Monday, June 20, 2011

Old LTE on Jon Stewart

Given Jon Stewart's recent dust up over on Fox News Sunday, I Googled and old LTE to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette I wrote before the 2004 election. I think it is still pretty spot on, if I do say so myself (and so did the crowd over at Democratic Underground, apparently)!

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Friday, September 10, 2004

Mr. Koppel, here's why we watch 'The Daily Show'

I hope this is it. I hope television journalism has hit rock bottom like an alcoholic who wakes up on a downtown sidewalk and understands he must find a 12-step program.

If you stayed up late enough last Wednesday night to see the very end of Ted Koppel's "Nightline," you would have been able to witness just how obtuse television news reporting has become. Ted Koppel tried to teach an elementary lesson in Journalism with a capital J to "The Daily Show's" Jon Stewart, and was repeatedly verbally dope-slapped by the comedian to no apparent effect. Jon Stewart, as he frequently does, was stating the case that journalists were failing miserably at their job. So miserably, in fact, that many people feel they have to watch a basic cable fake news show to find "The Truth."

Mr. Koppel then patronizingly tried to explain to Mr. Stewart the difference between facts and the truth. He suggested that if the president gave a speech calling Mr. Koppel a rapist and pedophile that this assertion would be a fact and newsworthy in that the president called a famous, well-respected journalist a rapist and pedophile, even if the accusation were untrue.

Not being a journalist, I was dumbstruck. Mr. Koppel believes that the correct headline for a journalist to report on this hypothetical event is "President accuses journalist of pedophilia" because it is factually correct. I think the rest of us non-journalists would agree that the headline should be "President falsely accuses journalist of pedophilia." I have been trying to get my head around why journalism has gotten so bad in the past 20 years and Ted Koppel has finally shown me. When Gerald Ford mistakenly argued in a presidential debate with Jimmy Carter that Eastern Europe was not under the influence of the Soviet Union, yes, indeed, it was reported that he said this. But it was never reported without it being noted that he was completely wrong.

If President Bush makes a speech declaring that the moon is made of cheese, the headline is not "President declares moon made of cheese," the headline is "President delusional!" or "White House assures nation that president misspoke."

If you have been paying attention, you have seen this slide to the bottom coming for a long time. Newt Gingrich in the early '90s put the pedal to the metal when he developed his dirty words to call your opponent that won't be challenged. The press, pathetically, and the Democrats, even more pathetically, did nothing to call this slimy tactic by its proper name. This first inroad led us down the path to where we are now: the unchallenged assertion.

On MSNBC's "Hardball" last week, Sen. Rick Santorum finished up his interview with Chris Matthews with some stunning assertions about John Kerry: "Well, I mean, I only have to allude to his testimony before Congress ... And I think that kind of anti-American sentiment, that kind of America can't do it, America isn't good enough anymore, and sort of being critical, as he has been of the president, not supporting our troops, all that coming out in Pennsylvania is just not going to sell."

Well, thank goodness for Chris Matthews and his hard-hitting journalism and integrity. His "hardball" response? "OK. It's great talking to you tonight, Senator Rick Santorum, the junior senator from Pennsylvania."

OK. So for Rick Santorum and the panoply of militarily challenged members of the Bush-Cheney administration, every returning Vietnam veteran, every student, every reporter, every housewife, every member of Congress, and every soldier on a swift boat or in a jungle who opposed the Vietnam War were anti-American? Everyone who believed that Nixon and Kissinger and McNamara were conducting an unnecessary war in a reprehensible manner are anti-American?

Am I incorrect in thinking that our nation's general consensus is that those who opposed the war and literally fought to bring it to an end were courageous, patriotic Americans who fought an unpopular fight but in the end were proven right? "OK."

And thank goodness Sen. Santorum and Sen. Zell Miller are supporting our troops, because apparently if John Kerry were in charge, we'd be fighting "with spitballs." The idea of letting a leader of the majority party of the U.S. Senate say that one of its members from the loyal opposition does not support the troops is repugnant and should not go unchallenged. Why doesn't Chris Matthews (or any journalist for that matter) ask Mr. Santorum: If John Kerry voted for the $87 billion the first time, why didn't it pass? And how did Mr. Santorum and Mr. Miller and Dr. Frist and Mr. McCain vote that time?

And the next time someone says that Mr. Kerry or anyone voted "against body armor" or "against cancer research" or "to poison pregnant women" or any of those outlandishly stupid comments that pass for political discourse these days, shouldn't some high-profile journalist ask them about their obviously ludicrous implication: So you think Mr. Smith is for cancer? So you think Mr. Jones really hates our troops?

I don't care if George W. Bush doesn't do nuance, the rest of us do! We can understand that voting for a bill that includes both $87 billion to fund the Iraq war and tax rollbacks to finance it is different than voting for a bill that doesn't include the tax rollbacks. That second vote wasn't a vote against our troops, it was casting an unpopular vote to make a point that this administration is rolling up massive deficits that will come back to haunt us and our children.

But let's get back to Jon Stewart and Ted Koppel. Koppel has said recently that "a lot of television viewers -- more, quite frankly, than I'm comfortable with -- get their news from ... 'The Daily Show.' " As Stewart points out, that is because "The Daily Show" is willing to point out that what passes for political discourse by well-respected and supposedly well-trained broadcasters when they interact with the pull-string Chatty Cathy dolls spewing forth their disingenuous talking points is what it is, crap.

Mr. Stewart identifies himself as neither a Republican nor a Democrat and believes that the conservative/liberal paradigm no longer works. He is "anti-b.s." Consequently, the current administration, whose ability to make the aforementioned substance smell like reasonable public policy is epic, is a favorite target. And fortunately, Mr. Stewart and his staff apparently have resources not found at virtually any other news organization in the country: collectively, they have half a brain and the writers apparently devote some of their time to research.

Mr. Stewart believes that it is the job of real journalists to adjudicate our national political debate. In a recent segment with "Daily Show" "correspondent" Rob Corddry, Stewart asked about the factual basis of the swift boat vets' charges. "Facts?" said Corddry, "Our job is to parrot what one side says and then parrot back what the other side says!" Apparently this is what politicians can now reliably count on, but I hope the profession of journalism gets into a good 12-step program before the election.


Sphere: Related Content