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May 8, 2008 9:51 AM   Subscribe

"The Daily Show is no doubt entertainment, but it is entertainment, measurably, with a substantive point. It is, in its own way, another kind of No Spin Zone." The Project for Excellence in Journalism discusses what is and is not journalistic (PDF) about The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
posted by Blazecock Pileon (122 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, you know, someone has to do something vaguely like journalism on American TV, and it sure as hell isn't any of the cable news channels or even (ha ha) network news.
posted by Artw at 9:56 AM on May 8, 2008


The Daily Show is toothless since Ben Karlin's departure.
posted by any major dude at 9:59 AM on May 8, 2008


This paper has introduced the term "newshole" to me, for which I am grateful.
posted by ~ at 9:59 AM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Really, you Americans have no idea of the horror I experienced seeing network news for the first time. It fades to a dull nauseu overtime, once you grow numb to the stupidity and start repeating comforting lies to yourself like "It must be OK, surely no one gets their information on the state of the world from this crap."
posted by Artw at 9:59 AM on May 8, 2008


Well some liberals, like Stewart, Franken, Colbert, Maher, Garofalo, and Matt Taibbi, have a sense of mischief and humor, whereas Fox News "commentators" are mostly humorless reactionary blowhards. Liberal humor made its way through the backdoor of the mainstream media because the right had spent so many years and so much money more or less successfully barricading the front door. The biggest lie ever sold is that the media in this country is liberal. It is in fact instinctively status quo and corporatist, and there is no liberal equivalent to Fox News. Although there probably should be.
posted by ornate insect at 10:04 AM on May 8, 2008 [21 favorites]


This just in...

The Project for Comparative Fruit Studies finds several distinctions between apples and oranges.
posted by jonp72 at 10:08 AM on May 8, 2008 [21 favorites]


and there is no liberal equivalent to Fox News. Although there probably should be.

There can't be. Being a conservative is about put to rest any lingering doubts you might have about your impulses, and being okay with, essentially, not giving a shit and "looking out for number one". This means that you can find comfort in a news medium that gives you messages that it's not only okay to be self-centered and xenophobic, people that think otherwise are fools.

To be liberal (hopefully) means to embark on a life of constantly questioning and challenging your underlying assumptions and belief frameworks. That's why, at it's core, the Daily Show isn't really comedy, it plays as some combination of tragedy and farce.
posted by psmealey at 10:10 AM on May 8, 2008 [30 favorites]


I'm not taking Stewart seriously until he gets himself arrested on the floor of the Republican national convention for refusing to cede his spot to the Operation Chaos Girls, dammit!
posted by WolfDaddy at 10:10 AM on May 8, 2008


ornate insect - It’s not so much that US News media pushes a right wing agenda (much of it does, of course), so much as so much US News media is relentlessly stupid and myopic, and so dedicated to pushing whatever faddish narrative of the moment has taken their eye without ever examining it. The Daily Show, on the other hand, gets a lot of humour out of deconstructing those narratives, so by making news an entertainment you actually kind of get a view of what the news is without the entertainment aspect. It also helps that they have a fair degree of respect for their audiences intelligence.
posted by Artw at 10:12 AM on May 8, 2008 [13 favorites]




That's why, at it's core, the Daily Show isn't really comedy, it plays as some combination of tragedy and farce.

Does that make the Daily Show the modern American equivalent of Candide?
posted by Pollomacho at 10:20 AM on May 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


The fact that the "Project for Excellence in Journalism" is even bothering to compare the Daily Show to the major news networks should be the cause for somber reflection at all those major news networks.

It will not be.

While that article repeatedly says that TDS is an entertainment program with journalism-like qualities, it never gets around to mentioning that the same is true of CNN/Fox/MSNBC/etc. The fact that the article is actually putting those networks into the separate category of serious journalism is probably a cause for relief, or even celebration, in those quarters.
posted by adamrice at 10:20 AM on May 8, 2008 [8 favorites]


artw--ah but the narratives themselves are more often than not built in the rightwing frameshop: other than Frank Rich at the Times or dailykos, who else is raising a stink about McCain's Hagee connection the way the Rev. Wright stink was raised about Obama?

Especially during election years, ever since Willie Horton and the swiftboating of Kerry, the right has excelled at manufacturing news stories that serve to dismantle Democratic campaigns. Look how much time Obama has had to spend defending himself against the torrent of media bias and guilt-by-association directed towards him. My guess is not even Bill O'Reilly really thinks Obama is a Black Panther sleeper agent, but the understanding is that a controversy has its own shelf life: people stop paying attention to whether or not a given pseudo-controversy has any merit, and just begin to gradually assume that there must be something there (it's death-by-a-thousand-cuts).

I think future historians will look back on our period and see it as a time of tremendous backlash among ordinary Americans towards a mainstream media that has become more co-opted now than ever before. There's a reason journalists now rank up there with lawyers and politicians themselves as being generally viewed as untrustworthy and agenda-prone.
posted by ornate insect at 10:23 AM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Project for Comparative Fruit Studies finds several distinctions between apples and oranges.

I don't think you read the article. Thanks for commenting, anyway.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:23 AM on May 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think we've lost sight of what news is. News doesn't take a side. That's propaganda.

The Daily Show makes fun of everyone, and then it ridicules itself. If Fox News ever ridiculed itself, it would confuse it viewers and then lose them. That is if the viewers ever figured out that's what was happening.
posted by ewkpates at 10:24 AM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


If you wnat to push an agenda based on mudslinging, oversimplification, guilt by associated imagery and inflammatory soundbites it certainly makes your job easier, yes.
posted by Artw at 10:27 AM on May 8, 2008


Does Weekend Update count as news? Because Amy Poehler is actually hotter than the female newsreaders on Fox.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:31 AM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


I find it interesting that there are only two theories put forth for why the Daily Show is 'tougher' on Republicans: 1) Jon Stewart and the writers are liberals, or 2) Jon Stewart and the writers are anti-establishment.

How about: 3) the viewers want to finally have some actual news given to them, rather than being inundated with politicians in power hammering pre-arranged talking points? Or even, 4) Dick Cheney is Satan and Bush is his sockpuppet?
posted by misha at 10:33 AM on May 8, 2008 [6 favorites]


Does Weekend Update count as news? Because Amy Poehler is actually hotter than the female newsreaders on Fox.

That hit piece they did on Skull Island was brutal though.
posted by Artw at 10:36 AM on May 8, 2008


ewkpates--we've just been through one of the most relentless and (at least initially) successful propaganda-pushed-through-media-channel campaigns in American history.

From Judith Miller's WMD to Jeff Gannon to the recent revelations about the Pentagon PR push of using retired generals as mouthpieces, the entire Rovian atmosphere has been such that it has made a lot of informed people, myslef included, wonder about the extent to which our media appears to be essentially as State-controlled as any media in history. It's an age of intense perception management, and even deciphering where the propaganda ends and the true facts is sometimes all but impossible. The only silver lining is that many people appear to have awoken to the realization that they are being manipulated.
posted by ornate insect at 10:38 AM on May 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think the study misses out on the fact that TDS is a structural parody of network news. When Stewart goes off on what drink to have with a pancake-on-a-stick he's parodying all the irrelevant lead stories that typical network news starts off with. So his lack of coverage on a nation-wide ice storm is, in fact, a comment on his option that that's not really news. His parody of the mainstream media goes beyond what the report measures.
posted by GuyZero at 10:39 AM on May 8, 2008 [7 favorites]


I think we've lost sight of what news is. News doesn't take a side. That's propaganda.

It's worth noting that this is a uniquely American view. Most Western European news providers have an explicit viewpoint; the argument is that by making the bias transparent, it's easier to rationally evaluate the journalism.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:40 AM on May 8, 2008 [12 favorites]


you Americans have no idea of the horror I experienced seeing network news for the first time.

I might have some idea, since I can remember what the network news was like 20 years ago (noticeably better). It's been eviscerated.

