4 AM: I'm waking up this early in order to watch the most important TV show in America, Fox & Friends. The program, famously beloved by Donald Trump and mocked by Saturday Night Live, is also one of the president's staunchest allies; this year, boosted by mentions on Trump's Twitter feed, it's become a ratings juggernaut. It's gotten so popular that people want more, and FOX News is giving it to them. Last Monday, Fox & Friends First, the show that precedes Fox & Friends as surely as the opening of the Seven Seals precede the second coming of Christ, was extended by an hour, meaning the friendfest starts at 4 AM and goes all the way until 9 AM, five hours every weekday. Who would watch such a thing? I would, that's who.
Our host for the 4 AM hour is Heather Childers, one of FOX News's many innumerable blond female anchors, who has mastered the art of providing just enough facts to piss people off. We don't learn what Trump's immigration plan is, only that he has one. We learn that Vice President Mike Pence protested—or un-protested or reverse-protested—an Indianapolis Colts game, but we don't hear why, just that Pence loves the flag, and black football players don't. Heather tells us about a Texas high schooler (a black girl given a free education!) who was expelled because she wouldn't stand for the pledge. "Did she get what she deserved?" Heather asks.
I get angry at this manufactured scandal for a moment, but it's obvious that that's what she wants that I calm down.
After all, I have four more hours of this.
5 AM: The second hour features perky young co-hosts Rob Schmitt and Jillian Mele. He's about 75 percent jawline; she is blond in the Heather Childers mold.
They open their hour with video of a flooded Golden Nugget and the line "All bets are off at this casino!" so that's where we are. Maybe to help you wake up, they don't traffic in subtlety. It's always clear where the anchors stand, and, by extension, where you should stand: Immigration is bad, NFL players are self-serving millionaires, and hurricanes and wildfires or some combination of both are coming to kill you. It gets boring quick.
6 AM : Oh, yeah! This is what we're here for. Let's meet the REAL Fox & Friends hosts:
Steve Doocy is the Walter Cronkite of being personally offended by every story. Despite his ever-present grin, his default mode is exasperation. He just doesn't understand how the world could be so cuckoo! He looks like a papier-mâché news anchor mask a child would make.
Brian Kilmeade brings a "man on the street" perspective to the stories. When the slimeballs in DC get up to their old tricks, B-Kil's not gonna sugarcoat it. He seems like the type of friend who when you watch a movie is constantly leaning over and whispering, "Who's that guy? What just happened?" but you don't mind because he makes you feel smart.
Ainsley Earhardt is also blond, and looks like a former sorority girl and homecoming court member who married a quarterback, which is not a lazy sexist stereotype—she really is those things. She's just as indignant about everything as her co-hosts but without Doocy's chuckling curiosity or Kilmeade's regular-guy relatability.
Together they're just like the beloved Today Show gang! With one difference: These three are really, really angry about everything.
Doocy is incredulous that Democrats don't want to build Trump's border wall, Kilmeade is going bug-eyed describing the NFL protests, Ainsley is disgusted by Chelsea Manning's "new excuse" for leaking documents, Kilmeade rages against the "Taliban 5," and then Doocy is pissed that Obamacare is "exploding" just like he predicted it would and then Ainsley tells us coal is coming back, and then someone says a guy was arrested with a gun and a pressure cooker, and then 1,000 ISIS fighters surrendered, and then THAT DOESN'T MATTER AT ALL because now Iran is threatening to bomb us.
The stories go by so quickly, each one a perfectly calibrated 45 seconds of aggravation that I get angry but can't keep track of what I'm angry about.
If Trump watches it, it sort of explains a lot.
At 6:45, the sun finally begins to rise. It brings no relief.
7 AM : JESUS CHRIST, HOW ARE THERE TWO MORE HOURS OF THIS??? They already did all the stories! What else is there to talk about???
They slam the kneeling NFL players once more. Off the top of his head, Doocy cites a poll that says football is now "the least popular sport in America," to which Kilmeade immediately replies, "I don't believe that."
