Sunday, June 7, 2009

Wiley Hilburn's Fox News Phobia

Last month a local columnist published an opinion piece in which he complained about the prevalence of Fox News on televisions everywhere he went.

Wiley Hilburn has been publishing in The Shreveport Times for years and I've often enjoyed his columns while at the same time overlooking his obvious liberal political views. Not all of his columns are about politics; he often writes lovely, nostalgic pieces about daily life. He is also the head of the Journalism department at Louisiana Tech University.

In his column of May 4, Hilburn wrote,

"Yet, in an era when conservative Republicans have manifestly combined politics and religion, I find myself broadsided by political opinion — in the form of Fox News — wherever I turn for customer services. My service station man, dentist and restaurant owner — for example — would argue they do not try to impose their political views on me.

"But they don't hesitate to hit me with Fox News on their locked-in TV sets, which is one long diet of red-meat, right-wing Republican opinion. It's true. I can't elude the arbitrary, angry views of Fox News even while filling up with gas, enduring tooth repair or dining out."

Unless he's limiting his experience to just Ruston (where the university is), Hilburn and I obviously hang out in different places. While it's true that I do see Fox News on the occasional public television, more often than not it is sports on the television.

He goes on to say (emphasis mine),

"Making customers swallow a Fox entree while they try to digest their Cajun catfish is the same as imposing the restaurant owner's personal political views on the customer, a captive audience. Imagine, for another example, enduring a root canal while being tortured by Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly or Shepard Smith on Fox.That would be the equivalent of being waterboarded by former Vice President Dick Cheney, the Fox enforcer."

I guess I don't need to assume what Hilburn's feelings are on Gitmo? I differ with Hilburn on much of this but especially on the "captive audience" point. He's free to go other places where he is not so offended by their television habits if he so chooses. He can probably eat Cajun catfish lots of places around this part of Louisiana if what is on television is so offensive to him. But at some point don't you make a choice? "Hmmm, the catfish here is just so damn good, but I can't stand the taste any longer because Fox News is on their TV."

I don't care much for Spanish television (mostly becuase I don't speak Spanish) but I'm not about to abandon Nicky's Mexican Restaurant because they have a Spanish soap opera on the TV.

Hilburn goes on to back up his argument with * gasp * pseudo-stats: "Around here, Fox is Radio Rush Limbaugh for a majority constituency which believes that George Bush is still president and that Obama is a Quran-spouting interloper.

"Indeed, I would imagine that in these parts eight out of every 10 people are Fox-watchers, anyway, so why wouldn't business cater to that unsilent majority, you ask. The answer to that question is that business owners, like my father, should aspire to please 10 out of 10 customers, not eight out of 10. Profits before ideology."

Readers responded to Hilburn's column; that week the "Letters" space on the editorial page was filled with responses to Hilburn. The letters I happened to see were wildly against him, one even going so far as to vow to cut off their yearly donations to Louisiana Tech. Hilburn posted a follow-up column saying he received mail both in support and against as well as some neutral responses. He said about 50% was in favor of Fox.

Since the column I've been more aware of what's on the TV where I go. I just don't see the Fox phenomena that Hilburn describes. There's no television in my car repair place but if there was, I'm not hanging out there long enough to be offended by it. My dentist has piped in music, but no TV. The last restaurant I was in (The Blind Tiger) has sports on their TV. I don't darken the door of a health club, and they may have news. Steve tells me sometimes that Fox is on at the gym where he goes. But that's on a military base, does that count?

And what of the issue of Hilburn being Journalism professor at Louisiana Tech? Is there anything to be made of the issue of politics in the classroom? We know that liberal professors indoctrinate our students (and presumably, conservative ones do too, to be fair). What are the boundarys there? Does he tell his students to avoid Fox News? I can just imagine the political discussions in Hilburn's class.

I think he needs one of these toys which will turn off any television you might find offensive (H/T: The Corner). Imagine the havoc Hilburn could create with such a toy!

The bottom line, to me, is that the entire column was just silly. If the TV offends you, then leave. If you can't stand to eat catfish in a place that watches Fox News then just go somewhere else. Your priorities are screwed up. You pick your battles in life and this one is small potatoes.

Equally unhinged is the guy who is withholding his donations to the college because of this column. No reason the entire college should suffer because of the rantings of one liberal professor; it's not like he's Ward Churchill. THEN you might have a case.

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