FOX NEWS AT 10
Due to the shade of illumination provided by the lamps arranged throughout the temporary tent set up there, the corner of West 48th Street & Avenue of the Americas became a red light district on the evening of Wednesday, October 4 when Fox News Channel held a party to mark its 10th anniversary. Anticipating that the space might qualify as a red state in miniature within the blue sea of Manhattan, I donned my raspberry sherbet-hued suit jacket for the occasion, and likewise was unsurprised to find that all of the servers and bar staff had been outfitted with sartorially apposite red ties as part of their uniforms for the evening.
With the GOP meltdown story of the week being ex-Florida representative Mark Foley‘s email mash notes to teenaged congressional pages, I was eager to hear just how much of a no-spin zone the tent might be. The affable and chatty Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard conceded “It doesn’t look good for the Republicans,” and that he’s “not optimistic” about how they’ll fare in the upcoming midterm elections in the wake of the scandal. Ultimately, borrowing branded nomenclature from the other side, he lamented the party’s seeming inability to “move on” from it all and on to other issues (I suppose I couldn’t have expected him to use the phrase “turn the page”, as that’s what Foley was trying to do – before finding out like all naughty boys that pages tend to stick together when you fiddle with them).
Greta Van Susteren expressed some bafflement at how the situation has been handled by the GOP, citing that “the problem is they took it to the political committee, and not the ethics committee.” But since when has the current Republican leadership been concerned with ethics? Their core morality is that every issue is first, foremost and utmost of political utility. Her husband, sitting nearby, referred to the ongoing Foley revelations as “the gift that keeps on giving,” and opined that the GOP would surely like to “get him as far away as possible – maybe Cuba.” I noted, “He’s supposed to be entering rehab now,” and asked, “where could you do that there – Gitmo?”
Beyond those two Fox regulars, most of rest of the place felt more like an echo chamber than the repository of all things “fair and balanced” – their corporate slogan, which was tiresomely invoked in a brief tribute made from the dais by would-be presidential hopeful George Pataki. A description of people who “only transmit and never receive” came to mind, and the person who famously prompted that characterization, Donald Trump, predictably enough soon arrived for his nightly fifteen-minute dose of the limelight. As always, that glare highlighted his baffling hairline – which insiders claim is due to scalp reduction surgery – yet the trademark reddish swirl of cotton candy spun atop his crown smartly matched the general decor. When the surname-licensing magnate and reality television performer arrived, he made a bee line to Bill O’Reilly (BORe, if you refer to him by his initials), presumably to commiserate over how hard it is to be so darned good looking and irresistible.
The meeting of the Great Men appeared amicable enough, so I had to wonder if the Donald has ever read the BORe’s 2000 print effluvia “The O’Reilly Factor”, in which the author memorably refers to Trump as “this balding, paunchy builder.” It’s one of the few laugh lines in a book that’s essentially a stream-of-consciousness extended op-ed piece (it consumes all of perhaps a half hour to read – about how long it probably took to write), and is occasioned in BORe’s account of an evening he endured with his then-girlfriend, her pal Marla Maples and Trump, at the time the latter two were “at white heat” as he puts it. The double date was the girls’ idea, and the unlikely venue was a Paula Abdul concert at the Meadowlands Arena, wherein the “average age of the audience members” BORe says, “is about twelve.” He sites the experience as “my personal all-time favorite celeb story” because Trump insisted that the foursome venture from the safety of their private luxury box in order to roam the arena and watch the second half of the concert from in front of the stage – where he could then bask in the reactions to his notoriety by “the excited teenagers” who “dropped popcorn boxes, spilled soda, spit beer” and “screamed the name ‘Donald’ over and over.”
While Trump “feasted on that nutty adulation,” BORe didn’t, noting, “we all got shoved,” despite the accompaniment of Trump’s personal bodyguards, “Tony and Lou.” At the Fox party I notice a single burly Italianate fellow not part of the event security staff who’s been trailing Trump’s every move, so while Trump and BORe exchange wisdom, I ask this Tony or Lou or whomever if he’s Trump’s date for the evening. He tersely replies simply “I follow him around,” in the gruff manner of cops, ex-cops and capos alike. “Sort of like a Slovenian super-model” I suggested.
Once I see BORe has a moment, I make a point of asking him how he rates the chances of a potential Senate candidacy by his nemesis Al Franken. “Franken’s polling in the 20s, so I don’t think that’s going to happen” he says dismissively. I haven’t seen any polls, so can’t debate his veracity, but the figures seem low – it could be he’s confusing any such numbers with the reported percentage of his Air America salary Franken’s actually received to date. I planned to ask a follow-up question about how remarkable it’d be to have a senate race in Minnesota – where the most common surnames are Larsen and Anderson – featuring two Jews from New York (the seat is seemingly reserved for Jews born out of state, with Rudy Boschwitz and Paul Wellstone, respectively born in Berlin and Washington, D.C., preceding current occupant Norm Coleman), but the big guy abruptly walks away, presumably to find women he can play hide the loofah with. Later on I overhear him saying something to someone else apropos of upcoming network coverage and how they’ll “try to be fair” — admirably consistent with the whole right wing’s disciplined capacity to always ‘stay on message’, but what happened to being ‘balanced‘, too?
