Television coverage of the war in Iraq was an opportunity to compare networks, and there is no question in my mind that Fox News was tops. The network calls itself "fair and balanced," which is quite funny, given its unabashedly biased right-wing take on everything from French fries to cluster bombs, but this is not its appeal. The secret of Fox News is that it's like a porn movie with clothes. The blonde Fox anchors in their false eyelashes and short skirts always look slightly tired as if they'd stayed up all night being naughty and are buoyed only by war adrenaline and the hope of misbehaving again as soon as the camera goes off. Their male counterparts look like former frat boys leering secretly at some dirty joke they just told or remembered, and they, like the viewers, can't wait for the blondes to cross their legs. One embedded female Fox reported gleefully from the cockpit of a fighter jet, positively oozing with lust and wickedly delighted at the evident jealousy of her counterpart behind the desk on earth: "Bet you're sorry you're not up here with these boys!" Leer. Grin. Squeeze young flyer bicep. Earth anchor crosses legs.
Guests and commentators were older versions of the frat boys, mostly decrepit cold-warriors like William Bennett and Al Haig, delirious with joy at finding a Fox blonde at the bottom of the cereal box. They all looked like they just put down their Scotch to come on TV.
Unfortunately, Fox missed the climax in Baghdad because they used footage from Abu Dhabi TV that was shot to look like there weren't that many celebrants there for the pulling down of Saddam's statue. The competition did a lot better with that one, so it looked for a minute like Fox did all the fluffing and the others got the sweets. But all in all, none of the others came close. CNN's Aaron Brown was timid and cranky, and there wasn't any rah-rah in him. MSNBC tried to outrightwing Fox but that's like wearing a stuffed codpiece when you just don't got it.
Things have gone down since the war, but the Fox effect rules. Bill Bennett, for instance, ex-drug czar and moral crusader, turns out to be a big-time gambler. There are sins and there are sins. With a father figure like Bennett and optimistic children like the Foxes and a good war now and then, the conservatives have nothing to worry about. Only the stripper news anchors in Russia and Canada might give them a run for the money, but this is still America, goshdarn it. We can be obscene with our clothes on.