Network and cable 'news' both really sicken me these days. It's rare that I watch - I completely source news from the radio, web, and print these days. I find radio (NPR) is really pretty good - nearly free of celebrity gossip and hysterical fearmongering and obviously able to resist running empty stories just because there is something on video to show. The graph comparing The Daily Show to the MSM shows how much time the MSM spends on the categories of Crime and Disasters -- if you combine the two, together they take more time than on Politics or Foreign Affairs. I'd wager that the majority of that coverage is simply because crime and disaster result in compelling video. I know my local nightly TV network news affiliate is basically Parade of Fires, Robbers and Sex Offenders night after night, while information that might help increase citizenship locally is nowhere to be seen. On television, the pictures are the news.

Another good aspect of getting news from radio is that many public radio affiliates run BBC and CBC programming. The most startling difference to me between the CBC radio news and the NPR news programs I listen to is the sheer amount of time the CBC is willing to devote to each stories. The American outlets are quite concerned with keeping a fast pace and not dwelling long on any one story - preferring to cover more, rather than deeper. The CBC seems to spend more time on questioning interviewees and exploring history and ramifications for each story. The BBC I do hear doesn't do that quite as well, but then, hey, it's covering the entire world.

I noticed that "Race/Gender/Gay" is a topic in The Daily Show's top 10 but does not appear in MSM. Still, I think that in the MSM a lot of material on those topics is covered under Politics, Government, and Lifestyle. I guess I'd have to see the segments to know if these were just mentions without connection to a topical issue, or what.

The observations on the limitations of a satire format are excellent.
posted by Miko at 10:42 AM on May 8, 2008 [7 favorites]


I'll admit it -- I get most of my news from Comedy Central and HBO.

What's terrible about this is that it's becoming less and less indicative of a problem with me and rather increasingly of a problem with the actual news programs. Take, for example, CNN Headline News: Created specifically as a venue for hard news, that viewers could flip to at any time to see the major stories of the day, it's now just Nancy Grace and Glenn Beck spewing bullshit at the top of their lungs, or some inane blather about Hannah Montana.

When comedians take journalism more seriously than journalists do, something is seriously broken.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:42 AM on May 8, 2008 [15 favorites]


I lost every remaining shred of faith in our national news media about a year ago (or so), when 60 Minutes was doing a special on Obama. They helpfully reminded their audience that "Obama" rhymes with "Osama" and that this might mean trouble for him.

I'm trying to imagine if 60 Minutes, doing a similar interview with GWB, would have reminded their audience that the "W" in his name could also stand for "Waffen SS", but I doubt it.
posted by Avenger at 10:43 AM on May 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


Indeed, on many occasions, the top story in the national news media was quite
different from the leading content on The Daily Show. On January 15, for instance, most mainstream news shows led with the story of severe weather and ice storms causing havoc across much of the nation. Stewart began his show by pondering what drink would be best to wash down a Jimmy Dean pancake and sausage on a stick. “On a stick, of course, because anybody eating chocolate chip pancakes and sausage is clearly on the go,” Stewart joked. (He decided on Gatorade A.M.).


And that's why I love you, Jon.
posted by rooftop secrets at 10:43 AM on May 8, 2008


I for one am made profoundly and mysteriously uncomfortable by the word "newshole."

SHUT YOUR NEWSHOLE OR I AM TURNING THIS PAPER AROUND I SWEAR
posted by DoctorFedora at 10:45 AM on May 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


It's worth noting that this is a uniquely American view. Most Western European news providers ...

Not to mention certain Australian ones.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:46 AM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


When comedians take journalism more seriously than journalists do, something is seriously broken.

I think you hit the nail on the head here, and b/c comedy, especially the highly ironic comedy practiced on shows like Stewart or Maher, is less threatening than investigative journalism (or at least than the idea of investigative journalism), it has been allowed as a place where something like unpatronizing truth occasionaly seeps through. It's a backdoor way for the people to actually not be condescended to or sold snakeoil, and it's emerged unconsciously in pop culture to fill a real information gap.
posted by ornate insect at 10:49 AM on May 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


Yes. The older I get the less convinced I am that the American approach to journalism is the way to go. The ideal is that you present the news factually and even-handedly. But that's incredibly hard. It requires identifying the truth and providing it even if it makes one side of an argument unhappy. But that's not what happens.

What happens is that it's extraordinarily easier just to give spokesmen from both sides of an argument equal time and call that even-handed. Even if one side is clearly spouting bullshit. Which is ridiculous and sloppy, lazy journalism. But it's the only kind the American system of journalism seems to provide in television news.
posted by Justinian at 10:50 AM on May 8, 2008 [22 favorites]


Take, for example, CNN Headline News: Created specifically as a venue for hard news, that viewers could flip to at any time to see the major stories of the day, it's now just Nancy Grace and Glenn Beck spewing bullshit at the top of their lungs, or some inane blather about Hannah Montana.

Recently I was asked about my favorite cable news channel in a poll. I haven't really watched cable news in over a year, so I just spouted "Uh, Headline News, I guess". Later I actually spent some time watching Headline News, and discovered that it had somehow been overthrown by right-wing talk radio hosts and had very few, uh, headlines.
posted by Avenger at 10:53 AM on May 8, 2008


Great comment, Justinian. But I don't blame journalists themselves -- it's really about corporate control. Newsrooms have been getting gutted for a long time, and at this point, there are too many journalists working in them who have no experience from before the 1990s and poor training. The good ones have left for other careers or simply been rendered powerless, and their editors, who at one time would have aggressively defended the size of the news hole and given them the time and support needed to do serious newsgathering and investigation, have been stripped of their teeth and claws (and budgets) when it comes to fighting the revenue-generating profit centers like advertising and the ownership's shareholders. The people making the decisions in news organizations have changed in the last 20 years, and we can see the result.
posted by Miko at 10:55 AM on May 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


had somehow been overthrown by right-wing talk radio hosts and had very few, uh, headlines.

But it had box scores, the weather, a poll and its running results, the time, and cycling ads for other programs! What more do you want?
posted by Miko at 10:56 AM on May 8, 2008


Among the study’s findings:

• The program’s clearest focus is politics, especially in Washington.


Well well.
posted by three blind mice at 11:11 AM on May 8, 2008


Well, I didn't read this, I must admit. For one thing, it's a pdf; for another, the idea that the Daily Show can be praised by a media organization by comparing it to Bill O'Reilly's "No Spin Zone" is too depressing to consider at length.

Ok I did read some of this. Enough to determine that the creepy "No Spin Zone" reference is real and occurs on page 15.
posted by washburn at 11:16 AM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hasn't it always been the duty of the Court Jester to tell the Emperor that he's not wearing any clothes?
posted by blue_beetle at 11:18 AM on May 8, 2008 [15 favorites]


I'm certainly not the first person to point this out, but with all the hand wringing over outsourcing and privatization and races to the bottom in so many industries over the last couple of decades, the commodification (ok - the utter retardification) of broadcast news in the US is every bit as consequential. Sorry for the CanadaFilter, but 10 years ago I watched as much American news as Canadian news. I wouldn't dream of it now. That just has to have some effect on the quality of the public discourse and the quality of governance in the US.
posted by ~ at 11:18 AM on May 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Hasn't it always been the duty of the Court Jester to tell the Emperor that he's not wearing any clothes?

Your cliche speaks wisely!
posted by Artw at 11:19 AM on May 8, 2008


Miko: "But it had box scores, the weather, a poll and its running results, the time, and cycling ads for other programs! What more do you want?"

"We call it news -- your team for the war on terror, the weather, and sports. Weazel News."
posted by Rhaomi at 11:22 AM on May 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


The question of journalist "balance" is an interesting one. One is tempted to just throw this principle out; however the prospect of left-news with FOX's intellectual deadness is hardly thrilling, even were it to agree completely with my own perspective. It seems that there are certain procedures that one might look for in "serious" television news:

1) The presentation of coherent oppositional views.

2) A willingness to honestly challenge on matters of fact (difficult, since since celebrity journalists can be limited by their schedules in their knowledge of policy and fact).

3) A tendency to discourage ad-hominem attacks.

