For the past three years, Victor resident Marty Essen has made his living by sharing his insights on global warming as a touring speaker on college campuses. Along the way, Essen has grown increasingly frustrated over what he sees as another major source of hot air in America: Fox News.
"Because of the nature of my work, I spend a lot of time in airports, hotels and restaurants," said Essen. "And what I started noticing was, in those captive-audience situations, Fox News is always right there in your face. So I tried to think of a way to go about changing this."
The result of Essen's musings went live last week, when he launched TurnOffFoxNews.com, a website aimed at encouraging others to join him in a campaign to convince business owners to choose another channel on their televisions.
Essen said his aim isn't to dictate what other people can watch on their own time. Nor is it even to demand fairness and accuracy from Fox News - though he thinks both are lacking from the 24-hour cable news network.
"Fox News isn't really a news channel," asserted Essen. "It's a right-wing propaganda machine that has stopped even pretending to play fair and balanced. ... I have no problem with people watching what they want to watch on their own. It's these forced situations, where people either have to watch it or cover their eyes, that concerns me."
Essen isn't the first to pitch such a campaign. Sites such as TurnOffFox.com and FoxNewsBoycott.com have existed for some time, along with numerous watchdog sites that chronicle the perceived biases and factual inaccuracies of Fox News.
Even gadget-heads have gotten into the game, pushing a small remote-control device called the "TV B Gone," which works as a universal "off" button for televisions.
But in its first week of existence, TurnOffFoxNews.com has nonetheless gone viral, after being picked up by DeSmogBlog.com, a widely followed blog about global warming issues. In a matter of days, Essen was forced to upgrade his Web site's available bandwidth, as visitors swarmed to the site.
"To me, this is not about liberal versus conservative; it's about misinformation," said Essen, whose award-winning 2006 book, "Cool Creatures, Hot Planet," turned him into one of the most sought-after speakers on the college campus circuit. "People say that MSNBC is liberal; but you don't hear reports about them taking film footage and splicing it up to make a political point. Fox News gets caught on that all the time in terms of manipulating the news and making things up.
"I'm not advocating that people switch those TVs to anything else in particular," he added. "They can put it on the Cartoon Network if they want. This is about turning off an inaccurate channel that I don't think is even family-friendly because of all the anger and hate that's spewed there."
On his site, Essen has posted a form letter of sorts, which he encourages people to give to managers and owners of businesses that tune their televisions to Fox News.
"Are you aware that Fox News on your television says ‘only the Far-Right are welcomed here?' " the letter reads, in part. "On behalf of the many customers patronizing your establishment, who do not see the world through right-wing glasses, I respectfully request that you permanently change the channel on your publicly viewed television(s) to something other than Fox News."
Essen said it was his own experience that led him to suggest that visitors to his site employ such a letter, rather than direct action or confrontation.
"If you try to change the channel in a hotel breakfast room, you'll quickly find that Fox News has some very dedicated viewers who think that everything Fox News says is factual, and they get very upset that you would challenge that," said Essen. "So unless you want to get into a big argument, I think the best route is to go directly to management.
"They're the ones who need to know that, in a country that recently voted a Democrat into the White House and made Democrats the majority party in the House and Senate, it's a pretty good bet that at least 50 percent of their customers don't agree with Fox News' far-right hate-mongering and don't want it forced into their faces when they're stuck in the airport or trying to enjoy breakfast," said Essen.