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Fox Rules on Sunday: The Sound, and Power, of Silence

Written By mista sense on Sunday, April 20, 2008 | 7:54 AM














Hey Cable Gamers, if you weren't in front of your TV this morning, you missed something great: Pope Benedict XVI's mass at Ground Zero in New York City. It was a great moment; a reminder as to why TV is so powerful--because it really is "news at the speed of live," as Shepard Smith puts it. For Christians, of course, to see the Vicar of Christ connecting the sad events of 9-11 with the Eternal of our Almighty God, but for news hounds, and for the merely curious, it was a fascinating moment, in which we are all connected, everywhere. Usually such moments are tragedies and accidents and disasters, such as, say, JFK's assassination or the Challenger disaster or, of course, 9-11. This was just the opposite: a sweet moment of ceremony and consecration--news reports even said that the Pope would pray for the souls of the 9-11 hijackers (what do I think of that? well, let's put it he's a better Christian than I).

Many national and local news outlets carried the Holy Father's Mass live, but Fox stood out for a couple of reasons. First, Shep's commentary, while informed, was unobtrusive. He mostly deferred to genuine experts, namely Msgr. Jim Lisante, and Fr. Jonathan Morris, and, over in Yankee Stadium, religion correspondent Lauren Green. And so, for example, when they would refer to the Archbishop of New York, they called him Edward Cardinal Egan, which is the right way to say a Cardinal's name, with the title in between the given name and the surname. By contrast, most MSMers are happy just to "Cardinal Edward Egan"--because they don't care. In other words, there was none of the usual nattering and yammering that characterizes TV people who don't really know anything, pretending that they do, just to fill the time.

And then, when the Pope rode down the ramp into "The Pit," all four of them fell silent, and just watched, as the Popemobile drive down. And then, in a brilliant touch--hats off to some Fox producer somewhere, Fox played some sacred music, from an off-camera recording. The instrument used sounded like a cello, or maybe a bass viola, to this untrained ear, and the musical selection itself was either a stylized Pachelbel's Canon or something very close. Think about that, folks: Fox didn't have useless chatter, and it didn't just have silence; FNC actually produced the segment, in the same way that an artist would. And the result was a work of art--I hope it ends up on YouTube, because it was a bit of genius, as well as reverence.

Was Fox showing favoritism to Catholics, or to Christians as a whole? I don't think so, and, in fact, Shep made the comment that Fox is not out to play favorites of any kind, it's just that FNC was determined to capture not only the news as it happened, but also the gravity of the news. Which they did. And none of the other networks did.

Then, when the Pope said his prayer for the victims, Fox offered just respectful silence. In the professional, often cynical language of TV, such time is known as "dead air." But of course, there was nothing dead about this 81-year-old man--he glows with the Holy Spirit, just like his predecessor, John Paul The Great.

And then Fox added another touch: as the pope said his words, FNC provided the text on screen. After all, let's face it: the Pope is , and he speaks with a pretty heavy German accent. So he can be hard to understand. Worth listening too, always, of course, but hard to understand. So why not chyron his words, so that everyone can watch and read along? Clicking around quickly during this part of the ceremony, it looked to me as if Fox was the only net doing this.

Fox added lots of other nice touches, too: The little icon for this morning was a Papal symbol. And I also noticed that from time to time, FNC would put some sort of stained glass background, behind the images of the Pope on screen. It was a work of art, in terms of a pleasing composition to the eye.

To sum up: Earlier today, the Pope traveled to The Pit, and there, in the depths of one of the great horrible moments of modern history, he brought a message of love and forgiveness and salvation. It was like a story out of the Bible itself. And while a lucky few were there in person, all the rest of us were lucky, too, if we got to see it live. And of course, it's never to late to be saved.

Something to think about on a Sunday.

Each of us has to make such decisions for herself or himself--and the Cable Game is not about preaching religion; I will leave that to experts. Instead, TCG tries to look at cable news, as it's presented. And on this particular Sunday morning, Fox won easily, because someone at Fox HQ really thought through a strategy for presenting the news in a way that will stick with many of us for the rest of our lives.

(The photo, above, btw, is taken from the Foxnews.com website--it's a bit different than the channel, but it's great source for fair & balanced news when you're not online. The only thing I would say is that there needs to be video on the site--Fox shouldn't be bashful, it should put on every minute of the coverage this morning.)

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