Democratic gym patron declares war on Fox News
She wants channel off TVs in exercise room
Ann Geddes doesn't want a "fair and balanced" workout. But the 49-year-old worker for a nonprofit agency is having no luck getting the channel changed in front of her favorite rowing machine at a Columbia gym.
The television happens to be tuned permanently to Fox News. Geddes, a liberal Democrat and former legislative aide to a Howard County delegate, said she can't stomach the conservative lineup that appears nightly as she gets her exercise. Even though the sound is off, the words scrolling across the bottom of the screen infuriate her.
"It makes my blood pressure go up," she said.
Befitting the democratic (with a small "d") pedigree of a planned community founded on the principle of races and classes living side by side, Geddes has taken her complaint up the chain of command, from the attendant at the gym run by the Columbia Association to the new president of the giant homeowners' group.
She's had no success. Now she's going public.
Columbia Association officials say they won't heed Geddes' request to remove Fox from the cable lineup. In order to provide choices and eliminate squabbling among patrons, they say that every gym monitor is tuned to a particular station and can't be changed. Of the 40 large-screen televisions in the general exercise rooms in Columbia's three gyms, three are set to receive Fox.
"There is no way that we can stop showing one channel because of one person," said Phil Nelson, the president of the homeowner's group, in a written response to Geddes' request.
Geddes' beef may not rate with other famous Columbia disputes, such as battles over downtown redevelopment, Merriweather Post Pavilion's future, or whether the association's lightly used horse center should keep operating. Still, it offers a glimpse of the political sensibilities of some residents and the balancing act that leaders must undertake to try to keep peace and reach a fragile consensus.
Bob Bellamy, the Columbia Association's director of operations, said 43,000 people use the Supreme Sports Club facility yearly, and Geddes is the only one who has complained.
"She called me up and wanted me to take Fox News off all the TVs," he said, gesturing to the six big flat-screens fixed to the main exercise room wall.
The Fox screen is directly in front of the rowing machine Geddes prefers, though a second one two feet away faces a screen showing NBC. Others broadcast local stations, CNN, ESPN, MSNBC, the Food Network, Discovery Channel and HGTV.
The association's Health and Fitness Advisory Committee, composed of club users, "unanimously endorsed the current selection of stations," Bellamy said.
Nelson said some like the conservative network. "As soon as we ban Fox News from our recreation facilities, I will get calls from that side," he said.
Geddes said she's feeling brushed off and doesn't accept the explanation from association officials that Fox is the highest-rated cable news channel. She says that can't be the case in liberal-leaning Columbia, and she insists she is not giving up.
"When it became really upsetting to me was this summer with all the town hall meetings," she said. "I literally just close my eyes, but the problem I have frankly is, I see out of the corner of my eye. You can't help peeking," she said.
Geddes also has a ready answer for anyone who accuses her of censorship.
"They won't show the Playboy channel," she points out. That could be considered censorship, too.
No problems elsewhere
Other regional gyms seem immune from such concerns. The corporately owned Life Time Fitness has a facility nearby, but company spokesman Jason Sunstrom said from Minnesota that the building's exercise room is so big that people can see 15 or more TV screens from each machine. They've had no complaints, he said.
Central Maryland's YMCA, which has a newly renovated facility in Ellicott City, said each of its new exercise machines has an individual television screen that patrons can adjust to any channel offered.
The newest machines at Supreme also have individual screens, but not the rowing machine that Geddes likes.
Of course, in some other places, Fox is quite popular.
"Actually, we're Republican country up here," said Wendy Willms, who works at the South Pointe Fitness Club in Hagerstown.
Geddes said she tried one more gambit late last week: paying $30 a month more to upgrade her membership to the private workout rooms with the "fluffier towels and ice water with lemon," and nicer machines and furniture. But she quickly learned that's not the answer. Those rooms don't have the rowing machines she likes.
"My next battle is to put rowing machines in there," she said with a laugh.
But she acknowledges one positive benefit to staring at Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity against her will. Facing Fox News, she said, "does make me exercise harder."
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