Oh, Fox, Fox, Fox….
As the tragic news of Robin William’s suicide spread across the media, Fox News made an utter ass of itself by using a fake “Mrs. Doubtfire” video featuring someone dressed like the Williams character to back Greta Van Susteren’s phone interview of Larry King about the comic’s career. The footage was labeled as coming from 20th Century Fox, and then the network moved on to clips from “Mork and Mindy.”
It was a just a mistake, but I think it was a mistake of significance:
1. The “Mrs. Doubtfire” spoof video was found by some lazy and inept lower level Fox staff member, but obviously passed review by a director, an editor, and others. Nobody who had any idea who Robin Williams was or the slightest familiarity with his work could have been involved in this. It tells us that Fox News is sloppy and unprofessional, and should cause legitimate concerns about their news gathering process, fact-checking, and trustworthiness. (I know, I know…)
2. The fiasco showed the disrespect, or at least lack of respect, the right had for Williams. I find it hard to believe that Fox would be so careless with the death of a conservative comic, if there were one still alive…OK, Dennis Miller, then. Rush Limbaugh stoked my suspicions by making astonishingly fatuous comments about Williams on his show today, tying his suicide to the left’s “worldview” of “pessimism and darkness.” Really, Rush…pay attention. Everything isn’t about politics. The greatest comedians are often depressive—“miserable bastards,” as Sid Caesar described them (and himself), and their demons have nothing to do with ideology.
3. The error exposed a true Achilles heel of conservatives…indeed, it is more like an Achilles thigh. Compared to the more liberal side of U.S. society, the right is stunningly disinterested of current popular culture, its form, content and message, and has disdain for its power. This, to be blunt, makes many influential and visible conservatives stupid, and makes them sound stupid as well. It estranges them from the young and causes the public to conflate conservative principles with a longing for the past. (For their part, liberals are made stupid by their frequent disinterest in and ignorance of history.) Conservatives are under-represented in all segments of the arts, particularly the performing arts; as a result, the arts tend to reflect the liberal views of their creators and supporters. This leads current day conservatives to prefer the messages of works that are often way past their pull-date, at least politically. When pundits and Democrats dismiss Republicans as old, white and out-of-touch with the world as it is, this is one of the factors that both fuels that opinion and supports it.
Fox News should apologize for insulting the memory and legacy of a performing genius by its carelessness, even though an absurd proportion of its audience probably regard him as just another drug-addled, profane liberal mouthpiece finally brought down by his own vices. But that only would address the immediate impact of its gaffe. The reasons for it, I think, will be much more difficult for the network to fix.
It had better try, however.