Whoever coined the phrase “you can’t be too thin” has never seen the cadaverous Anne Coulter in person. The only thing more shocking than her Auschwitzesque physique was hearing her get very excited by the arrival of mini cheeseburgers and lamb chops as they were passed around on trays near her perch at the bar (I suppose she could always bring them up later). The toneless flesh hanging from her forearms evokes the attenuated profile one sees on nonagenarian Park Avenue matrons – a look that makes Paris Hilton look overfed, but also reminds one that the only proven method to prolong human life is to maintain a lowered daily caloric intake. Though she is the physical personification of a harpy, I remember reading something alleging her media embodiment of same is just a role she plays because it’s so lucrative, and that she’s really a more down-to-earth and personable sort when no cameras or microphones are around. Wanting to test the notion, and to see if she has any sense of humor about herself, I’m hoping to ask her if she’s read the mock obituary written about her by Ted Rall that’s been making the rounds of the internet, but, despite her wraithlike appearance, she’s consumed by the attentions of several men, so I never get the chance.
Rall’s piece of satire alleges she shares an Upper East Side love nest with Sean Hannity, who’s apparently left for the evening, as I don’t see him, or his counterpart on Fox’s update on Punch & Judy, Alan Colmes, anywhere. Maybe those two left together. Also missing in action: The News Corporation’s largest shareholder, John Malone. I’m disappointed not to see Rudy Giuliani, as I happen to do a devastating impression of him that was the basis of my one-man show Vito Powers as Rudy Giuliani in I HATE EVERYBODY – lisp prominently included, unlike James Woods‘ or Darrell Hammonds‘ higher profile performances as “America’s Mayor” – and would love to interrogate him in that voice. I see Chris Wallace standing in a corner, and yet, for some reason, he’s not clinking champagne flutes with Bill Clinton. A number of other Fox personnel, such as Britt Hume, Geraldo Rivera, and Shepard Smith (or is that Lachlan Murdoch?), and guests like Ken Auletta, and Howard Safir lard the proceedings, but with the sort of things that pop into my mind to talk to them about concerning suicides of progeny and multiple marriages, I set my sights on engaging bigger game.
I make a point of having a word with Rupert Murdoch, but what does one say to the plutocrat who has everything – or, when he discovers he hasn’t, figures out a way to buy it or co-opt it? He isn’t likely to say anything terribly revealing or surprising, so, using the example of Hunter S. Thompson‘s interview with Richard Nixon, I restrict the topic to football (the world’s game, not America’s). “I know you’re an American citizen now,” I begin, “but what did you think about Fabio Grosso‘s blatant dive that knocked Australia out of the World Cup?” Murdoch replied that while he didn’t see the play live, he had viewed replays of it, and opined, “he knew what he was doing. That’s just experience.” And he could’ve said the same for his own transcontinental trajectory – Antipodeans, whatever their accomplishments, simply are not taken seriously on the world stage until they relocate permanently from the southern hemisphere.
Standing just outside the VIP section – so exclusive that no one at all was in it – Murdoch is joined by Fox News mastermind Roger Ailes and NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, and camera flashes go off like bombs bursting in air. Shortly thereafter Geraldine Ferraro and hubby John Zaccaro approach the triumvirate to pay their respects – and perhaps share some personal experiences in the annals of ill-conceived and misbegotten democratic presidential tickets – while more snaps are taken. Once he walks away, I do get a chance to ask Kelly about the rumored prospects of one or both main political parties hosting their 2008 conventions in our fair city, and his reply includes no mention whatsoever of the massive and needless compensatory costs the city incurred by penning up lawful and peaceable demonstrators during the 2004 GOP encampment. “I can’t predict that,” he tersely responds, but additionally assures me: “we can handle anything here.”
I don’t see too many of the fake press or other habitual party crashers who are to these affairs what pigeons are to sidewalks and parks, or rats are to garbage bins and subway tracks, but among the half dozen or so present is the one who by virtue of her elephantine dimensions, swinish demeanor and rapacious appetite most epitomizes our age of GOP-sponsored government bloat, tax cuts and welfare for the ultra-rich, and thoughtless, conscienceless military marauding. Moreover, her very appearance is in keeping with the color scheme and overall theme of conspicuous consumption, for due to her spheroid girth, skin pigment and hair color, she’s acquired the nickname The Hungry Red Planet. When I first spot her she’s plopped upon a hassock, and looking for the world like a human bean-bag chair as she reaches out for the passed lobster rolls, mini cheeseburgers, lamb chops with mint & fruit relish, spicy tuna sushi rolls and the like, but, when they aren’t proffered in her vicinity frequently enough, she arises to hunt down and besiege the hapless cater-waiters. If previous form holds, she’ll stuff many of these canapés into her bag for probable late-night engorgement.
As things are winding down, she tries to make off with one of the specially printed Fox News pillows that have been arranged around the lounge furniture within the tent, but it’s confiscated by event staff, who says, “we need those for the clients’ event,” and put it into the collection bag with the rest of them. She’ll have to content herself with the gift bag she’s already clutching – the sole contents of which are red mylar swaddling and a small box containing a metal wine bottle stopper bearing a logo with the words “10th anniversary FOX NEWS channel” (on the box is a sticker with the imprint “MADE IN CHINA” – not unlike the third Mrs. Rupert Murdoch, Wendi Deng). Seeing her now dispossessed, and with no more food available on site, I feel like I have before me a foreshadowing image of America itself once the consequences of current national priorities come home to roost. Prideful, determined not to let the party end, fatigued after the bacchanal but with energy in reserve for one last plunder to fulfill a seemingly unlimited acquisitiveness capaciously indulged yet not satisfied, she projects the forlorn realization that there’s no resource left to amass or ingest, no liberty left to exhaust.