In retrospect, it’s easy to spot Coulter and Hannity as early chatbot models. Fox News algorithms for the expression of political opinion started out simple, and since the election of Barack Obama, they’ve become simpler still. (Example: Republican + deficit = good; Democrat + deficit = bad.) While these vary slightly from one bot to another, the imperative to mirror Fox viewers’ inchoate rage against government, Democrats, and liberals keeps that variation limited to a fairly narrow band. What the Fox programmers didn’t yet realize was that the predictability of these bots’ opinions could be leavened by some unpredictability in their temperament. Only with Bill O’Reilly did Fox’s computer scientists demonstrate that more plausibly human characteristics could be programmed in—in O’Reilly’s case, by having O’Reilly explode with rage at random intervals and by programming O’Reilly to say “shut up” whenever a guest’s response to a question failed to compute. If Coulter and Hannity were Fox 1.0, O’Reilly was Fox 2.0

Glenn Beck is Fox 3.0. The sheer variety of his tics—weeping, clowning, etc. (for a video sampler, click here)—make him appear more a performer than a news broadcaster. But the effect is to convince his few critical viewers that he’s a human performer, thereby obscuring the reality that he isn’t human at all.

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