,” who don’t need a fancy college degree to tell bullshit from bonbons. Fox News exists to repudiate expertise. The network is forever differentiating between authentic opinion and inauthentic opinion. Authentic opinion is felt, whereas inauthentic opinion is derived. Authentic opinion is a product of lived experience, preferably lived by leathery military men. Inauthentic opinions are expressed by needle-nosed nerds who have read some books. Throughout the network’s history, its most popular hosts—Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity—have been plain-spoken white guys who loudly affect working-class values while rejecting nuance. “The problem with the argument that Democrats are making,” said Republican strategist Evan Siegfried in a devastatingly perceptive segment on Outnumbered Overtime last month, “is that the argument takes longer than a bumper-sticker slogan to make.”

They really don’t like the American people—not very much, at least—or their forefathers. In the world of Fox News, the far right holds a monopoly on Americanism. Day after day, hour after hour, the network is continuously redefining Americanism to exclude the liberal values and accomplishments that, for many Americans, have long been a source of pride: trade unionism, the liberal arts, political dissent, social-welfare programs, rationality.

These things are anathema to the network’s most prominent hosts. Their idealized America is a well-armed theocracy whose citizens all sing Christmas carols in unison as they march back in time toward some crude golden era in which socialists went to prison, professional athletes saluted the flag, and white men were free to trade ethnic jokes in public. Fox News is a network intent on defending the West while rejecting the Enlightenment.

Nov. 2 2017 2:51 PM

Geraldo Rivera Might Be the Sanest Person at Fox News

On Wednesday night’s edition of Hannity, an exasperated Geraldo Rivera did something I never expected to see on Fox News: He called out Pamela Geller for her useless commentary. Geller is an extremist blogger and occasional Fox News guest whom the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed “the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead.” She is an irrational troll, and she showed as much by construing two very mild points that Rivera had made as proof that he was practically in league with ISIS.

“I’m not surprised that Geraldo would side with terrorists,” said Geller, apropos of nothing. “I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but in the wake of the attack on me”—in 2015, two men attacked a police car outside a building in which Geller was hosting an event—“the very next day Geraldo said on Fox & Friends that ‘Every time I see her on television I want to take a shower’. So, yes, he hates me more than the terrorists so I can’t take too much of what he says seriously.”

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“That’s not true, Pam. That’s absolutely untrue,” said Rivera. “I don’t hate you more than I hate the terrorists. I just think you are a very unhelpful commentator.”

“Because I won’t align myself with the jihad force,” said Geller.

“Because you don’t listen to reason and you’re a radical,” said Rivera. “That’s why.”

Take that, Pamela Geller! It was the first time in three weeks of watching Fox News nonstop that I had seen one guest so clearly accuse another of wasting everyone’s time. I was surprised that it happened, but not that Rivera was the one to do it: Geraldo Rivera is the most sane person on the crazy side of Fox News.

Rivera is a correspondent at large at Fox and a frequent guest on the network’s opinion programs. He’s one of the few people who everyone at the network seems to like, and his personal popularity gives him license to deviate from the party line and say what he actually thinks. He certainly has a history of saying stupid things, but ultimately his candor and independence are refreshing—especially on Fox News, where unhelpful commentators outnumber helpful ones by a significant ratio.

Rivera has a talent for expressing reasonable, moderate opinions without drawing the wrath or disdain of Fox’s hosts. On an Oct. 13 appearance on Fox & Friends, he criticized President Trump for trying to kill the Affordable Care Act without offering a plan for an immediate replacement. “He is the author of this fiat that is hastening the death of Obamacare,” said Rivera. “When you give healthy people an out, that leaves the older, sicker, less economically viable folks to fend for themselves. Then that result is going to be more and more millions of low-income Americans who cannot afford health insurance, and I believe that is unfair.” It’s a fair point, and Geraldo Rivera is one of the few Fox & Friends guests who would ever have the opportunity to make it.

