Ailes, Sherman points out, under-stands that while TV news may be journalism, it is also entertainment. “He works like a Broadway producer,” says Sherman (indeed, at one point Ailes was a Broadway producer). That, Sherman says, is why Fox sets look like stage sets: “The colors are brighter, the camera angles faster. Everything pops on the screen more, everything is eye candy.”
But the best explanation for Fox glam may be the channel’s largely conservative audience. An argument can be made that conservative women are typically less squeamish than progressive ones about embracing what the sociologist Catherine Hakim calls “erotic capital,” otherwise known as using your looks to get ahead. See the gleeful Laura Ingraham/Ann Coulter school of beautyology, which holds that the angrier and better-coiffed you are, the more attention you will receive. The Republican Party welcomes looks in a woman—Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Nikki Haley—and so does Fox.
“They’re definitely pandering to a male audience,” says Meli Pennington, a makeup artist who runs a blog called Wild Beauty. Also, cable-news viewers tend to be older, so Fox may be specifically catering to the sensibilities of older men, she posits, by making women a little “brighter.” She means this literally. “You think of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends,” she says: “As he got older, they all get brighter and blonder. Look at Anna Nicole Smith. It’s like the large-print edition of women.”
The media critic Jack Shafer adds that the women you see on Fox are not just winsome, lavishly cosmeticized women, but winsome women paired with older men. He says the network almost appears to be taking a page from the theory of evolutionary psychology, which argues that women are attracted to prosperous (often older) men, and these men are attracted to women whose youth and curves signal fertility. “
The men are kind of frumpy older men,” Sherman agrees, “paired with hyper-feminine women. That kind of kinetic energy between the sexes is one of the reasons Fox is successful. Oftentimes the older male hosts—Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity—in the prime time, at night, are paired with women, debating politics, and the women are generally much younger … It almost goes back to 1940s Hollywood.” For guests, the Hollywood screwball routine can be unnerving. It was for Nell Minow, a critic of inflated CEO pay, who was taken aback when a producer urged her to “attack the masculinity” of her debate partner.
A number of makeup artists pointed out to me that other channels are beginning to embrace the Fox approach to cosmeticization, and that plenty of female guests actually like being made over. Which brings us to a final possible motive for Fox’s approach to makeup: women. Most viewers of cable news—including, yes, Fox—are female. Could Fox be trying to entice not just men, but women, too? The truth is, women also like to look at pretty women. “I have to say: I don’t really enjoy the news they broadcast, but I am entranced by Megyn Kelly’s holographic lip gloss,” Meli Pennington, the makeup artist, says. “I see it sparkling in high definition, and it’s really cool. Even though it’s strange, I’m entranced.”
Pennington’s fascination with the women of Fox goes beyond makeup. “It’s that little scowling look they give you when they’re delivering the news,” she continued. “It’s like the bitchy girl in high school, [but] now she’s your friend, and you hate the same people.”