“What are you thinking?”
Cable news networks need to chill a bit and take notes from the exchange that took place between Stuart Varney and a guest appearing on his program earlier this week.
The host of Fox Business’ “Varney & Co.” had Axios chief financial correspondent Felix Salmon on his show Wednesday to debate the merits of universal basic income.
Various pundits interpreted Salmon’s appearance as a masterful trolling of the conservative network. In their telling, his enthusiastic embracing of universal basic income as a legitimate policy was enough to drive a Fox panel to near apoplexy.
— Jordan Weissmann (@JHWeissmann) September 13, 2018
“Watch a Fox panel become speechless after a guest defends universal basic income,” read Media Matters’ headline.
“Stuart Varney absolutely teed off on a Fox Business guest who voiced support for universal basic income,” wrote Mediaite’s Joe DePaolo in a piece titled “Stuart Varney Flips Out on Fox Business Guest For Endorsing Universal Basic Income: ‘Are You a Socialist?!'”
And by just reading the transcript, one might get the impression that the tenor of the Varney-Salmon segment was of the same, familiar model of Tucker Carlson’s patented indignant browbeatings of a flailing, ardently liberal guest.
“What? You don’t believe that,” Varney asked after Salmon revealed that he’s “all in favor” of universal basic income.
“What are you thinking?” Varney exclaimed later on in the segment.
At one point, Salmon declared, “Free money is awesome.” Here’s where the Fox panel’s heads exploded and the segment went off the rails.
Except the heads remained unblown and the conversations stayed pretty much on track.
The discussion, while not particularly far-ranging or deep on the issues, was endearingly light and friendly throughout.
No one yelled. No one snapped. Or snarked. Varney and Salmon seemed to get on like old friends who hold strongly divergent opinions and constantly dig at each other.
When Varney said “Our viewers are not going to be happy about this,” he wasn’t actually afraid of blowback from a Fox News audience. He wasn’t worried that viewers might boycott the show simply because socialist ideas were being mentioned.
He was winking at the (not inaccurate) perception that Fox News panders to its unapologetically America-loving, communism hating, conservative viewers.
For his part, Salmon hammed it up in his role as universal basic income-boosting journalist appearing on a network whose audience is likely openly hostile to his ideas.
Fox Business wasn’t getting trolled. They were in on the joke. And while one might argue that there’s something cynical about being so open and unabashed about your biases, it’s also kind of refreshing in today’s pompous and sanctimonious media climate.
We’ve gotten so used to a 24/7 news cycle of outrage and indignation, that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to be able to disagree and still genuinely like each other. Or at least to find humor in argument.
Varney-Salmon might not be a bad first step toward a new way.