What passes for thought at FoxNews

You read this stuff all the time. Most of the time you just roll your eyes, mutter a solemn curse, and move on. But now and then it may serve a good purpose to examine, in detail, what passes for thought at “conservative” FoxNews. Here’s a typical opinion piece from today’s selections:

“For those of you who are challenged in the fitted pants department, it may be time to invest in a belt, as some parts of Louisiana are criminalizing the act of getting caught ‘with your pants down’ — literally.

Three towns and parishes in the Pelican State have just passed an ‘anti-sagging’ or baggy pants law; three others are currently considering the same ban. No, this is not a joke. I’d like to believe that the good people of Louisiana are more focused on rebuilding their communities than cracking down on belly bearing pants, but apparently this is a hot button issue for some Cajun counties.”

This writer would have us believe that Louisianans are not permitted to do anything else but focus on “big things”. This is obviously a false dilemma, as in “you can focus on rebuilding after a hurricane or you can brush your teeth before bedtime – not both!”. The sad thing is that after reading this tripe thousands of FoxNews junkies will gather ’round their water coolers saying “Those stupid Cajuns! Don’t they have better things to do? What about re-building after Katrina? Huh? Where are their priorities?”

“The baggy pants ordinance makes it illegal for anyone to wear clothes that reveal their underwear or dress in a manner ‘not becoming to his or her sex.’ The prime targets of the law are young men who wear sagging pants that often reveal their under britches. The rationale behind this ordinance? These family townships are responding to complaints from ‘decent families and communities’ that believe these belt-less boys are disrespecting their elders, and furthermore, that this behavior represents a lack of parental supervision.”

Perhaps, but that’s the least of it. Walking around with your pants down is an act of aggression, exhibitionism, and sexual provocation. There are, and ought to be, laws against this kind of thing.

“Yikes! Talk about a nanny state.”

A cheap attempt to redefine “nanny state” as “behavior-limiting government”, which of course turns every municipality into a “nanny state” and renders the term meaningless.

“Let’s face it — most of us are going to have some saggy pants at some time.”

Nice dodge, also known as the red herring. This is not an ordinance against wearing loose-fitting pants: this is an ordinance against wearing pants in such a way as to deliberately reveal one’s undergarments. Those are two very different things. There is no excuse for the latter, and the problem is very easily addressed with a belt.

What’s next, criminalizing those pushing maximum density that ‘defy the laws of physics in spandex?’”

This fallacy is known as the slippery slope.

“You’re probably thinking that even if someone is busted by the pants police, the most an offender will receive is a slap on the butt since our country has more pressing issues at hand (such as war, immigration and Katrina reconstruction).”

Here’s the false dilemma again.

“But sadly, you’d be mistaken. Violators in some parishes face up to six months in jail coupled with a $500 fine for underwear exposure.”

Which, if enforced, would pretty much eliminate the problem.

“However, some areas are choosing to punish first offenders with a fine and community service.”

Most unfortunate.

“After reading about this new ordinance, I am relieved that my brother outgrew (or grew out) his baggy jeans phase or my family and I would be constantly bailing him out of jail and likely going broke in the process.”

No, your brother is smarter than that. He would figure that a belt is cheaper than a $500 fine and six months in jail and would pull up his pants.

“Paul Baier, a law professor at Louisiana State University, said the ordinance is too vague and therefore unconstitutional.”

That’s a new one. According to this logic the Constitution itself is unconstitutional.

“Not surprisingly (and rightfully so), the American Civil Liberties Union had some words on the matter.”

Hopefully the ACLU will come up with better arguments than we have seen thus far. Let’s take a look …

“‘It’s just so stupid. It’s idiotic with all the challenges and problems facing us in Louisiana right now,’ remarked Vincent Booth, President and Executive Director of the Louisiana branch of the ACLU.”

Now that’s impressive!

“And, in my favorite line, Booth says the ordinance could also be discriminatory. ‘Would they selectively enforce it against 17 year old hip hoppers but not against plumbers?’ Good point!”

I can just see Lis Wiehl high-fiving Vincent Booth over the sheer brilliance of this one. But she’s forgetting one very important thing. The 17 y/o hip-hoppers do this on purpose, in public, in order to provoke their neighbors. The plumber, by contrast, is the innocent victim of a hazardous occupation who means to offend no one. Slightly embarrassed, the plumber re-adjusts his trousers when he gets out from under the sink, in the privacy of someone’s home or business, where no one really needs to look anyway. A weak analogy. It makes perfect sense to throw the book at the hip-hoppers and to give the plumbers a break.

This kid is not a plumber. And he’s wearing a belt!

“What happened to our First Amendment right to freedom of speech and expression?”

It’s still there. Freedom of political speech, that is. But there is no First Amendment right to unlimited “freedom of expression”. I like to express myself by driving 70mph on country highways, but the CHP tagged me last month without any constitutional scruples whatsoever. I am always amazed at people who throw this one out there.

“It’s unconstitutional to dictate how low my pants go because the government has no ‘compelling interest’ in determining the bagginess or sagginess of my trousers.”

And the argument ends there? But the government does have a compelling interest. City government can tell you to remove the junk cars on your front lawn because they are unsightly. That’s “compelling reason” enough, in either case.

“Joe Cook, another member of the Louisiana branch of the ACLU, chimed in and said this kind of law ‘infringes on young people’s freedom of expression and their privacy rights.’ Under the zone of privacy, we have the right to be ‘let alone.'”

