It was Monday morning, a few hours into the Fox Business Network’s first day on the air, and the new channel’s stocks editor, Liz MacDonald, was mugging for the cameras in front of a stand of trees somewhere in the vicinity of CNBC’s headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.
“There’s a lot of government-looking kind of buildings, I think we heard a cow mooing in the distance,” she said. “But it’s hunting season, as we noted earlier, out here in Englewood Cliffs, and I heard the peacocks are in season.”
It’s clear that in launching FBN, Rupert Murdoch has trained his sights on the well-primped tail feathers of CNBC. But judging from its first day, for Roger Ailes and company, the real big game appears to be big government, not big media.
At one point, reporting from Washington, D.C., correspondent Adam Shapiro explained how federal earmarks to study shrimp and catfish showed that government spending has gotten out of hand. “Not that I have anything against shrimp and catfish,” Mr. Shapiro hastened to add. “Good-tasting stuff … but that’s how these things grow.”
Soon, the new network pulled out the big gun of economic conservatism: Grover Norquist.
For the next several minutes, Mr. Norquist—the right-wing activist who once gleefully announced he’d like to get government down to a size where it could be drowned in a bathtub—explained to FBN viewers how the various Democratic presidential candidates were likely to threaten the livelihood of Americans of all classes by repealing President Bush’s tax cuts and further increasing federal spending.
“Obviously both Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Edwards are talking about spending perhaps two trillion dollars,” he said. “Not just the one trillion on health care, but they’ve made a number of promises in addition to that.”
In recent months, much has been made of Mr. Murdoch’s assertion that while CNBC is geared towards Wall Street, FBN would appeal to Main Street.
But lately, FBN executives have tweaked that claim, suggesting that FBN will seek to appeal to both camps.
How to pull it off?
On day one of FBN, a large part of the answer seemed to be constantly stoking the threat of higher taxes and runaway spending—a threat, after all, that should concern Wall Street brokers and Main Street business owners alike. In the months to come, look for Runaway Government to play a similar role on FBN to the one that Runaway Liberalism plays on the Fox News Channel—that is, as the sinister common enemy around which the audience can rally.
But rallying the pin-striped masses also requires on-air talent, as Mr. Ailes understands. Early on, Alexis Glick, the former CNBC and Today show contributor turned FBN business news director and morning anchor, shone. The leggy former New York City high-school basketball star lit up the morning set, injecting her winsome sports fandom into programming across the slate, including a segment called “Stocks and Jocks” (in which guest analysts debated who would make a better CEO, Bill Belichick or Tony Dungy) and an oddly entertaining interview with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft about his $5 million gift to the anemic Columbia University football program.
Elsewhere in the lineup, Cody Willard, the long-locked co-host of FBN’s boozy evening banterfest Happy Hour, was already attracting the attention of competitors. Last night, MSNBC’s Dan Abrams devoted his Beat the Press segment to mocking Mr. Willard. “The Fox Business Channel started today,” said Mr. Abrams. “And you know what? They’re just really cool. You know, like Real World and like Beavis and Butt-Head. Cool.” Abrams followed up with a clip of Maroon 5-ish–vibing Mr. Willard touting his “famous” one-liners. “Rock ’n’ roll,” added Mr. Abrams, dryly. “Yeah!”
But throughout the day on FBN, the big bad faceless Feds remained the most reliable targets. A few hours after her peacock-hunting excursion, Ms. MacDonald was back in FBN’s Manhattan studios, across from anchor Connell McShane, weighing in on … the dangers of big government.
“President Reagan once said that the closest thing to immortality is a government program,” said Ms. MacDonald. “It’s a super-size-me government going on, and I think it’s a problem.” As if viewers might not have gotten the message, she added: “Pat Buchanan said, ‘Like Thelma and Louise, Social Security and Medicare are heading right for that cliff, and taxpayers are in the back seat.’”
The implication: Fox will put you in front.