A couple of weeks ago, when Fox was excoriating liberals on a nightly basis for their purported complicity with Harvey Weinstein, Rivera was one of the few Fox employees to note, on air, that Fox had itself had had very public issues with sexual harassment. Rivera also noted the folly of attempting to politicize sexual assault in order to undermine one’s ideological enemies. “You know ‘the casting couch’ is true,” Hannity told Rivera on Oct. 12, as a way of advancing one of his favorite syllogistic fallacies:

  1. Hollywood is full of creeps
  2. Hollywood is full of liberals
  3. All liberals are creeps.

“I’ve done a dozen exposés,” Rivera replied. “It is absolutely true. But I would submit to you that the perpetrators defy all ideological boundaries. They are right-wingers and they’re left-wingers.” An obvious point, perhaps, but for Hannity it verges on heresy. Note the way in which Rivera made the point: 1) He kept his temper; 2) he initially agreed with Hannity; 3) he underscored his own credentials to opine on the topic; 4) he presented his opinion in a respectful way. He often uses this formula on Fox to advance heterodox opinions, and he usually succeeds. Is he a great commentator, objectively speaking? No. He is Geraldo Rivera, a man who once found nothing but dust inside Al Capone’s vault. But I’m always happy to see him on Fox, because he is generally much less dumb and tendentious than his colleagues. Thanks, Geraldo!

Nov. 1 2017 9:06 PM

Fox News’ Manhattan Truck Attack Coverage Was Good, Until It Was Terrible

Fox News actually did a pretty good job covering the New York terror attack on Thursday afternoon—at first, that is. During the immediate aftermath of the attack—in which an Uzbek national claiming allegiance to ISIS drove a truck he rented from a New Jersey Home Depot onto a Manhattan bike path, killing eight people—the network took great care to emphasize everything it didn’t know. This caution is standard protocol for journalists during breaking-news events, when unintentional misinformation is everywhere, and passing it along as fact can damage your credibility and have other disastrous consequences. Fox was very careful on Tuesday afternoon. Starting with Shepard Smith Reporting in the 3 p.m. hour all the way through Special Report With Bret Baier at 6 p.m., Fox’s early coverage of the attack was competent, professional, and informative, featuring minimal speculation and relatively responsible punditry. Then the evening programming began.

 

There is a real divide between the news and opinion programming at Fox News, and that split was especially evident Tuesday night. From 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., Fox’s evening hosts and guests also took pains to emphasize how much they did not know about the attacks—albeit in the “displaying their ignorance” sense—and took every possible opportunity to fill in those knowledge gaps with nativist rhetoric and liberal-bashing. All night long, the network presented a ceaseless parade of disreputable guests with polarizing opinions, egged on by hosts eager to pin blame for the attack on the rampant political correctness that ostensibly prevents government officials from broadly surveilling American Muslims and interferes with President Trump’s ongoing efforts to isolate America from the rest of the world. If Tuesday afternoon showcased the strengths of the network’s breaking-news division, then Tuesday evening was Fox at its worst.

Oct. 31 2017 7:41 PM

Laura Ingraham’s New Show Is a Devastatingly Cynical Nightly Spectacle

Laura Ingraham knew exactly which notes to play in the Monday-night debut episode of her new Fox News show, The Ingraham Angle. By the time the show’s first minute had passed, the longtime talk-radio host had already mentioned God, Ronald Reagan, Frank Sinatra, and the American dream—and how Big Government works to prevent you from attaining the latter.

Before five minutes had passed, Ingraham had joked about Harvey Weinstein, insulted the mainstream media, claimed that American history is “being sacrificed on the high altar of political correctness,” and praised her viewers’ wisdom in electing the wise and effective Donald Trump to the presidency.

Oct. 31 2017 11:26 AM

Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade Dressed Up as His Own Book for Halloween

Fox News hosts resemble President Trump, not to mention cartoon character Jay Sherman, in their zeal for selling their self-branded products. While Bill O’Reilly was the king of this tacky tactic—the man loved nothing more than to lard the “viewer mail” section of his show with letters heaped with praise for his own books—many other network personalities have picked up the self-promotional slack since O’Reilly’s departure. On Tuesday morning, though, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade changed the game forever: He dressed up as his own book for Halloween.

