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This Guy Loves Fox News, So He Bought Billboards Thanking God for It

Date: August 07, 2003

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- This retired ad salesman isn't the first Fox News Channel junkie to fill up on hours of the popular news outlet every day. But Bob Spratlin is probably the only one buying billboards thanking God for it.

 

Spratlin plunked down a few thousand dollars to buy a billboard that says "THANK GOD FOR THE FOX NEWS CHANNEL." Another billboard will go up in a nearby town later this year, and Spratlin envisions more, all preaching his deliver-us-from-liberals message.

"I wanted to wake people up," the 73-year-old said. "I wanted to say, 'Wake up, America! Wake up, you young people!"'

 

The message has certainly turned heads in this northwest Georgia hamlet of about 1,000 people, where the billboard sits in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot.

 

Spratlin visited the sign to pose for a picture, wearing a golf shirt complete with bald eagle and Old Glory. When a passing driver honked his horn in approval, Spratlin flashed a delighted thumbs-up. "That's what I'm talking about!"

 

Indeed, the Fox News Channel is wildly popular in rural towns like Tunnel Hill. Even though CNN is headquartered just 90 miles south in Atlanta, people here can't get enough of Fox shows like "The O'Reilly Factor" and "Fox And Friends."

 

"I like it 10 times better than CNN," said Dot Adams of nearby Chattanooga, Tenn. "On CNN, I've always felt like they doctored up the news. They're Democrats, you can tell it."

Spratlin says he'd been waiting practically his whole life for a news channel like Fox. He watches at least an hour a day and heaps praise on the channel's approach. Fair and balanced, just like the ads say, he says.

 

"They get to the meat of it, and they give you both sides and let you make up your own mind," he said. "I don't always agree, but I like it when I hear it from them."

 

Media watchers say Fox has struck gold by tapping viewers like Spratlin, viewers who don't mind a little pro-America attitude and have never understood why other news outlets aren't more patriotic.

 

Paced by a personality-driven prime-time lineup that mirrors conservative talk radio, Fox regularly beats CNN in the cable news ratings. This spring, soon after war started in Iraq, Fox News held 14 of the top 15 spots on the weekly Cable Nielsens.

 

"They've really struck a chord with people frustrated with the mainstream media," said Jeff McCall, who teaches broadcast journalism at DePauw University. "A lot of people say the media aren't as patriotic as they should be. Fox is sort of a news network where people aren't afraid to say, 'We're American."'

 

McCall also credits Fox's charismatic stars - especially Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity - for playing up their rural beginnings.

 

"They talk about their common middle-class roots. They're regular guys, not bluebloods," McCall said. "And you can see how popular that is. It shows you how viewers relate in kind of a parasocial way to the people giving them the news."

 

Just ask Dan Hullander, Fox News fan and owner of a furniture store in the shadow of Spratlin's billboard. He gets all his national news from Fox News because he feels like they speak his language.

 

"It's better because it's conservative. And I'm conservative," Hullander said. "Most of the stations are liberal and don't want you to know it. Fox, they put it out there. I like that."

That attitude, a reassuring we're-just-like-you approach, may explain why some Fox News fans are so passionate about it.

 

"That's why you see this intensity of attachment you don't see with the networks or CNN," said Marty Kaplan, an associate dean at the University of Southern California's communications school.

 

"People who have a passionate commitment to a point of view like to hear that their point of view is the right one, the mainstream one, the best one," Kaplan. "Fox News does sort of tell its viewers that.

 

"If you're sitting on the couch happily nodding to what Bill O'Reilly says, it could be because he's making you feel like you're the real ones, the real Americans."

 

For Spratlin, he just hopes someone at Fox News will hear about his billboard campaign and thank him for thanking them. And maybe even put him in touch with O'Reilly, his favorite newsman.

 

A spokeswoman for the channel said she hadn't heard of Spratlin's billboards and declined to comment on them.

 

"The signs are my way of saying, 'Thank you, Fox News, for telling us the news,'" Spratlin said. "So many people across this country are thinking it. I guess I just decided to put my money where my mouth is and put it on a billboard."

 

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