I have to say that I do find these qualities more in some broadcast news programs than in others. The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, I find a reasonable exemplar of these qualities. I once posted a MeFi thread that raised the possibility of a PBS Newschannel. No one seemed to like this idea at the time, but I still think that as network news continues to decline, that the provision of more news on a public model is becoming an increasingly attractive and reasonable idea.
posted by washburn at 11:33 AM on May 8, 2008 [4 favorites]


unless this is a prank and the Project for Excellence in Journalism is a Comedy Central outfit, the fact that some legit think tank actually takes the time to compare a comedy show with the actual news is indeed the only thing you need to know about the current state of the news media in the US, no need for papers there.
posted by matteo at 11:40 AM on May 8, 2008 [5 favorites]


Hasn't it always been the duty of the Court Jester to tell the Emperor that he's not wearing any clothes?

I think in this case it's the duty of the Court Jester to tell the people who already strongly believe the Emperor is nude that the Emperor is, indeed, nude every single night for year upon year upon year.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:43 AM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Colbert is still smarter and funnier.
posted by Artw at 11:45 AM on May 8, 2008


STEWART: How old are you? CARLSON: Thirty-five. STEWART: And you wear a bow tie.

Video of the exchange (and more).
posted by ericb at 11:46 AM on May 8, 2008


"What happens is that it's extraordinarily easier just to give spokesmen from both sides of an argument equal time and call that even-handed. Even if one side is clearly spouting bullshit."

It's worse than that. The typical segment will feature two spokespersons from each side who will be given equal time. But they will likely be chosen in hopes that *both* will not only be spouting hyperbolic bullshit, but they will scream at each other.

The spouting of bullshit is not a sad weakness in an attempt to offer balance. It's part of the plan. People who can be trusted to spout bullshit will be invited back. Those who want to present unopinionated fact, or who allow the possibility for nuance, won't.

And count on the "moderator" to interrupt if they steer clean of any soundbite-based land mines.

By design network and cable news is even handed bullshit. Balanced bullshit.
posted by Ragma at 11:47 AM on May 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Honestly, why are people citing Stewart's "Bow Tie" moment as one of his best? It seemed to me like one of his worst moments--the sort of vacuous remark that Ann Coulter, for example, would have happily made to any liberal bow-tie wearer.

But then again, I still haven't gotten past missing one of Barak Obama's recent predecessors.
posted by washburn at 11:56 AM on May 8, 2008


Colbert is still smarter and funnier.

I suspect this is because Colbert's show is a finely focused parody of a very certain type of talking-head show and doesn't deviate from that central conceit, whereas TDS is more free-range with it's humor. Colbert is sit-com to TDS's ensemble variety show.

TDS is also at the mercy of any given day's events.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:57 AM on May 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Hasn't it always been the duty of the Court Jester to tell the Emperor that he's not wearing any clothes?

Jon Stewart naked? Link plz.
posted by heeeraldo at 12:08 PM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


>>I think we've lost sight of what news is. News doesn't take a side. That's propaganda.

>It's worth noting that this is a uniquely American view. Most Western European news providers have an explicit viewpoint; the argument is that by making the bias transparent, it's easier to rationally evaluate the journalism.


More along this point... once upon a time the media (newspapers) even tried to lead, through editorials, and through putting focus on stories that they thought needed more attention. The papers' stance wasn't always altruistic or noble, but having competing papers taking different sides of an issue and debating it in their pages helped bring those issues forward. This was when there were enough independent news outlets in a market to permit genuine competition, of course.

Nowadays, the MSM doesn't lead or educate, it herds. Baaaaa.
posted by Artful Codger at 12:12 PM on May 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Would reinstating the Fairness Doctrine help?
posted by kirkaracha at 12:32 PM on May 8, 2008


This was when there were enough independent news outlets in a market to permit genuine competition, of course.

Thankyouverymuch Clinton-Gore.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:34 PM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


The biggest lie ever sold is that the media in this country is liberal. It is in fact instinctively status quo and corporatist, and there is no liberal equivalent to Fox News.

I like to take any opportunity (as I have several times previously on Metafilter) to pimp Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media?
ornate insect's two sentences quoted above serve as a fairly good thesis statement for the book. Alterman is thorough, clear, and convincing.
posted by Kwine at 12:38 PM on May 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


ewkpates: "I think we've lost sight of what news is. News doesn't take a side. That's propaganda."

News needs to take the side of reality. Most U.S. news is so damn impartial that they don't even bother to distinguish between actual facts and bullshit. The right-wing understands that and is able to propagate any non-sense that they want up through the news channels because they know that most of the media is too chicken to call them out on it.
posted by octothorpe at 12:42 PM on May 8, 2008 [8 favorites]


Last Monday Brian Williams did a promo spot for the evening's news and with doom-ful music as a backdrop he mongered, "The roads we use to take our kids to school: are they falling apart?"

Obviously we don't have other reasons to care about roads.
posted by yeti at 12:43 PM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


"The roads we use to take our kids to school: are they falling apart?"

Yes, they are. It's called springtime. Oh, and if you're really worried about it, here's some good news: You don't have to take your kids yourself. Those big yellow things with all the kids in 'em? You'll never guess what those are for!

To think Brian Williams is one of the good ones...
posted by Sys Rq at 12:51 PM on May 8, 2008


It's not that stories about disasters and tragedies aren't, uh, "newsworthy" as far as The Daily Show is concerned—if this study had been done in 2005, they would have come to a significantly different conclusion. It's that stories about disasters and tragedies lack any sort of moral component. It isn't a great insight to say that satire, especially Stewart's brand of it, is essentially a form of moralism. But it does tell you why a story like the Virginia Tech shootings gets so few mentions while Hurricane Katrina gets so many: there isn't much about a story like Virginia Tech to moralize about (with the noted exception of the insipid press coverage), whereas everything about Katrina—FEMA, the sordid details of the administration's reaction, the racial inequity suddenly bared for all to see—invited outrage.
posted by Weebot at 12:57 PM on May 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Honestly, why are people citing Stewart's "Bow Tie" moment as one of his best? It seemed to me like one of his worst moments--the sort of vacuous remark that Ann Coulter, for example, would have happily made to any liberal bow-tie wearer.

Well, for me it's because the whole segment is probably the best and truest thing any member of the media has ever said to any other member of the media. Not the bowtie remark per se, but the whole "Stop hurting America!" dialogue. He single-handedly ended Tucker Carlson's career that day.
posted by briank at 12:57 PM on May 8, 2008 [6 favorites]


Honestly, why are people citing Stewart's "Bow Tie" moment as one of his best? It seemed to me like one of his worst moments

Seriously. Having John McCain nearly walk off the show last night (or was that the night before?) after saying "will you denounce George Bush?" was a whole lot better.

..was anyone else struck by the oddness John Stewart gets to yell "SIT DOWN!!" at a (presumptive) presidential candidate?
posted by flaterik at 1:05 PM on May 8, 2008


News needs to take the side of reality. Most U.S. news is so damn impartial that they don't even bother to distinguish between actual facts and bullshit. The right-wing understands that and is able to propagate any non-sense that they want up through the news channels because they know that most of the media is too chicken to call them out on it.

That's not a matter of impartiality though, its a matter of lazy journalism. Blindly boilerplating talking points or press releases without fact checking or balanced reporting is just plain slothfull.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:05 PM on May 8, 2008


briank: He single-handedly ended Tucker Carlson's career that day.

Let's not overstate the case here. Tucker Carlson's career was hardly derailed by Stewart, though I think a case can be made for Stewart ending Crossfire.
posted by Weebot at 1:06 PM on May 8, 2008


As far as pure chutzpah goes, though, nothing Stewart has done has topped Colbert at the White House Correspondent's Dinner.
posted by Weebot at 1:09 PM on May 8, 2008 [7 favorites]


The fact that the "Project for Excellence in Journalism" is even bothering to compare the Daily Show to the major news networks should be the cause for somber reflection at all those major news networks.

Here, here, and the morning news is even worse. It's news who was eliminated from Survivor the night before?
posted by caddis at 1:14 PM on May 8, 2008


It's that stories about disasters and tragedies lack any sort of moral component.