Halloween is a big deal on Fox & Friends. The hosts spent much of the morning teasing the reveal of their costumes. (They also derided the Mueller indictments and interviewed the creator of Dilbert.) The big moment finally came near the end of the 8 a.m. hour, and, my gosh, it was worth waiting for. Ainsley Earhardt wore fake glasses and a trenchcoat concealing a T-shirt reading “Bless You”; she was “a blessing in disguise.” Weatherperson Janice Dean carried an umbrella covered in stuffed animals; she was “raining cats and dogs.” Steve Doocy wore a suit patterned with pictures of currency; the conceit of his costume was that he “looked like a million bucks.”

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Kilmeade, for his part, dressed up as Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans: The Battle That Shaped America's Destiny, perhaps because the Halloween store was sold out of “sexy lickspittle” costumes.

The front of Kilmeade’s costume was his book jacket. The rear was the back of the jacket, with all of the endorsements and such. (If Kilmeade wants to pad out his costume with another blurb, Jimmy Kimmel has one ready: “Brian Kilmeade is a phony little creep.”) This goes to show you can’t judge a book by its cover,” said Kilmeade, as he twirled to display the gigantic UPC code covering his butt. Kilmeade’s fellow hosts were delighted. “This is the only way you would ever wear a costume,” said Dean. He looked like an enormous juice pouch.

Whether it’s Kilmeade dressing up as his own book for Halloween, Sean Hannity spending a week playing clips from the new Kevin Sorbo movie he produced and appeared in, Ainsley Earhardt somehow getting Eric and Lara Trump to endorse her new children’s book during her interview with them, or Laura Ingraham closing the debut episode of her new show by instructing viewers to buy her book, Fox News never lets viewers forget that the best way to stick it to liberals is by spending all their money on Fox-approved merchandise. If you’d like to buy Kilmeade’s book, please do so. I’m sure he’d appreciate it. If you forget, don’t worry—he will probably remind you about it tomorrow.

Oct. 30 2017 7:22 PM

Fox News Did a Great Job Covering the Mueller Indictments. Then Shepard Smith Signed Off.

Shepard Smith Reporting, which airs at 3 p.m. on Fox News, is an outlier on the network: a personality-driven news show that emphasizes news over personality. Its host, the folksy Shepard Smith, is an anchor from another era, one in which watching the news did not make you want to stab your own eardrums with a pencil. Smith is an independent voice who seems committed to bringing his viewers accurate reporting and intelligent commentary. He exudes trustworthiness and decency.

Smith’s show is, in a sense, both the least important and the most important program on Fox News. The show is important to Fox insofar as it gives the network plausible deniability. When critics accuse the network of being a one-note propaganda organ, it can point to Shepard Smith Reporting as proof that it sometimes varies its tune. But the thing that makes the program unique is also what makes it so deeply pointless. It often feels like Smith spends half of his time refuting the rumors peddled by some of his colleagues. The fact that his colleagues do not seem compelled to change their ways, or to live up to Smith’s good example, illustrates the show’s fundamental impotence.

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The Smith paradox—the anchor’s insistence on doing good journalism for a network that mostly exists to disseminate bad journalism—was on full display Monday, as news of the charges brought by special prosecutor Robert Mueller led much of Fox to start spinning in the same predictable, obfuscatory direction. By contrast, Smith’s reporting on the charges and indictments issued against Rick Gates, Paul Manafort, and George Papadopoulos was clear, factual, and refreshingly free of partisan cant. The anchor did not whine about Uranium One and the Steele dossier, nor did he speculate on the possible consequences for whoever leaked news of the impending charges to CNN last Friday. Smith knows as well as anyone that, on a day in which the president’s former campaign chairman was indicted for conspiracy against the United States, those other stories do not matter. Take a look at how he opened his show:

Breaking this morning, word that one of the president’s former foreign policy advisers has pleaded guilty to lying to the feds, misleading them about conversations with Kremlin insiders who claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton. And the president’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and an associate of his pleading not guilty after a grand jury indicted them on felony charges, including conspiracy against the United States. Now President Trump is fighting back, asking why the feds aren’t instead focusing on Democrats and insisting there was no collusion with Russia. This hour, we’ll explain the case, the possible defense, and why this special counsel, Robert Mueller, this could be just a pit stop on a much longer ride.