What could this possibly mean? No one is saying that hip-hoppers can’t wear their pants a certain way in the privacy of their own homes. They can even remove them altogether.

“Without flinching, LaFource council member Lindel Toups (a member of one of the parishes enacting the law) proposed a test to determine what constitutes saggy pants: Have the wearer raise his or her arms and if the pants fall down, you’ve broken the ordinance. So let me get this straight — Louisiana police officers are now required to add the job of ‘measuring the gap between a subject’s pants and shirt to their duties,’ which in Louisiana includes patrolling the second worst highways in the country and investigating the second highest number of alcohol related accidents?”

There’s our friend the false dilemma again. She likes that one.

“Even high schools are more tolerant of individual differences.”

That’s part of what’s wrong with high schools today.

“Legislatures in Virginia and Texas attempted to enact similar ordinances but ceased action after learning their communities vehemently opposed the law. My thoughts: I think the ladies and gentleman of Louisiana need to shift their attention away from the seams of our pants and leave charm school to parents.”

Your pants are begging for attention. That’s really the whole point of the sagging pants phenomenon. They are worn this way specifically to grab the attention of strangers, as a dare. Well, now you have their attention and they’ve taken you up on the dare. Which is exactly what you wanted in the first place, so quit complaining.

“Additionally, until our senators can keep their own pants on, they should not be telling us how to wear ours!”

Very cute. Nevermind that “senators” had nothing to do with creating these local ordinances. This fallacy appears to be a combination of ad hominem and irrelevant appeals.


Here’s some information about the author from the FoxNews website:

“Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel (FNC) as a legal analyst in October 2001. Currently an associate professor of law at the University of Washington School of Law, Wiehl also serves as a legal commentator on National Public Radio’s ‘All Things Considered’.

Prior to joining FNC, Wiehl served as a legal analyst for KIRO-TV (CBS). From November 2000-February 2001, she provided legal analysis for NBC News. Before that, Wiehl held the position of principal deputy chief minority investigative counsel for the United States House of Representatives, Committee on Judiciary. Additionally, from 1990-1995, she served as an executive assistant at the United States Attorney’s office. Wiehl began her career as a litigation associate for Perkins Coie law firm.

Wiehl received her undergraduate degree from Barnard College in 1983 and received her Master of Arts in Literature from the University of Queensland in 1985. In addition, she earned her Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1987. She is also the author of ‘The 51% Minority — How Women Still Are Not Equal and What You Can Do About It.'”

Harvard grad. Professor of law. Legal commentator for FOX, NBC, and NPR. The dumbing down of America continues apace …


9 thoughts on “What passes for thought at FoxNews

  1. And people ask us why we want to teach a “boring, irrelevant” subject like classical logic to our child!

    I am, however, left with one question: does the law apply to the female low-rider-and-thong brigade?


  2. First you want success, then you want legitmacy. FoxNews has the success, so now they’re going after Wiehl types so that they can have “legitmacy”. Sad.

    The only nitpick I have is that slippery slope is a valid argument in many circumstances – we certainly have experienced it in action given how allowing the sale of birth control quickly slid to allowing abortion and now into the sanctioning of gay sex. Once people accepted the premise that sex was for pleasure and not procreation, the slope slipped. But of course in the context of her argument it’s a joke.

    I think what really is happening her is Wiehl didn’t have anything else to write about – so the irony is that if by Wiehl’s standards this issue should not be that important to Cajuns, why is it so important to her? Why did she waste this long and completely unpersuasive column? Does she really think laws against showing your underwear deserve her scorn?


  3. Drew: According to other news stories, these ordinances are aimed at exhibitionist females as well as males. Why Lis Wiehl chose to ignore the female component is anyone’s guess …

    TSO: Wiehl was hired in 2001, six years ago. I haven’t followed Fox’s success trajectory, but it seems to me at that time they were very much considered legitimate, albeit as “the conservative network”. Point taken re: the slippery slope argument. It can be valid if there is a strong enough thread linking two propositions (completely missing from Wiehl’s argument). As for Wiehl’s essay, you may find it unpersuasive, as do I, but many of our fellow Americans will find it persuasive enough to form an infallible opinion on the subject!


  4. “I’m not a lawyer. She is for crying out loud. She should be disbarred for manifest incompetence.”

    It’s incredible, isn’t it? Beyond incredible. A Harvard lawyer – and a PROFESSOR OF LAW! – who couldn’t think herself out of a wet paper sack. Makes you want to cry.


  5. Kudos, Jeff! What a great point-by-point rebuttal. The ordinances in question would be win-win, as I see it (and I’m not a big proponent of government telling people how to live).

    The kids threw down the gauntlet, it must be answered.

    And no Harvard degree or string of letters behind a person’s name can keep that person from succumbing to her own worst tendencies if she’s so inclined — namely, her inclination to lay on the sarcasm, roll her eyes for the crowd, and sell sell sell. Her column was the legal and journalistic equivalent of shaking her booty.


  6. Thank you, Laurie. I don’t think we have a huge problem with low riding britches here in Orland … not yet anyway. :-)

    You’re right about the “degree or string of letters” being no guarantor of virtue, but hang it all, it ought to mean something. At the very least it ought to mean that a person so degreed knows how to make a coherent and respectable argument.


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