....LMB: "Jester with Teeth"....

October 19, 2004

By now you've all probably heard about Jon Stewart's appearance on CNN's Crossfire. It's pretty amazing. You can read the transcript above, or watch the video here.

It seems that conservative Tucker Carlson wanted Stewart on to argue as a liberal pundit, and that liberal Paul Begala wanted Stewart on to be funny. They both assumed that Stewart was going to play along. He didn't.

STEWART: In many ways, it's funny. And I made a special effort to come on the show today, because I have privately, amongst my friends and also in occasional newspapers and television shows, mentioned this show as being bad... And I wanted to -- I felt that that wasn't fair and I should come here and tell you that I don't -- it's not so much that it's bad, as it's hurting America. So I wanted to come here today and say... Stop. Stop, stop, stop, stop hurting America. See, the thing is, we need your help. Right now, you're helping the politicians and the corporations. And we're left out there to mow our lawns.

BEGALA: By beating up on them? You just said we're too rough on them when they make mistakes.

STEWART: No, no, no, you're not too rough on them. You're part of their strategies. You are partisan, what do you call it, hacks.

I had so much to say on this topic that it took me several days to whittle it down into something readable.

Stewart accuses these guys of being entertainers posing as newsmen, and he's right. Crossfire and all the other cable news screaming heads shows are about ratings, about drama and conflict. If they could get away with inserting explosions and car chases, they would. It's about as informative as reading the front page headlines of a newspaper while two guys yell "no, you're an idiot" at each other for half an hour.

Stewart brings up what is becoming a bit of a refrain for him, "help us, news media!" Like many idealists, Stewart reads the writing on the facade and tries to get the press corps to live up to their fabled expectations: to inform the citizenry, and to act as watchdogs on our behalf, forever scrutinizing those in power.

The Crossfire hosts attempt to dodge Stewart's demand by claiming that they're a "debate show," not a "news show," as though that makes everything alright. Carlson then counterattacks by saying that Stewart didn't ask tough enough questions of John Kerry when he appeared on The Daily Show.

Attack and counterattack is not debate, and it does not enlighten or inform us. A show with any sort of responsiblity would look at Stewart's claims and try to figure out who was right and who was wrong. Then, if they wanted, they could see if Carlson's claim was accurate. And so on. But no, we get the yelling.

And Carlson does have a bit of a point. Stewart had the opportunity to ask tough questions of Kerry in front of an audience. But "responsibility" and "opportunity" are two different things. Stewart's responsibility as talk show host only requires him to produce engaging television. As for blowing an opportunity, he's no more guilty than anyone else, professional or not, who had a chance to ask Kerry a tough question in front of an audience.

Carlson, on the other hand has an alleged responsibility as a (quasi-) journalist to inform the public. In reality though, his responsibilities are the same as Stewart's, to create good TV. They're both dancing with shadows here: Stewart is an entertainer pretending that his show has no merit or impact, while Carlson is also an entertainer, pretending that his show is only about facts and information.

The final important point that Stewart makes is about partisans and pundits. He says that he thinks that they believe in their ideological side, but that instead of making actual arguments for why their side is best, they use lies, spin and deceitful arguments in an attempt to win people over. Fuck, if you really think that John Kerry would make a bad leader, go ahead and say so and explain why. You don't have to pretend that your real concern is whether or not he threw away his war medals. But again, we get the latter because it's often more effective persuasion, and it makes better TV.

Stewart isn't saying "the emperor has no clothes," he's saying "the emperor's wearing a clown suit, and he bought it at the same store as Brokaw and Blitzer."

Posted by Jake at 12:15 AM | TrackBack (0)
Comments

Stewart isn't saying "the emporer has no clothes," he's saying "the emporer's wearing a clown suit, and he bought it at the same store as Brokaw and Blitzer."

Poetry!

Posted by: TekBoss at October 19, 2004 08:20 AM

It could've been, if I hadn't gone and spelled "emperor" wrong. Sigh.

Posted by: Jake at October 19, 2004 08:32 AM

Yout ook my comment TekBoss. That is a great clincher Jake.

Posted by: Brian at October 19, 2004 09:34 AM

Bravo! Jon Stewart forced mainstream America to take a look at the shabby state of their media, and challenged Begali and Carlson to defend their networks' unwavering support of the all-smothering ultra-right; Carlson resorted to charging Stewart to provide more serious analysis of the issues, as though the Comedy Network and CNN should be on par. What sad commentary on our times that 'the most trusted name in news' would define itself by its inferiority to its own satire. Jon Stewart rocks!

Posted by: jr at October 19, 2004 01:09 PM

Damien Cave of the NY Times asks if Jon Stewart is being coy by claiming that because The Daily Show is a comedy show that he's not required to take on politicians with hard questions.