The charges brought against Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, are the ones most directly relevant to the president. While other Fox News shows led with Manafort and Gates in an effort to make it seem like the indictments were unrelated to Trump, Smith led with the Papadopoulos charges and, what’s more, proceeded to explain them to his viewers. Unlike the Gates and Manafort cases, Smith noted, the Papadopoulos case “directly relates to the Russia investigation and whether the Trump campaign had ties with Moscow. We circled Papadopoulos’ picture in a photo with then-candidate Trump, which he sent out last year, calling it a meeting with his national security team.” Later in the show, Smith and guest John Bussey of the Wall Street Journal took turns critiquing the Trump administration’s claims that Papadopoulos was a virtual nonentity in the campaign.

That’s important! I also like how, when Smith introduced Bussey, he made sure to note that Fox News and the Wall Street Journal “share common ownership.” That’s the sort of thing real journalists are supposed to do. It is also the sort of thing that does not happen very often on Fox News.

Smith also spent plenty of time addressing the charges against Gates and Manafort, which, he accurately noted, “do not appear to be directly related to the presidential race. And in fact, the indictment does not reference either the campaign or Donald Trump himself in connection to Russia.” Most of the other Fox News programs I watched on Monday left it there. Smith, for his part, took care to note that the indictment says that “the conspiracy is alleged to have continued during the time [Manafort] and his associate worked both for the campaign and the new White House.”

Manafort was a key part of the Trump campaign, and Shepard Smith wanted to make sure that viewers knew it. This monologue from midway through the show left no doubt:

Paul Manafort, they used to call him “The Count,” because Paul Manafort, going way back, Trump met him in the mid-1980s. I think it was actually 1988 at the Republican Convention down in New Orleans. And since then they had had a friendship, and he was called “The Count.” And he was the guy on whom they were going to rely. Remember when it was everyone within the Republican Party, all Trump supporters were afraid that they were going to get to that convention and somehow [Trump’s opponents] were going to steal the convention? It was Paul Manafort’s job to come in there and turn votes into delegates. … He got in there, he ran that convention. Make no mistake. In Cleveland, Paul Manafort was in charge. No one will deny this. He was in charge of everything.

At one point Smith played a clip of Manafort’s lawyer telling the media that, by allegedly lobbying for Ukraine without formally registering as an agent of a foreign government, Manafort was simply “seeking to further democracy and to help the Ukraine come closer to the United States and the EU.” Smith dismantled this point:

First of all, the party and the candidate for whom Manafort was working was a pro-Russia, not pro-NATO, pro–United States—he was a pro-Russia candidate. And on fact, when he was ousted from office—Yanukovych was that candidate, that leader—that leader escaped to Moscow, where we believe he is in exile to this day under the protection of the Russians. … That’s the tick-tock on that, right? Not what [Manafort’s attorney] said, that he was trying to bring them closer to the U.S., but that he was fully aligned with Russia then later escaped to Russia.

Take that, Paul Manafort’s attorney!

Smith’s commitment to fact-checking would be admirable on any network. On Fox News, it can feel like a beacon. In real life, being the only one-eyed man in the land of the blind doesn’t make you king—it just means that no one else can see you.

Smith’s good work started to come undone as soon as The Five came on the air at 5 p.m. “Paul Manafort, we’re finding out, was involved with shady dealings prior to the election,” said Greg Gutfeld at the top of the show. “In other breaking news, Kevin Spacey’s gay. I know, it’s all mind-blowing.” Better luck tomorrow, Shep.

Oct. 30 2017 3:15 PM

Fox News Has Spent All Day Begging Donald Trump Not to Tweet About the Mueller Indictments

It’s been a big news day thus far, especially for Fox News, which has had to simultaneously report on the charges brought by special prosecutor Robert Mueller and spin that news to deflect attention away from President Donald Trump. Fox News, as an entity, really wants to create plausible distance between the Trump campaign/administration and Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and George Papadopoulos. Their work on this would be made easier if Trump would agree to shut up on Twitter.