They're also not very funny.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:15 PM on May 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Seriously. Having John McCain nearly walk off the show last night (or was that the night before?) after saying "will you denounce George Bush?" was a whole lot better.

Wait... what? Seriously? I missed this... yet another reason to hate exams.
posted by louie at 1:21 PM on May 8, 2008


Not the bowtie remark per se, but the whole "Stop hurting America!" dialogue

Okay after posting my previous remark I rewatched the segment and was reminded of what he was trying to get across. It was a brilliant moment; possibly the only time I've heard anyone trying to make the points he was.

The saddest part is that I don't think Carlson et al disagreed with him... they just didn't get it.
posted by flaterik at 1:22 PM on May 8, 2008


Wait... what?

And here's the video, from the official source no less.

Sadly upon rewatching it's pretty obvious McCain was only jokingly pretending to leave. He was pretty much putting me to sleep when I was watching it originally so I only really started paying attention when I went "holy shit did he just almost walk off??".

Still, Jon was asking some pretty pointed questions there.

On a side note, McCain seemed very old and very tired to me in that interview. I've never gotten that impression before; I wonder if the campaign trail is taking its toll.
posted by flaterik at 1:28 PM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Just to input here, I did not mean post the above quote alone as the specific moment of that interchange that was it's crowning glory, though it was a pretty good zinger, I really meant to emphasize the entire transcript of the exchange, which is a truly proper vivisection of the horrible monster that are/were shows like Crossfire.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:30 PM on May 8, 2008


The saddest part is that I don't think Carlson et al disagreed with him... they just didn't get it.

Begala was ever worse about it because he seemed to think Stewart was there only to assail Carlson. I don't think he quite understood what was happening. There was a time when I had some respect for him but I cannot, for the life of me, remember why. When he went off on his "Obama's support only comes from African Americans and eggheads" thing on Tuesday night, I wrote him off completely.

It's funny that some people in the business of politics think they deserve a pass merely because they are Democrats, when a lot of those jerks are even more cynical and worse for America than a lot of Republicans. At least with most republicans, you know exactly where they stand, so there's no risk of them selling you out.
posted by psmealey at 1:36 PM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


They're also not very funny.

You're missing the point. Plus, I don't think that stopped Stewart from covering Katrina (linked previously), or The Onion from putting up 9/11 stories about two weeks after that tragedy.
posted by Weebot at 1:39 PM on May 8, 2008


Stewart-McCain clip, for Canucks feeling left out.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:47 PM on May 8, 2008


Things have gotten so bad with the media, I think it's time we talk about outsourcing. As with so many other things that the U.S. once did well enough for itself, our laziness and stupidity have made it such that people in other countries can do it better and cheaper. Let's give Glenn Beck a pink slip and a job retraining program and let someone else do it. Seriously, this is the most offensive thing ever broadcast over the airwaves.

I would like to propose we import the BBC or CBC but at this point I think Romanian Journalism students could do a better job.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:48 PM on May 8, 2008


The McCain "walkout" was a mockup, a joke. He waves a good-natured goodbye before returning to his seat; Stewart's shouting was also mock outrage; all jokes.

Watch it yourself. (Although it's in Part 2, and I've linked Part 1 so you can see the whole interaction. It's about 10 or 12 minutes total.)
posted by cgc373 at 1:53 PM on May 8, 2008


I was contemplating the problem and by extension the possible solution to 24 hour cable news stations, my thinking went like this; in any given day, they spend an fair amount of time discussion incredibly pointless topics. Hell, they spent days on wall to wall coverage of Anna Nicole Smith's death. It came to mind that maybe what was needed was a news station that only broadcast when there was something worth talking about. No minor gossip, no fat, just the lean meaty truth.

The Daily Show only has a half hour, which isn't enough. The others have to fill 24, which is clearly too much. So I figured something in the middle would be perfect.

Then I realized that it wouldn't work. Not because of the obvious; who decides what is 'real news' and can they be trusted? But because as evidence has demonstrated repeatedly, they will cover this useless and pointless stuff to the exclusion of real news. Even when there is something worth talking about, they don't give it to us.

What's going on in Iraq? Dunno, but Obama still ain't wearing a flag pin. How's the economy really doing? Dunno, but Clinton said something really dumb the other day! Are we on the verge of an fuel related catastrophe? Dunno, but there is a missing white girl in Florida.

The whole thing makes my stomach hurt.
posted by quin at 1:53 PM on May 8, 2008 [4 favorites]


(On non-preview: Okay, fine. Everybody else already linked it. Anyway, it's still all jokes.)
posted by cgc373 at 1:54 PM on May 8, 2008


Errr...scratch that last sentence.

It should read: Just saying it's not funny doesn't explain why Stewart can mine comedy from Hurricane Katrina (linked previously), or why the The Onion felt that they were able to put up 9/11 stories about two weeks after that tragedy.
posted by Weebot at 1:55 PM on May 8, 2008


I would say that (a) in the case of Katrina, what was being mocked was actually the government bumbling rather than the event itself and (b) in the case of 9/11, what is being lampooned are the attackers themselves.

In the case of Virginia Tech, a sadly fucked up guy killed a whole lot of people. There's not much angle for comedy there. I think that's the case in most disasters. The Boxing Day Tsunami strikes me as another disaster widely covered that would have no place on TDS.
posted by absalom at 2:03 PM on May 8, 2008


Honestly, why are people citing Stewart's "Bow Tie" moment as one of his best? It seemed to me like one of his worst moments

Taken on it's face it seems like a cheap personal jab.
What is important and potent about it is that addresses the Kabuki nature of shows like Hardball.
It's all just theater and the bow tie comment was meant to illustrate that, methinks.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 2:06 PM on May 8, 2008


The McCain "walkout" was a mockup, a joke. He waves a good-natured goodbye before returning to his seat; Stewart's shouting was also mock outrage; all jokes.

I suspect this is not a popular view, but I often get pissed off at TDS's lack of balls at times. While it's certainly true that Jon Stewart is not Mike Wallace, he has shown himself to be an adept enough interviewer on occasion, particularly with Bill Kristol, John Bolton, and the previous time McCain was on. But, more often, he has wilted in interviews over the years with Bill Clinton, John Kerry, Rick Santorum, and even the lying pipsqueak, Ari Fleischer.

Beyond this, when he allows Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to mug for the cameras on the show just for laughs (yeah, I know, Colbert did this too), it feels cheap and hypocritical.

Stewart often laughs off that he has any responsibility to be the hard man because of the fact that he's on Comedy Central, but he nevertheless disappoints when he doesn't deliver the same level of acuity in his interviews that are on display during the rest of the show. Possibly, if they combined the Daily Show and Colbert Report into one show it would be near perfect. You could give Stewart the incredulous straight man role with the news roundup, and leave the more difficult stuff to Colbert.
posted by psmealey at 2:08 PM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Really, you Americans have no idea of the horror I experienced seeing network news for the first time. It fades to a dull nauseu overtime, once you grow numb to the stupidity and start repeating comforting lies to yourself like "It must be OK, surely no one gets their information on the state of the world from this crap."

Funny, I felt the exact opposite when I first saw a news program in another country. And then another. And then another. Which is why we don't watch network news in this American household.
posted by davejay at 2:12 PM on May 8, 2008


So I grew up in Canada, but for the last 6 years I've been flipping between the UK and the US. (I'm thinking of moving to Aus and then NZ in the next 10, just to complete my tour of the Anglo-sphere, but I decided I have to do NZ last because once I get there I won't want to leave.) And I've been following news (radio, television, newspapers) in all three countries.

America: your news media is BROKEN.

Apparently the media in your country has decided that the truth is not what serious investigative reporting and hard-hitting questions to those in power reveals, but whoever can talk the loudest and longest. They claim that they are trying to be "unbiased", but apparently it's biased to priviledge facts over bullshit - I mean, you wouldn't want to have a truth bias, would you.

Lacking bias doesn't mean just acting as bad moderators between two talking points - it means seriously interogating the assertions made (by all parties) about how societies, economies, and the world really work. Kind of like how the better programs on NPR do.