They move to a "hard to hear" story about an illegal immigrant killing a husband and two children in Texas. It's an extremely sad story: An immigrant fell asleep at the wheel, crashed into a family's vehicle, and was sentenced to only two years in prison. But (as I want to shout at the TV) the fact that the driver was undocumented has nothing to do with anything. And his puny sentence, Doocy's guest admits, is the fault of the GOP-dominated Texas legislature's sentencing guidelines. The whole story is anti-immigration rhetoric at its most heated, most disingenuous, and most disgusting.
"Have a great day," says Doocy's guest at the end of the segment. "Have a great week," Doocy replies.
Then we get a live plug for Ainsley's children's book and ANOTHER Pence/NFL story.
8 AM : Hey, Kellyanne Conway is in the studio! I—I have no idea what she is saying. Everyone's talking points begin to jumble in my brain. She's mad at wildfire tweeters, or Bob Corker's DACA, or illegal murderers, I can't tell anymore. The only clear moment is that at one point Kellyanne explicitly links Pence's NFL protest to the flag-draped coffins of dead soldiers.
Doocy talks about SNL's gun control jokes with an NRA spokeswoman. Why? WHY? WHY??? Do we think there's any chance she's going to be like, "The japes of Che and Jost changed my mind on gun control. I quit the NRA!"
The last hour is going by like an ice age. Finally it ends with Kilmeade suggesting that the NRA will support regulations on bump stocks. Doocey and Ainsley don't back him up.
I'm confused and angry, but I can't even remember why. Can't wait for Day Two.
4 AM: Heather comes in hot, with a fast-paced litany of terrifying news: A college student shot a police officer in the face, Secretary of Defense James Mattis says soldiers must "stand ready" for war with North Korea, Spain is on the brink of anarchy, and, of course, NFL players continue to disrespect American soldiers.
It's all so loud and so scary, it's like using an alarm clock that wakes you up by punching you in the face while screaming, Someone is going to punch you in the face!
Heather welcomes former NFL player Burgess Owens, author of Liberalism or How to Turn Good Men into Whiners, Weenies and Wimps. Surprise: He's against the protests. He calls suspended ESPN reporter Jemele Hill "arrogant" and notes that if you're a business owner, you have different freedoms than others. I'm pretty sure that's the opposite of democracy, but instead of getting indignant, I just start to feel sad.
5 AM : Rob and Jillian are pumped. The US military will be ready to go to war! Wooh!
I let the rest of the stories—Trump's immigration plan, Obamacare's impending implosion, pot roast being recalled because it was actually meatloaf—roll off me.
Then they play a tape of Mike Ditka, the former Chicago Bears coach who has become a right-wing reactionary, telling an interviewer, "There's been no oppression within the last 100 years, that I know of." That they don't challenge it at all—to bring up Jim Crow laws or redlining or anything—might actually be itself an example of the prejudice the players are protesting. (Ditka apologized days later, saying he was only referring to oppression in the NFL.)
6 AM: Today Doocy looks like he won a "Dad's Friend" costume contest, and Kilmeade looks like a composite sketch of grandmothers' favorite little good boys, but dumber. Ainsley appears as a fine mist with very tan legs.
Right off the bat, they dive into the NFL protests AGAIN. Kilmeade is outraged on behalf of a marginalized group: "What a nightmare for coaches!" he says. Ainsley tosses to a plug of her upcoming interview with Ivana Trump, Donald's first wife. "How did the commander in chief steal her heart?" she wonders.
Now, I have to apologize. I couldn't take it anymore. I turned off the TV and went back to sleep. I had a nightmare where I was tricked into performing in an avant-garde play. Because I didn't realize I was in a play, my performance was heartbreakingly realistic and was met with great acclaim. After the show, the director took me backstage and drowned me in a contraption.
7 AM: Back to the show. The hosts are talking about Jemele Hill. I see her face on the screen again and think Damn, Jemele Hill. I catch myself—why am I so angry? I like Jemele Hill! And I realize, Fox & Friends worked on me. I am the show now. I am a Friend.
Before a commercial, we're warned about a "new terror threat—right after this." But if it were a real threat, wouldn't it be breaking news? WOULDN'T THEY BE TELLING US ABOUT IT RIGHT NOW?
We also learn that on this date in 1991, the number-one song in the country was "Good Vibrations" by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch.