Oct. 30 2017 10:36 AM

Fox & Friends Managed to Make the Manafort Indictment About Hillary Clinton in Record Time

When Monday morning’s episode of Fox & Friends began at 6 a.m., hosts Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, and Brian Kilmeade were focused on one thing. “There is speculation mounting as we await the first indictment of the special counsel on Robert Mueller's Russia probe. We expect it today,” said Kilmeade. “Today, not tonight,” emphasized Earhardt. “It is an announcement that could be made today.”

Around 8 a.m., the announcement finally broke. “All right. We’ve got a Fox News alert,” said Steve Doocy. “We finally have a name.”

Two names, actually. “Moments ago, there were reports coming out of multiple news organizations that it is going to be former campaign manager Paul Manafort and a business associate of his, Rick Gates,” Doocy continued. “That is not confirmed by us yet, but it is certainly out there. And this is going to be a significant development if it is true, because it tells us where this investigation and this special counsel is headed.” After briefly establishing the facts, the Fox & Friends crew reverted to their standard roles as enthusiastic lickspittles for President Trump.

Oct. 27 2017 5:52 PM

Ten Thoughts on Kevin “Hercules” Sorbo’s Appearance as the “One Lucky Guy” on Fox News’ Outnumbered

1. “One Lucky Guy?” More like “one lucky audience!” Outnumbered, which airs at noon each weekday on Fox News, features four regular female panelists and one rotating male panelist, a fellow who sits in the middle of the show’s big semi-circular couch and is dubbed “#oneluckyguy” by host Harris Faulkner. The guy is usually a standard-issue Fox nincompoop like Newt Gingrich or Sebastian Gorka or Jason Chaffetz. Compared to these dull fellows, Kevin “Hercules” Sorbo is a special treat. Sorbo may well be a nincompoop, but at least he’s a novelty!

2. Kevin “Hercules” Sorbo wore the wrong shirt. It is generally best to wear solid colors when you appear on television. “Don’t wear crazy patterns or vertical stripes. The patterns are hard for the cameras to pick up,” says Every Television Producer Who Ever Lived. “But what about my lucky black-and-white vertical-striped shirt?” you will protest. “Under nocircumstances should you wear that shirt,” Every Television Producer Who Ever Lived will respond. Kevin “Hercules” Sorbo does not care about your wardrobe advice, Every Television Producer! Kevin “Hercules” Sorbo certainly does not care that his black-and-white vertical-striped shirt makes him look horrible in close-ups. Kevin “Hercules” Sorbo, who has spent a fair part of his career performing shirtless—he played the part of Hercules in the TV show Hercules: The Legendary Journeys—will wear whatever shirt he wants, and he will wear it unbuttoned to his chest, because that’s just the kind of guy he is.

Oct. 27 2017 1:57 PM

Fox News’ Best Show Features Jesse Watters and a Bunch of People I Like More Than Jesse Watters

In an effort to ensure that this blog devoted to America’s foremost fair-and-balanced news network is itself fair and balanced, I have been trying to leaven my criticisms of Fox News with praise for those programs and personalities I actually enjoy. Nothing is all bad, after all, not even Fox News, and the network even airs some shows that might reasonably be described as good. One of those shows is The Five, the rowdy early-evening talk show that somehow manages to be consistently entertaining despite the involvement of Jesse Watters.

The Five airs at 5 p.m. and features a five-person panel which, on some nights, will discuss as many as five different topics. I do not know how the show got its name, but I guess it doesn’t matter. I am a little bit surprised at how much I enjoy The Five. The show is a pretty standard Fox talker: regurgitating the same stories, insights, and conclusions seen elsewhere on the network. If Fox & Friends hits a story hard in the morning, you can bet The Five will discuss it in the early evening and that it will ultimately land in the same maddening place the morning mouthbreathers did. But whereas discussions on Fox & Friends tend towards the insipid and enraging, The Five’s treatment of the same topic will be lively and engaging. Though it’s easy to predict where the show is going, it’s fun to watch its hosts find their way to the destination.

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The difference comes down to the talent. For those who might not realize how much casting matters, I would direct you to Outnumbered, Fox’s noon panel show, the hosts of which exhibit all the chemistry of five strangers trapped in an elevator. The hosts of The Five actually seem to like each other—there is more intrapanel teasing in a single episode than on every other Fox panel show combined. It is sort of endearing.