Now, I'm not going to totally let the British or Canadian media off the hook. They are both, especially the Canadian, a lot more parochial than I think is healthy. We hear almost no news out of the majority of the world until some disaster happens, and even then the coverage of those disasters is flimsy and shallow at best (there's really no option, because of our great ignorance of most of the world that isn't North America and/or Western Europe). National news is important -- but I start to think that we have no perspective because of the lack of international news.

Memo to the BBC: Get BBC World on terrestrial radio. BBC 4 is great and I'd keep it, but there is no reason that world news should only only be broadcast after 1am or so.

CBC: Buy into BBC world, and maybe Aljazeera English and some good French-language reporting as well, and rebroadcast it in Canada. We may not be a big enough market to build our own really solid international reporting - but that doesn't mean we can't pick up stories from elsewhere. Maybe create a CBC World radio, which is truly world focussed, and run more international news in on television.

and my memo to the American media? Pay attention to reporting in the rest of the world, and learn how it's done. Learn that asking questions that challenge your interviewees is not disrespect; not doing so is that greatest disrespect you can do, to your audience. Do actual research on your stories, and don't just recite press releases.

Finally, to the Daily Show: Good job, you are very funny, and often right. Please continue to be great topical comedians.
posted by jb at 2:23 PM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


I suspect this is not a popular view, but I often get pissed off at TDS's lack of balls at times. ...

I think some of this is the harsh reality that he still has to book these guests. If he tore everyone to shreds the moment they came on, then they wouldn't show up. He doesn't have a big network (NBC, CNN) backing him to get these interviews. So he's nice to McCain in most interviews partially because I think he likes (but doesn't agree with) McCain and I think it's also so he can get away with the occasional hard question and even that one time where he hammered on McCain for the whole interview.

There are times when I also wish he asked tougher questions. But even when he's doing the nice interviews Jon has a low tolerance for talking points and scripted answers. That still puts him well above a lot of other interviewers.
posted by Gary at 2:41 PM on May 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


I've already written most of what I want to say here, in the thread about the Moyers/Stewart interview about a year ago, but it's absolutely true that newsmedia in America is hopelessly broken. Actual Journalism went out the window a long time ago.

I don't really hate Ted Turner, because I doubt he could've predicted it, but creating the 24-Hour News Channel is really what killed everything, as far as I can tell. I'm sure there was a time, when CNN was the only game in town and I was too young to be paying attention, when CNN really did focus on actual news, absent the omnipresent political spin on everything. But competition brings quests for ratings which bring lowest-common-denominator stories and fear of any substance which might make the viewer change the channel. I don't know if it was Attwater and Scaife or just a natural progression or some combination of the two which led to every single news story in the U.S. needing to be viewed in political terms, but it's where we are now. People view something like the Polygamist ranch in Texas or the Florida girl getting beaten and don't know how to respond to it, on a human level, so the news outlets bring in their liberal guy and their conservative guy so that you can know, within talking points, which side you're supposed to be on. It's not about providing balance, but providing the laziest, and t.v.-friendliest approximation of context.

But then, as the news continued to devolve into commercial product, aimed only to titillate and softy reaffirm one's beliefs, that the context became king, without any context itself. This is why we only hear about how a candidate's economic plan is polling, and not the details or likely effects. Which begs the question: how are you supposed to actually know what voters think of a plan if you're not bothering to tell them what it is?

Now we're left with "news" that's so worthless as to simply be noise. If a network gets a "get," say, like an exclusive interview with Sec. Rice, then the only concern is to ask shallow but provocative questions and then cut her off if she talks beyond the soundbite, because they need that footage to be run on the other networks with their logo clogging up the bottom corner of the screen.

The pdf makes a good point about TDS's audience being well-informed, and how that's necessary for the jokes to land. This is very true, and probably why Jon Stewart is so well respected not just as a comedian, but as a journaslit as well, no matter how much he tries to shrug of that label. (given the state of journalism, I wouldn't want it either.) Stewart makes jokes, but respects his audience enough not to pander, which is something I'm not sure a single other cable or network star has managed.

For the record, my newspaper of choice is the New York Daily News. It's not as intellectual as the Times or the Washington Post, but it doesn't hide its agenda either, which is populist, as opposed to the New York Post's screeching right-wing propaganda. I dissagree with it about half the time, but I also know where it stands, and when it says something I hate, it backs itself up with the reasons why.

I don't need my news to be free of agenda or editorials. I need it to be free of bullshit.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:47 PM on May 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


I have trouble understanding why people need to watch cable news. There are better alternatives, surely? As an Australian, when I flick past Fox or CNN, it does my head in very quickly. I don't even have to hear what they're discussing - just a bunch of people yelling at each other with things scrolling across the screen. Fat, ugly, bitter old white men and manicured, botoxed bimbos posing as journalists. I have to turn back to the Cooking Channel within seconds.

But I don't miss it. There's a whole internets of news out there. And radio - you guys have, like, news updates on your radio, don't you? What are people getting from cable news that they can't get elsewhere, in terms of actual news content?
posted by Jimbob at 2:52 PM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


but creating the 24-Hour News Channel is really what killed everything

I would go a step further and say that it was the proliferation of 24 hour news channels that killed it. Back in the old day, the archetypal newsie was the dishevelled, drank too much, didn't exercise, didn't care so much about the money, but was in it for the craft and the recognition (and sometimes the gotcha), I'm thinking Jimmy Breslin here. When 24 hour cable news era dawned it paved the way for an entirely different animal: celebrity newsmodel. The vacuous, fatuous moron that couldn't cut it on the runway or on the silver screen, so the remaining vehicle for stardom left to them was TV news (William Hurt in Broadcast News, Nicole Kidman in To Die For).

I honestly think that part of the problem is one of overabundance of jobs available to people who only want to be famous. And reading off of a teleprompter is just the thing for them.
posted by psmealey at 2:59 PM on May 8, 2008


Would reinstating the Fairness Doctrine help?

I'd be interested to see if there's any time correlation between the rise of complaints about the liberal media and the fall of the fairness doctrine.
posted by weston at 3:24 PM on May 8, 2008


quin: I gave up on TV news back when Kennedy vanished in the North Atlantic and I spent an afternoon with my family watching the anchor of a major news network announce every 10 minutes that there were no developments in the search, and interviewing random people who were distantly associated with the family. During my most recent stay in a hotel room, I was shocked to find that CNN prime time was devoted to manufacturing outrage and having talking heads shout at each other.

Watching network drama and comedy programming was just as frustrating, with plot, pace and character chopped up into 10 minute segments crammed between high-impact prejudice and sexism used to sell useless crap. I just can't watch the Daily Show because it is surrounded and padded by so much crap. I don't understand how people can stand it, or stand to pay money for it.

The answer, in my opinion, is a return to the written word, podcasts of alternative commercial free shows like Democracy Now!, and the judicious use of good filtering blogs I respect. 9/11 demonstrated that tuning into live coverage of an event was worse than useless because the talking heads were filling time with every bit random panicked bullshit that hit their switchboard. There are very few "breaking news stories" that require my immediate attention and won't benefit from cooler heads and a good editor. Even the rambling and incoherent 300-word letters to the editor that grace the local newspaper have better analysis than an hour of improvised spin. In the time it takes for a news anchor to mouth the words and make the appeal for outrage from the audience, I can triangulate the same story through three different text sources.

And I know I keep bringing this up, but a few months ago, I saw a documentary that was built from unedited network news satellite feeds from 1992 that the local broadcasters and distributors were supposed to add in the commercials. One of the most damning clips has Larry King leaning over and whispering to Clinton during a break in front of a live audience (but picked up by his microphone) "Turner wants to change the world. You should talk to him. He can really help you out." The Clinton primary campaign got free coaching, editing, and makeup in every appearance. The progressive candidates for the Democratic presidential primary did not.

It's not going to change until these shows start seeing a hit in advertising dollars. And that is not going to happen as long as a supermajority of households pay to have that bullshit piped into their homes.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:37 PM on May 8, 2008


CBC: Buy into BBC world, and maybe Aljazeera English

The CBC is a make-work program for Canadian journos. Actually getting decent news is just a by-product.

and some good French-language reporting as well, and rebroadcast it in Canada.