"Whether he likes it or not, Mr. Stewart's mix of news and satire has become so successful that the comedian is suddenly being criticized for not questioning his guests with Tim Russert-like intensity." (Cave, New York Times 10/24/04)

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/24/weekinreview/24cave.html

Cave notes that "some critics" charge that the size of Stewart's audience should force Stewart to change his soft-peddling ways, given the responsibility that comes with such a large audience. After all, many of his viewers don't watch the news. Stewart needs to step up to the plate and make sure that his comedy show doesn't leave his audience in a lurk when it comes to hard hitting and balanced news coverage.

Cave's point, and the point to his article, is stupid. It's stupid to suggest that Stewart is bound by any journalistic creed. Stewart is a comedian. He is not a journalist. Journalists aren't supposed to be comedians, and comedians aren't journalists.

Stewart is an entertainer. His job is to get people to watch his show by making them laugh. He also gets a larger audience by getting attention for the show. Stewart builds his audience by getting attention from big guests and by promoting the show through the news media. Since there is no pretense to be doing anything other than this, Stewart is not bound by any journalistic standards.

Cave, and the media critics in his article, missed Stewart's Crossfire point. Rather than ask why doesn't Stewart-the-comedian act like a journalist, they should be asking why hell did Crossfire have a comedian on its show in the first place. And if Crossfire is just theater, then why does Cave and others treat it like journalism? This was Stewart's point, and it was a good enough point to draw 1.7 million to hear it on the Crossfire clip. Just because it's funny to note how stupid the media has become, doesn't mean that Stewart should stop making fun of their stupidity.

Posted by: Tom Kertes at October 24, 2004 04:22 PM
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Media News

November 16, 2004

Tales of Media Woe

Senate May Ram Copyright Bill- one of the most depressing stories of the day that didn't involve death or bombs. It's the music and movie industries' wet dream. It criminalizes peer-to-peer software makers, allows the government to file civil lawsuits on behalf of these media industries, and eliminates fair use. Fair use is the idea that I can use a snippet of a copyrighted work for educational, political, or satirical purposes, without getting permission from the copyright-holder first.

And most tellingly, the bill legalizes technology that would automatically skip over "obejctionable content" (i.e. sex and violence) in a DVD, but bans devices that would automatically skip over commericals. This is a blatant, blatant, blatant gift to the movie industry. Fuck the movie industry, fuck the music industry, fuck the Senate.

Music industry aims to send in radio cops- the recording industry says that you're not allowed to record songs off the radio, be it real radio or internet radio. And now they're working on preventing you from recording songs off internet radio through a mixture of law and technological repression (although I imagine their techno-fixes will get hacked pretty quickly).

The shocking truth about the FCC: Censorship by the tyranny of the few- blogger Jeff Jarvis discovers that the recent $1.2 million FCC fine against a sex scene in Fox's "Married By America" TV show was not levied because hundreds of people wrote the FCC and complained. It was not because 159 people wrote in and complained (which is the FCC's current rationale). No, thanks to Jarvis' FOIA request, we find that only 23 people (of the show's several million viewers) wrote in and complained. On top of that, he finds that 21 of those letters were just copy-and-paste email jobs that some people attached their names to. Jarvis then spins this a bit by saying that "only 3" people actually wrote letters to the FCC, which is misleading but technically true. So somewhere between 3 and 23 angry people can determine what you can't see on television. Good to know.

Reuters Union Considers Striking Over Layoffs- will a strike by such a major newswire service impact the rest of the world's media?

Pentagon Starts Work On War Internet- the US military is talking about the creation of a global, wireless, satellite-aided computer network for use in battle. I think I saw a movie about this once...

Conservative host returns to the air after week suspension for using racial slur- Houston radio talk show host (and somtime Rush Limbaugh substitute) Mark Belling referred to Mexican-Americans as "wetbacks" on his show. He was suspended for a couple of weeks, and then submitted a written apology for the racial slur to a local newspaper. But he seems to be using the slur and its surrounding controversy to boost his conservative cred with his listeners.

Stay Tuned for Nudes- Cleveland TV news anchor Sharon Reed aired a story about artist Spencer Tunick, who uses large numbers of naked volunteers in his installations and photographs. The news report will be unique in that it will not blur or black-out the usual naughty bits. The story will air late at night, when it's allegedly okay with the FCC if you broadcast "indecent" material. The author of this article doesn't seem to notice that Reed first claims that this report is a publicity stunt, but then claims it's a protest against FCC repression. I'd like to think it's the latter, but I'm not that much of a sucker.

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Jake's first attempt at homemade Mongolican barbecue:

Failure.

What went right: correctly guessing several key seasonings- lemon, ginger, soy, garlic, chili.

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