"Who, if I cried, in the hierarchy of angels would hear me?" Rainier Maria Rilke

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The Power of Fox News

The power of Fox News(sic) came home to me yesterday in a subtly disturbing way, at the gym, where I wish I could say I least expected it. But in fact where I see its reach every day, the at least two tvs tuned to it reminding me that even in liberal, Democratic Seattle, it has a stronghold and a following.
I was on the treadmill, watching CNN, when the manager of the LA Fitness approached me on my right to discuss an incident which had happened at the front desk. He had his best customer service face on, and seemed genuinely to want to make my experience more pleasant. He came right out and said, “I’m Josh, is there a problem? Can you tell me what’s the matter?”
I paused the treadmill and turned to look at him. “Well the problem is your front desk worker Armando is incredibly rude. I’ll tell you what happened. I thought all the TVs were set to sports or Fox News; it turns out I was mistaken about this one-it must have been on a commercial when I was looking-but I went downstairs to ask if they would change one of the TVs to CNN or MSNBC like there’d always been here before. Armando said they couldn’t do that and I would have to wait for the manager to arrive “later” because they didn’t have the controls at the front desk. I told him I didn’t believe that, that it wasn’t true, I was certain he could change the channels. He said you can talk to the manager when he gets here, without saying when that might be.
I asked him his name. He said, “Armando something, would you like me to write that down.” I said yes, please. He said,” too bad I don’t feel like writing it down, and I’m not going to. What’s your name.”
At this point the manager interrupted and said, “that’s way too far” and I said yes I agree, that was no way to talk to a customer no matter what they’d said. The manager said, “you can always go to the front desk and ask them to change the channel” and I said, “that’s where I was, at the front desk. He said he couldn’t.” The manager got a queasy look on his face and said “I’ll deal with him. And I’m sorry that happened to you. That’s just not true. And he shouldn’t have talked to you that way.”
Here’s the story, though. The above story might be about the invisibility of grey-haired women who aren’t wearing a lot of gold on their fingers. The real story is this: as soon as the manager walked off, the man on the treadmill next to me took his headphones off and said, “Excuse me, am I in danger? I see there’s an issue.” I said “why would you be in danger, I’m just talking to the manager about his staff member being rude. What could that possibly have to do with you?”
He said, “well, anytime I see a disturbance, I check to make sure it doesn’t represent a physical threat to my safety. “ I said ,”no physical threats, just customer service complaint. I was tired of the TVs all being on Fox News and wanted one changed back to MSNBC or CNN and the kid at the front desk couldn’t be bothered. I’m not going to punch him if that’s what you mean. We’re just talking.” The man interrupted me to say “I don’t want to nose into your business, I just thought I might be physically in danger.” Mind you, neither of us had looked at him. “And by the way, I have the opposite problem, I’m sick of being forced to watch CNN and MSNBC and I ask them to change it to Fox and they won’t do that either.”
I told him, “sir, rest assured, if your physical safety is in jeopardy standing right next to me, I will tell you” He said, “thank you, that’s very good to know. That makes me feel better”. Begging the question of why I would continue to putter along on the treadmill watching the news if there were a credible threat to safety.
It occurred to me fairly quickly that these two things were connected. Fox News. Threat to safety. Maybe he heard the Latin name “Armando” being earnestly discussed by two Caucasians and decided it must be a bomb threat, or a suspected anthrax attack on the towels or the water in the pool. Or worse, the water fountain. It occurred to me that this is the state Fox News watchers are constantly in; that Latino kid at the front counter might be part of a sleeper cell. He might be selling my daughter coke or laying in wait in the parking lot to abduct and rape her. What a way to live, and no wonder they make poor choices. The earmuff headphones he was wearing all of a sudden looked like a much more ominous representation of his blocking out the real world and only letting in select information which he only agreed with. Lest you think I do the same, I regularly do look at Fox News in short bursts to keep up with what lies they’re spreading.
His concern was bombs or terror. My concern was the perennial favorite: darn those young kids, don’t they know when I was their age you’d get fired for saying that, there’s no customer service in Seattle, ever since grunge, blah blah blah middle-aged disgruntled person feeling slighted. What different worlds we live in. Fox News, do you know what a world you’ve created, when a customer service complaint in an almost suburban gym(Shoreline) can look to one of your faithful like an orange alert possible terrorist incident?
There was no further communication between me and the gentleman on my left. He departed for the showers shortly after. I wonder if he reported this suspicious incident somewhere. Middle-aged Jewish woman in scruffy gym clothes talking animatedly to gym manager of unknown descent, possibly Caucasian, possibly mixed. There was no further communication between me and the rude kid at the desk-I say kid because I can’t call him a boy and I won’t call him a man. I did let his cohort who had stood silently through our exchange, except to introject “that’s right” about not changing channels, know on the way out that the manager told me they were both lying, that the channels could be changed. Armando was probably in a closed room being scolded when I left. Maybe being fired.
My wish is that this country will change channels. That somehow we could be transported back to a time when news had to bear some relation to the facts. Right now I’d rather watch the news as delivered by Kevin Ryerson or John Edwards channeling the spirit of Walter Cronkite or Haywood Hale Broun than any Fox News infonews commentator. But I will continue to turn Fox on in five minute intervals, so I have some clue what my neighbors at the gym might be thinking. Otherwise, I might not have had even a guess as to what he was talking about. Maybe next time I see him, I’ll play with that a bit. “Shhh, did you hear that?” Or , “do you smell anything, what’s that smell?” combined with a worried look might really wind that gentleman up. But no, I won’t do that. I want these people to calm down their paranoia about imagined threats, recover their actual patriotism from the depths of the gutters it has sunk to and recognize and respond to the actual attacks on our country which are currently being investigated or have already succeeded. Russia. American oligarchs. The looting of our public lands by those who need it the least. The decimation of our health care and education. The hostile takeover and dismantling of all of our regulatory agencies, especially the EPA and the Parks Service.  You know, real and present dangers.