The CBC perpetuates the "two solitudes" for some reason I cannot fathom. But watch the SRC or listen to Radio Canada in French and I think you'll hear plenty of good French reporting. They just never cross that stuff over to the English CBC. Perhaps you don't get it on cable - I only had rabbit ears and even in Toronto I got something like 2 or 3 French TV stations with plenty of news reporting.

We may not be a big enough market to build our own really solid international reporting - but that doesn't mean we can't pick up stories from elsewhere. Maybe create a CBC World radio, which is truly world focussed, and run more international news in on television.

Huh? How about RCI? "Radio Canada International produces daily and weekly programs in English, French, Spanish, Russian, Ukrainian, Mandarin, Cantonese, Arabic and Portuguese. A wide variety of programs produced by CBC/Radio-Canada are also available. "

And 'The Hour' is nearly as good as TDS. Nearly.
posted by GuyZero at 3:38 PM on May 8, 2008


To respond to the earlier point about how being blatant about your bias makes the news better and easier to understand, I think this Hunter S. Thompson quote sums it up well:

"Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism — which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place. He looked so good on paper that you could almost vote for him sight unseen. He seemed so all-American, so much like Horatio Alger, that he was able to slip through the cracks of Objective Journalism. You had to get Subjective to see Nixon clearly, and the shock of recognition was often painful."

Objective journalism does have blatant blindspots. One of them is that reporting involves more than rehashing. I remember hearing a story on NPR in 2004 that compared what Kerry and Bush were saying about their education proposals. They sounded pretty identical. But then the article went on to actually talk about their track records, and Bush had failed to fund every educational mandate he'd bragged about, they'd all fallen below expectations because of it, and at the end of his first four years in office there were fewer scholarships than when he started. Kerry, however, had voted regularly for educational programs that had worked. I did some looking around, and I barely found any other sources that mentioned this history; everyone else just told us what they were saying, which wasn't helpful because at least one person's words weren't going to correspond to reality.

Another one of the biggest problems is that the sound bite culture forces people to re-tell a story rather than show it, which necessarily confuses editorializing with reporting. If you show an entire speech, then you show their actual words. If you tell people what someone else said, you slant that to your interpretation of what they said - which is often unfair. This is actually very key, because it creates a media perception of (for example) political candidates that they then have no way of responding to, and enough people vote on the strength of personalities alone that it can determine elections. In 2000 how was Al Gore going to prove that he wasn't "wooden" when he had no effective way of reaching the masses except the way that was creating the problem in the first place? When I actually heard him speak, I had a very different perspective on him than what I kept hearing over and over again in both reports AND editorials.

I think the problem in American journalism is that the speed we demand of news organizations is completely out of relationship to the speed at which news actually occurs, which leaves reporters unable to follow a story from start to finish, investigate it, and make conclusions. Instead, they have to use things every day as they happen, which doesn't leave room for reflection and which almost necessitates over-emphasizing first person (and thus obviously self-motivated) quotes... and then because it's supposed to be objective, and because we see the words coming out of people's mouths, a lot of people just confuse that with what actually happened, as opposed to "this is what one person said happened, because they want something from you."

If you go out and call someone a swine, you might get closer to the truth, but you'll definitely do a better job of alerting people that this is just an interpretation of reality, not an undeniable fact.
posted by Kiablokirk at 3:56 PM on May 8, 2008 [7 favorites]


Huh? How about RCI? "Radio Canada International produces daily and weekly programs in English, French, Spanish, Russian, Ukrainian, Mandarin, Cantonese, Arabic and Portuguese. A wide variety of programs produced by CBC/Radio-Canada are also available. "

RCI sounds good, but is it terrestrial? It seems to be just shortwave and online, like BBC World. I don't think it could get the kind of penetration terrestrial radio could, because people don't have internet and/or shortwave in their cars, kitchens, etc. Also, I have to admit that I wouldn't listen to a radio station which kept switching language. When I listen to the radio, I want to be able to switch it on and know that I could understand the program. From what I've observed, that's how a lot of people use radio - it's used differently from TV (and often when people are doing other things, like driving or chores). I supose it changes language to serve different communities, but by doing so it excludes other Canadians from news from that region. There is a TV station in Toronto that is multilingual and shows wonderful world programming, but then excludes all people not of the specific community because that programming is not subtitled. One of the few exceptions is (was?) their South Asian news program, which happened in English (as the common language across South Asia).

What I would like to see change in news reporting in Canada and Britain are the basic focusses of the news. I'd like world news to be as convenient and as ever present (on the regular radio waves, on nightly newscasts) as national or regional news. World news is already out there for people who want to seek it out, but most people won't. I just think it should be there whether we want it or not, like how American news is in Canada whether we like it or not. It would be a hump - most of us (including myself) wouldn't really understand what was going in in something like, say, Indian parliamentary elections. But it matters, and we need to learn it.
posted by jb at 4:15 PM on May 8, 2008


Ornate Instinct: I think future historians will look back on our period and see it as a time of tremendous backlash among ordinary Americans towards a mainstream media that has become more co-opted now than ever before.

I prefer your optimistic outlook to my own speculation: that the ratings of the worse perpetrators of lazy journalism and regurgited talking points show ordinary Americans are far from lashing back.

Further, "equal and opposite reaction[s]" prevail in matters of power almost as much as in physics. Assume for a moment that Americans get more and more of their news from reliable sources such as online or in a shift back to print media. Further assume we more often think critically about news, the state of affairs and our "representative" government. Imagine even the most unlikely event, rational public dialog has a resurgence.

I expect this would be met with a more powerful corporate and power-elite response. It may need to be subtle propaganda, or it may be as unabashed as the fearmongering, secrecy, and media influence we see today. It would take a revolution and are we a revolutionary people?

Work 8 hrs a day, lunch for 1, commute for 1, watch TV between 4.5 and 5.3, and sleep for 8. I'm not sure we have time to change the country.
posted by IndpMed at 4:24 PM on May 8, 2008


IndpMed: I would just like to chime in and point out that online isn't a complete solution either. Big media dominates both in direct page hits, and indirectly through blog links. A grass roots solution will require "citizen journalists" to get off their ass and actually go to the weekly civic meetings, or pour through the primary literature journals.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:47 PM on May 8, 2008


(I'm not adding anything, I'd just like to say that this is an absolutely excellent discussion and if I had the time I'd favourite pretty much every comment. Sidebar time, anyone?)
posted by aihal at 5:19 PM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: BECAUSE FACT INTO DOUBT WON'T GO.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:37 PM on May 8, 2008


KirkJobSluder, I wholly agree. I fumbled the wording there, and don't believe all online sources are necessarily accurate. I do believe that more information that is accurate can be found online compared to TV news. Also, individuals who search for accurate info online are often better informed than those who get the majority of their news from TV news.

Citizen journalism would be an exciting movement. Getting off our collective ass takes more work than delicious saturated fats, alcohol, and perfectly engineered TV programming will allow. What's to fix when I'm so happy.
posted by IndpMed at 5:44 PM on May 8, 2008


Citizen journalism would be an exciting movement.

The failure of weblogs to provide anything close to journalism most of the time gives me grave doubts that this would ever be possible. Rarely do we get real, first-person investigative reporting from "citizen journalists" on the web. We don't get bloggers interviewing people of importance, talking to sources, trawling through the archives. 99% of what we get from bloggers is inane comment and opinion on stuff that's already appeared in the mainstream media. Comment and opinion. Leaving it looking a hell of a lot like cable news.