8 AM: Laura Ingraham joins the hosts on the couch! She opens by joking about a homeless person outside the studio. They play the Ditka tape again. The hosts and Ingraham love it.
Watching the show is like dropping down a bottomless pit. Eventually, you no longer feel like you're falling—the constant whoosh of half-truths and gleefully delivered apocalyptic provocations becomes your new equilibrium. It no longer matters what the story is or where it comes from—above you or below you, left or right—it feels like it is coming for you. It's news as a planet-covering hurricane of hatred and misfortune heading right toward your family, with outrage as the only available defense.
Back for more tomorrow!
4 AM: Wildfires, Weinstein, and whining football players! Heather's opening doesn't feature as much alliteration, but she's still beating those stories to death.
And then things get really scary. The FBI has issued a new terror threat: Black Identity Extremists. Over footage of riots in St. Louis, Baltimore, and Berkeley, we're told that men who identify as black may be responsible for a potential increase in the number of attacks on cops. This is really racist.
A guest tells Heather that these Black Identity Extremists pose the "highest level of threat." But he also repeatedly says that America is going through "security puberty," so maybe we don't have to take this guy too seriously.
Thankfully, there's a rare piece of good news in the world: A 77-year old farmer wrote "WE STAND FOR THE NATIONAL ANTHEM" in giant letters in his crops.
5 AM: Jillian and Rob up the scare factor today, too. California's wildfires have reached "0 percent containment," a measure that no one bothers to explain, but makes it sound like the entire Earth is on fire.
They quickly toss off a story about a man arrested for leaving a bomb at a Carolina airport who said he was "preparing for war on US soil." He's like the Black Identity Extremists except he actually committed a crime! But he's white, so it's not a big deal.
I'm feeling infected by Fox & Friends. You know how they say that you evacuate your bowels when you die? I want to evacuate everything. I want to curl in a fetal position and shit, piss, ejaculate, cry, sweat, puke, and have all of my hair fall off. I want every part of me to no longer be a part of me.
Then our hosts introduce an alarming story about Airbnb guests who found a hidden camera pointing at their bed. The music the show plays right after, into the commercial break, is "Somebody's Watching Me" by Rockwell. I chuckle, so I must still be alive.
6 AM: "A major win for President Trump!" the Dooce is loose, and that's his intro for today's show. I think he's referring to Trump's tax plan, but I'm not sure and it definitely doesn't matter.
Doocy is disgusted by something or other. Kilmeade is boiling over about the Blackburn ads. Ainsley is also there.
They play a clip of Newt Gingrich talking about the NFL from last night's Hannity. Newt rails against the selfish players who are dividing our great country.
And here's the dark contradiction at the heart of Fox & Friends: We're reminded constantly that America is the greatest nation ever to grace Planet Earth, yet somehow, everything that happens here is awful. Every story, every issue, is framed as an existential attack on a perfectly virtuous, perfectly imaginary America.
I let out a guttural screech after realizing that only seven minutes of the hour have gone by. This show is hell.
7 AM: Newt stops by in person to deliver the same anti-NFL player talking points.
I don't remember anything else that happened during this hour. It's all war, dangerous minorities, and the end of American values.
The unsettling message of Fox & Friends is depressingly clear by now: Everything is out to get you, forever. Dark forces beyond your control will destroy everything you love. And there's nothing you can do.
Nihilism has never been filmed with such soft lighting.
8 AM: California governor Jerry Brown is "giving more rights to illegal immigrants" than to his own citizens, says Ainsley. She interviews a sheriff who assures viewers that "someone is about to be harmed."
Meanwhile, supersonic American bombers have been flying over Korea.
After three days, I still don't quite understand why anyone would start watching this, but I know why you would keep coming back once you got a taste. Fox & Friends' goal is to make you feel anxious and scared. You have no power beyond waiting for your own death. When you're told the world is out to get you, that's sad. But when you get so hooked on the outrage that you have to come back and hear that message every single day, that's torture.
I don't recommend watching Fox & Friends. But it doesn't matter what I say. It doesn't matter whether you watch it or not. Nothing matters. And that's how they want you to feel.
Follow Sam Weiner on Twitter.