Last night Mrs. Agnostic and I watched the March 13th episode of the ABC law-drama Boston Legal, a show we enjoy. (As a general rule, I don’t watch TV dramas that don’t have at least one spaceship or alien race or xenophobic robotic empire, but BL fits the bill because it features this guy in a starring role.)
Unlike other accomplished bloggers *cough* Powerline *cough*, I have no legal training, but even I can see that the niceties of the law are sacrificed for entertainment purposes; but that is par for the course in TV and movies, as they never get anything right about anything (including details about the making of TV shows and movies), so I don’t let that bother me.
They always argue two topical cases per show, which amazingly seem to start and end on the same day (and whose progression through the courts are accelerated to a ridiculous degree). While if I were to be so unfortunate as to be involved as a plaintiff or defendant in a trial I would expect a speedy trial, I would also like more than 15 minutes to put my case together.
Their first case involved an elderly rich guy (Carl Reiner) who wanted the court’s permission to have himself cryogenically frozen prior to his natural death, in hopes that he could be thawed out in a hundred years or so when medical science would be able to cure his incipient Alzheimers. They framed it as a “right to die” case and it was fairly interesting, though they referenced in passing Terry Schiavo as an argument in favor of right to die thus completely misunderstanding the true nature of this poor woman’s case. (They also insisted on mispronouncing her name [shee-AH-vo], instead of pronouncing it the way people in Florida who actually know her do [SHY-vo]).
Their second case was brought on behalf of a high-school student who protested when his principal installed Fox Blockers to keep his charges from being “incited to intolerance” by Fox News Channel. This particular case was rife with problems, not least of which being the unrealistic way the school system was portrayed – a principal is brought before the judge, not the School Board? It gets to court instead of being brought up at a School Board meeting? Bah!
(Incidentally, there was a rather sly allusion to the fact that ABC decided that the name of the rival news network could not be spoken, so apparently the script had to be rewritten slightly to remove the name “FOX”. One character, discussing the First Amendment (irrelevantly in this context, but then we don’t expect actual Law), comments that “censorship” was everywhere, such that networks were even interfering with “scripted dramas”.)
It is simply taken as given that the principal's outrageous claims about Fox News are true; they even show a few seconds of a highly partisan anti-Fox documentary to bolster their position, without even trying to show another side to the argument. They even mentioned the debunked survey claiming to indicate that Fox News viewers hold inaccurate views about foreign policy, and are more likely to support the government (shudder!)
Instead, the case is presented as a First Amendment / anti-censorship issue, their argument basically being “Sure, Fox News is a horrible, right-wing proto-Fascist brain-washing machine against which no single person can possibly stand, but hey, this is America, and a diversity of views (no matter how disgusting we may personally find them) should be encouraged, and besides, it’s all ‘Infotainment’ now anyway.”
[Interesting side note – as I typed this into Microsoft Word preparatory to posting it, the word “Infotainment” failed to trigger the proofreader’s gag reflex. I assure you, I did not teach this word to the dictionary, so it was in there to begin with.]
Look, I realize that they couldn’t actually show any clips from any Fox newscasts to support their case, but there were several times (such as when the principal repeatedly claimed that Fox “encouraged intolerance”) that I expected the judge to require the defense to actually show some evidence to back up their claims that Fox content was uniquely deserving of being blocked. As I said, this was a given, and I suspect indicates the views of the writers and producers very clearly.
As a matter of fact, the folks who make the Fox-Blocker have their problems with this episode too, chiefly in the presentation that there is a liberal bias in the media, an idea they reject, despite evidence. However, they don’t seem to be too upset about the free publicity their product received, though the item shown on television was about 500% larger than the actual unit. (Didn’t I tell you that they get everything wrong?)
It’s not my purpose to defend Fox News: their problems and virtues are manifest to anyone who watches them with an open mind. I enjoy their broadcasts, and also enjoy their pro-American bias; I’m not ashamed of that. ABCs straw-man conflation of patriotism, jingoism and Republicanism aside, they present the same news as every other network, but lacking the sour tones I hear other networks use when speaking about people I respect.
Basically, this entire case could have been solved by a very simple expedient: principal Foxhater (or whatever his character’s name was) might want to consider turning the TV's off. While it seems unlikely that students would voluntarily choose to watch a news broadcast instead of, say, MTV, classroom time could probably be put to better use.
Though it's really too much to expect a TV show to espouse such a radical position.