Of course, very occasionally weblogs do break important news. When this happens, it's so notable that it almost always makes it on to Metafilter. That's a pretty poor batting average. But, you can't blame bloggers for this. They don't have the resources. They don't have the professional affiliations. They don't get invited to the places they need to be. They don't have a wire service. They don't have time to sit there monitoring police radio, whatever it takes. They aren't able to fly to Africa and spend 3 months reporting from Dafur. Reporting real news does, in fact, require massive amounts of money and expertise. Which, I guess, is why cable news doesn't bother to do it anymore.
posted by Jimbob at 5:56 PM on May 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


I'm with Jimbob. So called Citizen Journalism is a hug part of our problem. It is neither journalism nor do most of these yahoos take their responsibilities as "citizens" seriously. Weblogs just create an alternate set of fact-pinions for what ever echo chamber you want to talk to.
posted by tkchrist at 6:15 PM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Daily Show is, I'm forced to admit, the only television news program I remain able to watch. Everything else is just so awful that it feels like an actual insult to the viewer.

Now having said that, I frequently wonder what goes through the minds of people who produce the other news programs when they watch TDS. Does it ever occur to them that their incompetence is as much on display as that of the Bush administration or whatever?

This pains me because I've got family connections to the news industry, and I'm hard pressed to think of any journalist I know personally whom I don't really like and consider an upstanding person. It's just that, somehow, the end product turns into a total mess.

The classic symptom seems to be something like:
1. Crazy person A makes some asinine assertion. "Teaching math in the schools encourages devil worship!"
2. In the name of balance, rational person B is interviewed and he refutes the original assertion. "No, it doesn't."

Now, at this point, the story SHOULD BE that person A is running around making false claims, but what actually happens is...

3. News media runs the story: "Controversy exists as to whether teaching math promotes devil worship!"

Being a journalist shouldn't just mean getting opinions A and !A and broadcasting them. People should be doing some intellectual analysis as well.

I can't help but wonder if going through the process to get a journalism degree results in people with an understanding of the news process but no understanding of the stuff about which they're reporting.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 6:54 PM on May 8, 2008 [4 favorites]


Wow, lots of great thoughts for building quality reporting based on facts, and not blowing nonsense out of proportion. Bravo.

Now to the white elephant: how will you get people to watch it? Because if you think they just will because that's what people really want, your naivete is part of the problem.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:33 PM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Probably not the right place for this. But I'm a septuagenarian who has tried to get some of my peers to tune into Colbert, Stewart, Keith O. and even metafilter, and other informative blogs. I am convinced that many people want their news in a familiar, simple and pleasant format. I don't believe people want to have to THINK about what they are seeing. Stewart, Colbert and even Olbermann require a fair amount of thought to digest their satire and irony.
And regarding blogs. You would be amazed at the number of seniors who have no clue about the internet. Or their own computers for that matter. I am considered to be the community computer expert and I know nothing about them. Never touched one until eleven years ago.
To put my 'experience' in perspective it took me almost a week to partition my computer and finally get linux downloaded and working. Of course they decided to come out with something called wubi four years later-lol. The long way around to my point. Stewart and the BBC is for some people and Rush, Fox and CNN is for others. I doubt if there will ever be an interchanging of viewers.
posted by notreally at 7:35 PM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


notreally - Stewart, Colbert and peers require a certain amount of 'buy-in'. That buy-in is easier for some, harder for others. I find it difficult to 'buy-in' to something like 'Flip-this-house' whereas I have peers who can easily shell out the time.
posted by Frasermoo at 8:19 PM on May 8, 2008


I am considered to be the community computer expert and I know nothing about them.

You installed Linux man. You are miles ahead of the average PC user. My dad (68) can't even send me pics from his digicam, and he's been using his PC 8 years. Saying that I'm not sure my sister (noyb) can either.
posted by Frasermoo at 8:27 PM on May 8, 2008


Sys Rq:

Sorry, mate, but he's Amreican now. He's like the anti-Crowded House.
posted by pompomtom at 8:27 PM on May 8, 2008


Gak. Who's expected to type properly on a Friday arvo.....
posted by pompomtom at 8:28 PM on May 8, 2008


Sorry Frasermoo - Don't understand about flipping this house??
posted by notreally at 8:35 PM on May 8, 2008


You installed Linux man. You are miles ahead of the average PC user. My dad (68) can't even send me pics from his digicam, and he's been using his PC 8 years. Saying that I'm not sure my sister (noyb) can either.

LOL - notreally. I had a second computer and access to linux forums via google -
posted by notreally at 8:42 PM on May 8, 2008


notreally: Flip This House is a show on A&E about buying, renovating, and re-selling houses for a profit.
posted by Rhaomi at 8:54 PM on May 8, 2008


Duhhh! Bad as I am with computers I'm even worse with TV's.

But in retrospect I think I remember surfing past that program. I probably thought it was some kind of real estate scam. Thanks.
posted by notreally at 9:00 PM on May 8, 2008


The only time I ever bother with "network news" is checking CNN's website a few times a day to see if there was a huge disaster, or who won an election. In other words, "this happened" kind of news. It's absolutely horrible for anything else.

The only upside is that on the website you can burrow through the bullshit quickly, which you can't do if you watch the channel. I've had the misfortune of clicking an odd video link or two on CNN's website, and dear god, Nancy Grace. The whole "lets yell at each other" format is insulting to the viewer as it is without the host's being in a state of perpetual temper tantrum. I actually feel somewhat panicked when I watch her freak out. I stop hearing actual words, and since I can't shoot her with a tranquilizer gun I just stop the clip.

That CNN is better than the other networks in a lot of ways is so incredibly sad.

The news networks either have people who are spineless and voice no opinions, or else people who are so opinionated and immature that their behavior is unbearable. The few intelligent, rational people get matched up with the insane people who yell over them, while the spineless officiator sits on the sidelines and acts like it's all very interesting, and who's to say what's right? Meanwhile, any intelligent viewer is thinking, "You're supposed to say so. Why don't you?"

It's a shame that it's so rare that the officiator shows a spine that people actually circulate clips of pundits being put in their place on YouTube, like they found a diamond in a pile of shit and you won't believe it until you see it! I should know, since I do this. It should be normal for that sort of thing to happen, instead of feeling like some special treat.

Disclaimer: I recognize that there are factors outside the journalists' control, and it's often not their choice to be a wimp. The point is, things need to change.
posted by Nattie at 10:05 PM on May 8, 2008


In fact, we DO have citizen journalism. What the hell is Talking Points Memo if not that?

Saying that 99% of it is crap means nothing. Sturgeon's Law accounts for nearly 9/10s of that, and the remainer the fact that the stuff is so cheap to produce that the bad guys produce a lot of it too. But if you look around, you can find the important work being done. The question is, being on the internet, does it count? Kind of a vicious cycle there, I recognize, but boy there are a lot of those these days.

The reason the Daily Show gets lauded so much is because it IS on the big exclusive (as exclusive as basic cable gets anyway) TV network, so it's "real."
posted by JHarris at 10:39 PM on May 8, 2008


Steve Jobs:
When you're young, you look at television and think, There's a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that's not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That's a far more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastards! We can have a revolution! But the networks are really in business to give people what they want. It's the truth.
posted by aqhong at 12:18 AM on May 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think Jon Stewart's appearance on Crossfire spoke volumes about what's right and wrong about The Daily Show and more importantly, what's right and wrong about lamestream media.
posted by msaleem at 2:05 AM on May 9, 2008


Objective journalism does have blatant blindspots. One of them is that reporting involves more than rehashing. I remember hearing a story on NPR in 2004 that compared what Kerry and Bush were saying about their education proposals. They sounded pretty identical. But then the article went on to actually talk about their track records, and Bush had failed to fund every educational mandate he'd bragged about, they'd all fallen below expectations because of it, and at the end of his first four years in office there were fewer scholarships than when he started. Kerry, however, had voted regularly for educational programs that had worked.

Presenting all ideas as equally valid is the FoxNews version of "fair and balanced" and is the furthest thing from objective journalism. Holding up two opposing subjective views and not challenging them <> objectivity. Objective journalism is precisely what you describe above. Taking the premises offered by the two candidates and fully vetting them. Of course, you'll always be acccused of not being even-handed in treating them both equally, particularly when one pol's claim is much more dishonest than another's, but that's precisely what's missing from our news today, as well as what Thompson is referring to in his Nixon quote.

