FOX News Personalities Play Dumb to Bond With Their Audience

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Pete Hegseth (Gage Skidmore)

I have written before about how FOX News makes people more ignorant, but apparently, it also makes you stupid. To back up this point, I refer to the comment recently made by Pete Hegseth, one of the meatheads on “FOX and Friends,” one of the dumbest shows on the dumbest network.

Hegseth claimed he hadn’t washed his hands in 10 years, because he didn’t believe in germs “because he couldn’t see them.”

When I first read the article, I had to look twice because I wondered if he really meant it, or if it was said in jest. But there it was printed in black and white and flashing around the Internet.

Hegseth is a good example of the curious habit of FOX News personalities dumbing themselves down. I suspect they do this because they know their audience is largely made of anti-science rubes from the Hinterland, and so they realize they have to behave ignorantly to identify with them. (However, in the case of some FOX News personalities, like Sean Hannity, it’s no act. He really is that dumb.)

But Hegseth isn’t he’s just playing the lunkhead because that’s what his audience wants to hear. The last thing he wants his viewers to think is he’s a hoity-toity elitist who’s trying to snow them with fancy book learning.

However, Hegseth has two degrees from Ivy league colleges and served as a major in the National Guard. I can’t believe he got to those positions by being anti-science and reveling in his ignorance. (Hegseth also served in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he probably learned the importance of personal hygiene.)

He wouldn’t be the first FOX News personality to play up his ignorance. Former FOX News commentator and serial sex offender Bill O’Reilly once said that no one knew what made the tides come in and out. Really? O’Reilly has a master’s degree from Harvard. He might have been a bigot, but I don’t believe he was that stupid.

Gretchen Carlson, who blew the lid on the FOX sexual harassment scandal in 2016, also did a bit of dumbing down. During one segment, she said she had to look up the word “cretin.” Carlson is a Stanford graduate and also studied at Oxford.

This kind of dumbing down shows FOX News hosts actually hold their audience in contempt. They realize a large chunk of their audience is struggling blue-collar and middle-class people, who are suspicious of overeducated “coastal elites.” Of course, that’s what most of them are. (FOX News is based in New York City.)

Folksiness and fear of education seem to be big on the right wing. They loved Sarah Palin, despite the fact she was clueless about history and couldn’t string together an intelligible sentence. They also find President Donald Trump’s misspelled tweets endearing. However, Hillary Clinton was deemed to be “too educated” and a “know-it-all.”

I compare this to the family-values scam. FOX News likes to play it up, but few of the commentators really believe in it. But they realize it’s a good catch phrase to draw in the rubes. The eye-watering details of the Ailes-lead sex scandal should have ended the idea FOX News actually believes in family values.

Ailes was on his third marriage and O’Reilly dragged his ex-wife down the stairs by her hair and bragged about having sex with prostitutes. Hegseth is on his second divorce and fathered a child with FOX News producer Jennifer Rauchet, while he was married. (His first wife also ended the marriage because of infidelity.) More proof that Hegseth doesn’t live up to the image found in his book “In the Arena.” Hegseth wrote, “The focus on family policy should instead be on strengthening families and creating good citizens by preventing divorce of parents with kids, encouraging large productive families.”

FOX News really wants its viewers to buy into its low-tax (for the rich), pro-business message, even though that doesn’t benefit them on the long-run. Some right-wing voters seem to be waking up to that, since Trump’s tax plan, which FOX News lauded, only benefited the 1 percent and left working Americans paying more.

But as long as playing dumb gets working Americans to vote against their interest, FOX News personalities will stick with the dim-bulb routine. Their job isn’t to enlighten, it’s to keep people ignorant. And they’ll keep doing it, even if it means hiding their intelligence.

Manny Otiko writes about race, politics and sports. He has been published in Salon and LA Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @mannyotiko.

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