I was a teenage Fox News robot: Sean Hannity destroyed my childhood

In high school, Dad taught me to worship Reagan, O'Reilly, Coulter and even Freedom Fries. Fox News brainwashed me

Published July 7, 2014 11:45AM (EDT)

“Four more years,” I yelled as I slammed my fist on the school cafeteria lunch table. The other students looked at me with varying expressions. Some displayed annoyed lack of interest, while others seethed with liberal rage. I didn't care about their sneers, though. I kept the chant going.

“Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!” Soon, a handful of other students joined in. “FOUR! MORE! YEARS!” Dejected Democrats slung verbal barbs our way, but their words didn't bother us.

There was nothing in the world that could upset us on that day in 2004. George W. Bush had just defeated John Kerry. Conservatism had won, God was in the White House, and America was safe.

This was the first time I experienced the rush of “my” candidate winning an election. I didn't start taking an interest in news and politics until 9/11. That event made it readily apparent to my middle-school self that current events — even ones in far-off, South Asian countries I hadn't heard of — impacted the world, even the small Long Island suburb in which I lived. Thus, I needed to learn everything I could about as many topics as I could. With the Internet being nowhere near as robust as it is now, and my parents eschewing prestigious print publications like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal (we were a Newsday household), I turned to television news for information.

When I watched MSNBC or CNN, my father would walk by and change the station.

“That's liberal propaganda,” he'd say as he grabbed the remote and changed the TV to Fox News. “You have to watch this station. This is the only place you'll get the real news.” Then he'd mutter about the “liberal media.” Not knowing any better, I believed him. My information diet throughout middle school and most of high school would therefore consist solely of Fox News.

It didn't take long for me to fall into the star-spangled rabbit hole. Within months, I was reciting conservative rhetoric as if the spirit of Ronald Reagan himself was instilled within me. I had a Ronald Reagan poster proudly displayed over my dresser. My father and I discussed how we longed for the Next Reagan to save America from the ways of the wicked — the ways of the left.

Fox News and my Fox News-loving parents were the agent of political socialization for me, nothing else. As a result, I became so conservative I almost bordered on being a parody of a conservative (much like the modern-day GOP). I even took “Freedom Fries” seriously.

An example: If you asked me in 10th grade (the time of the 2004 election and the height of my conservatism) what my political alignment was, I'd have answered, “I'm an American.” Then I would've espoused neoconservative dogma, telling you that's what a Real American™ believes and if you don't think terrorists should be waterboarded and carted off to Gitmo without a trial, then you hate freedom.

As bad as that is, here's a worse example of how badly Fox News had taken over my brain: I had to do a Photoshop project in 10th grade art class. I took the faces of George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Dick Cheney and plastered them over the faces on Mount Rushmore. But that wasn't enough. Because Fox News had taught me to fetishize the American flag, I put the whole picture on an American flag background. The teacher, a young liberal, laughed in disbelief when I handed it in.

In English class, I sat in the back so I could read Sean Hannity's "Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty Over Liberalism" without the teacher bothering me. I remember sternly nodding my head and pumping my fist when, in one chapter, he argued for illegally assassinating foreign heads of state. I cheered when Bill O'Reilly likened the ACLU to a terrorist organization. I believed he was one of a handful of Americans truly looking out for the rights of the common people. I thought the War on Christmas was a real thing. I would've purchased Ann Coulter's "How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must)" if I hadn't forgotten my wallet that day. I swooned when Arnold Schwarzenegger called the Democrats “economic girly-men.”  I watched "The O'Reilly Factor" and "Hannity and Colmes" constantly. The latter show was my favorite because it allowed me to convince myself Fox News was “fair and balanced” since they let a liberal have a few minutes of screen time. Though how anyone could legitimately believe what the left wing espoused legitimately puzzled me.

I know this all sounds like a joke 10 years later, and in some ways it is because I was so far to the right, but it's a serious matter. Fox News didn't necessarily make me uninformed, but it made me informed about a political, social and economic reality that borderlined on fan fiction. I was fortunate in that I eventually liberated myself from my red, white and blue ideological shackles — but what about those who didn't? What about the baby boomers whom Fox News turned into conservative curmudgeons who continue to breathe life into outdated, sexist, racist notions? What about the generation of Americans Fox News turned into this.

And while younger Americans seem to (rightly) deride Fox News as the illegitimate, conservative mouthpiece it is, that doesn't necessarily mean the millennial generation doesn't have an equivalent. Blind loyalty to one source of news is always a threat.

It's hard to believe but Fox News was once taken (somewhat) seriously before it descended into farce. Perhaps there is some outlet now that is corrupting the youth with the execrable, borderline inhumane battle cries of conservatism. Maybe the libertarian, sexist bastion that is Reddit fulfills the same role for young Americans that Fox News fulfills for old ones. Maybe 10 years from now someone will write about trusting in r/MensRights or another sordid subreddit the same way I blindly trusted in Fox News.

By Matt Saccaro

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Ann Coulter Bill O'reilly Dick Cheney Editor's Picks Fox News George W. Bush Media Criticism Sean Hannity