As Colbert say, the truth has a well known liberal bias. It's funny, because it's true. Liberal pols may be as deeply flawed as conservative ones, but from a legislative and ideological standpoint, liberals tend to believe more in transparency while conservatives use misdirection to thrive on voter ignorance.
posted by psmealey at 3:00 AM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I only watch two American programmes. The Daily Show on More4 and The Colbert Report on FX... both of which air a day late (the Colbert Report JUST STARTED AIRING THIS WEEK, so set your sky+).

I don't know what I'd do without these shows, really. They give me hope that Americans haven't all completely lost the plot.
posted by chuckdarwin at 3:41 AM on May 9, 2008


Following on from what Kiabobkirk said, I remember reading a spectacular quote from one of Thompson's press-gallery contemporaries on the fatal flaw of "objective" journalism. (Can't remember who it was or where, but it was probably one of the excellent oral-history sections of E. Jean Carroll's otherwise godawful Hunter: The Strange and Savage Life of HST.)

Anyway, this guy who gave the quote was a foreign correspondent during the Korean War, and when journalism students and the press itself started asking him what this newfangled "gonzo" journalism was in the early '70s, he told an anecdote about some chief of staff's inspection of the front lines in the late stages of the Korean stalemate. It was common knowledge among the reporters on the ground that infantry solidiers had been given orders not to fire on individual enemy troops but only on clusters of them in order to conserve ammunition, which was at crisis levels of scarcity. But in that era, journalists weren't allowed to count random anonymous solidiers as "credible sources."

So the four-star general shows up, conducts his inspection of the troops, holds a press conference. Announces that contrary to "rumours," there is no ammunition shortage among US troops in Korea. The reporter telling the anecdote then dutifully reported: "Gen. Bigshot announced today in Pusan that, after a full inspection of the troops yada yada, he has determined that there is no ammo shortage in Korea." File that sucker, it's absolutely dead accurate by the rules of so-called objective journalism.

So, this reporter would explain, the difference between objective journalism and what Hunter Thompson was doing was that Hunter would've reported the same scene like this: "Gen. Bigshot announced today that there is no ammo shortage in Korea. And he's a fucking liar."

Alas, the good Doctor remained only an outlier in the halls of big-time journalism, and the gaping holes in the establishment approach have proven fertile ground indeed for the Rovian/ExxonMobilian school of media spin.

The standard "balanced' approach to reporting on climate change, for example, has been manipulated masterfully by a handful of scientists and astroturf organizations bought and paid for by ExxonMobil to create the appearance of widespread skepticism where none exists; indeed I'd argue this assinine "balance" convention in mainstream journalism is second only to the efforts of the affected industries themselves in contributing to the delay of American action on climate change by more than a decade. (See Ross Gelbspan's exhaustive, exhausting studies of this phenomenon, The Heat Is On and Boiling Point, for more info.)
posted by gompa at 3:48 AM on May 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


p.s. I totally agree with Jon when he said that those twats were hurting America. No one watches American news coverage anywhere else in the world. No one (well, maybe some sad twat ex-pat Bush voters in London who work for the gubmint).

Guess what the world standard is. Guess. Come on.

That's right, Sunshine. It's the BBfuckingC... and even it has gone downhill.
posted by chuckdarwin at 3:54 AM on May 9, 2008


Guess what the world standard is. Guess. Come on.

That's right, Sunshine. It's the BBfuckingC... and even it has gone downhill.


It may be the BBfuckingC to you. But along with Der Spiegel, AlJazeera and the India Times, it is (for me) an important alternate source of perspective relative to the mainstream media.
'Sunshine' - LOL
posted by notreally at 5:35 AM on May 9, 2008


liberals tend to believe more in transparency while conservatives use misdirection to thrive on voter ignorance.

how true
posted by caddis at 7:27 AM on May 9, 2008


Personally I am flabbergasted by US cable news, it is completely unwatchable. I like the Daily Show though, but get depressed when I realize it is done for comedy. It would be nice to have some serious in-depth interviews done by Stewart, I think that his ability to strike at the truth is refreshing.

As for the CBC, well the CBC News channel does feature BBC World News twice a day. And CBC Radio 1 has some fantastic news coverage, especially As It Happens at 18h30 EST.

Also, I read the Al-Jazeera website, but have never seen their news videos.

Lastly, while I like Democracy Now, it's like taking depression pills - and finding further reading on a lot of what they report can be very difficult at times.
posted by Vindaloo at 7:32 AM on May 9, 2008


The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That's a far more depressing thought.

Actually, I think that line of thought is overly simplistic, and is in fact part of the overall snowjob the giant media corporations are giving us - 'don't blame us! We're just delivering what the consumer wants!'

First of all, they're honestly not in business to give people, in any broad sense of the word, what they want. They're in business to identify markets for advertisers and sell access to the markets to the advertisers, which means, right off the bat, lopping off giant sectors of the population who are inferior buyers of things. No reason to program to people who are poor, don't do a lot of national-brand shopping, don't replace clothing or durable goods before they need to, or (like many of us) are just getting by with housing and living expenses and medical and retirement and really don't do that much spending.

If you believe this TIME poll, about 48% of Americans watch under 10 hours of TV a week (there's your Daily Show/Colbert allowance right there). So we're now down to programming philosophies that direct themselves at only about half the potential American audience. Television relies heavily on the Neilsen sampling system to get information about what its audiences watch, and that system is flawed as a measure of "what people want." It doesn't use random or representative sampling. Instead, it pre-selects households that fit demographic models advertisers are interested in reaching, invites them to take part, and only collects their data if they accept the deal - which includes keeping a diary of everything you watch and/or allowing your TVs to be digitally monitored, and participating in longer survey calls when asked. Not everyone even in their pre-selected pool wants to do this. The people who advertisers want to reach (high- and middle-income families, retired seniors, young people who drink and eat out, buy makeup and cologne and clothing) are not necessarily the best representatives for the taste of the wider public, and the subset of people willing to give the networks feedback on programming even less so.

The final flaw in the "give the people what they want" argument is that it doesn't even work. If this is what the people want, why is television viewing, and particularly network news, at the bottom of a drastic, two-decade decline?

Because most of us are now getting our news and entertainment elsewhere. I feel pretty sure that as a nation, our taste overall is actually a lot better than Applebee's and L'Oreal and Coors Light think it is.
posted by Miko at 8:11 AM on May 9, 2008 [4 favorites]


But the networks are really in business to give people what they want. It's the truth.

On the other hand, that could also be a rationalization Jobs uses to justify to himself how he conducts certain less savory aspects of his business, which are also based largely on generating massive popular appeal.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:31 PM on May 9, 2008


Heh, if I worked at CNN I'd have quit in embarrassment after Stewart's Crossfire appearance. I hadn't seen that before. Those slimy fuckers trying to excuse themselves by claiming that they ask tougher questions than a comedy show. Man, that's lame.

And, BTW, the grass is not always greener. The main BBC network news is now noticeably poorer than a few years ago. Typically the half-hour 6 o'clock news contains, at a minimum, a three or four minute puff piece for some BBC programme on later (oh noes, criminals is cloning my credit card!!!!) followed by another two minute "and, finally.." piece. That doesn't include the ongoing reporting of Britney, Amy, Pete or Kate's latest travails. IMHO, Channel 4 news are currently doing a much better job than the BBC in the UK. (They are also much less prone to resort to "he-said-she-said" journalism than the post-Hutton BBC).

Oh, and BTW BTW, Bremner, Bird and Fortune are fulfilling a lot of the same functions as TDS.
posted by Jakey at 4:50 PM on May 9, 2008


that could also be a rationalization Jobs uses to justify to himself how he conducts certain less savory aspects of his business

I have no doubt about that. It's the same rationalization that the networks use when they run prurient stories about JonBenét Ramsey or Columbine or whatever grotesque public spectacle is getting media attention this week: But, but... the people demand it! We have to put it on, otherwise, they'll run to the next network that does show it! We're just catering to a need!

This is of course, spurious nonsense. People slow down to look at a car-wreck on the highway, but it's not because they necessarily want to see it, it's about another impulse entirely, which the networks are only too happy to feed. Step 3: Profit!
posted by psmealey at 5:40 PM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


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