The five regular panelists—Watters, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Greg Gutfeld, Dana Perino, and Juan Williams—complement each other nicely. It is the rare Fox News show in which the hosts are allowed and encouraged to disagree substantively without lasting rancor. Williams is perhaps the lone Fox News liberal who is able to finish his sentences without someone cutting him off. Perino, who served as White House press secretary under George W. Bush, is what passes today for a moderate Republican. They are the adults on the panel, and their commentary is generally informed and intelligent.

Guilfoyle and Watters are more in line with the Trump agenda. Watters is an oaf, but oafs are in ascendance these days, so it’s good to have one on the panel. I disagree with most everything Guilfoyle says, but I like her all the same. They are both willing to laugh at themselves and their colleagues, and they both enjoy making fun of Gutfeld.

Gutfeld is the show’s comic relief. His ranting commentaries delight and flummox his counterparts in equal measure. He has a little David Letterman in him in that he will sometimes refuse to let go of a joke, even and especially if he knows the joke is a lame one. Take this bit from Oct. 20, when he annoys Perino by insisting that Sarah Huckabee Sanders is the daughter of Bernie Sanders:

Gutfeld: I have a question for you. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, obviously, she has her famous dad. Could you ask her what it’s like to have a socialist for a father who lost horribly to Hillary, who cheated him out of the nomination?
Perino: No, I don’t think so. But I did talk to her a little bit about her dad.
Gutfeld: Bernie.
Perino: I know who you’re talking about.
Gutfeld: Well, answer the question. Why are you evading the question?
Guilfoyle: Oh, my gosh.

The Five leaves room for weird little asides like these, which is why I like it. The panelists sometimes say hateful and stupid things, but they are clearly people. This is a Fox News talk show with humanity, one in which the participants talk not from prepared talking points but in a rambling, discursive fashion. An exchange from Tuesday, after Republican Sens. Bob Corker and Jeff Flake had each individually spoken out against Donald Trump, is a good example of what I like about The Five.

The segment started with Gutfeld, who went off on Flake for playing the “think of the children” card in his Senate retirement speech. “I hate the ‘What about the children?’ thing, because that is—basically he’s saying, we’re bad people because we’re not agreeing with him. Screw you. Sorry. And I like him. Imagine if I didn’t,” Gutfeld said.

“That would be uncomfortable because that certainly was a little weird,” said Guilfoyle. The Five panelists are always busting each other’s chops.

“The thing that’s interesting is [Flake] voted with President Trump 92 percent of the time,” noted Perino, who went on to add, accurately, that Flake is probably more conservative than Trump is.

“Flake has now announced he’s part of the resistance, and good riddance. We don’t need him. It’s fine,” said Watters.

“You kind of need him for the votes,” said Perino. Zing! After a bit of laughter, Watters went on to argue that it “looks weak” for Corker to complain that he is being bullied by the president: “And for a guy with a Ferragamo tie, and soft hands, and cufflinks, and craft hair, who works three days a week to come out and say, you know what, the president is being mean to me …”

“Look at your hair and tie. And your hands,” said Guilfoyle. Take that, you oaf!

“I’m not complaining about being bullied,” said Watters.

“Your hands are soft like a baby,” said Guilfoyle, and then everyone started laughing again. I laughed, too. Jesse Watters has soft baby hands and his co-workers know it. It was funny!

When I watch The Five, I sometimes feel like I am overhearing a heated albeit good-natured discussion at a bar. “He seems like someone I’d like to get a beer with” is a poor reason to vote for a political candidate but a perfectly valid reason to watch a political talk show. More than any other show on Fox News, The Five nails the beer-worthiness metric. I’m not saying that it’s intelligent television, or even that you will learn much about public affairs by watching. But it makes me laugh more often than it makes me despair over the future of our country; and that, given the shows it shares company with, is worth noting. It’s also possible that, two weeks into this assignment, I am beginning to suffer the effects of Stockholm syndrome. Who can say? Watch The Five, weeknights at 5 p.m. on Fox News!

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