June 3, 2008

Jon Stewart Commits Journalism

Hmmmmm… Stewart asks some good questions. And he’s obviously familiar with the rhetoric beat. And, again, he offers the best media criticism in television.

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March 20, 2008

Jon Stewart Smacks Down News Media Again

That’s really a silly headline because I could type it after nearly every episode of The Daily Show. But last night’s performance was particularly biting. And it echoed Jay Rosen’s criticism of cable news coverage of Barack Obama’s speech about race.

Why do we put up with this?

Ah, but we don’t. Not that many people actually watch cable news ūüôā

June 23, 2006

Does Jon Stewart make young voters more cynical?

This from Richard Morin of the Washington Post:

Two political scientists found that young people who watch Stewart’s faux news program, “The Daily Show,” develop cynical views about politics and politicians that could lead them to just say no to voting.

The study apparently measured students’ attitudes about President Bush and Sen. John Kerry after watching episodes of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. A control group watched The CBS Evening News.

The results may be found in American Politics Research, Vol. 34, No. 3, 341-367 (2006). Here’s the abstract:

The Daily Show Effect
Candidate Evaluations, Efficacy, and American Youth

Jody Baumgartner
Jonathan S. Morris

East Carolina University

We test the effects of a popular televised source of political humor for young Americans: The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. We find that participants exposed to jokes about George W. Bush and John Kerry on The Daily Show tended to rate both candidates more negatively, even when controlling for partisanship and other demographic variables. Moreover, we find that viewers exhibit more cynicism toward the electoral system and the news media at large. Despite these negative reactions, viewers of The Daily Show reported increased confidence in their ability to understand the complicated world of politics. Our findings are significant in the burgeoning field of research on the effects of “soft news” on the American public. Although research indicates that soft news contributes to democratic citizenship in America by reaching out to the inattentive public, our findings indicate that The Daily Show may have more detrimental effects, driving down support for political institutions and leaders among those already inclined toward nonparticipation.

You’ll find the full text in .pdf format here.

It seems to me that Baumgartner and Morris could have also tested for Saturday Night Live. And I’ll bet the results would have been the same. I wonder how significant this is. Young people have always participated least in the electoral process. It’s difficult to imagine that The Daily Show has any real effect on that one way or the other. Perhaps they could make the claim that political satire in general, as opposed to soft news, tends to make young people more critical of politicians, politics, and the news media. Does it make them more cynical? What are the cause-and-effect relationships, if any, between these and lack of participation?

I stand by my earlier contention that The Daily Show offers the best media criticism on television today.

October 17, 2004

Jon Stewart, civic hero, part 2…

I wrote yesterday’s entry about Jon Stewart’s appearance on Crossfire based on the transcript. After watching the video, I realized I have quite a bit more to say about his “performance.” I could tell from the text he was serious. But you must see the video to realize that Stewart entered the lion’s den to kill the lion, not make him laugh.

I have said, quite seriously, that The Daily Show With Jon Stewart offers the best media criticism on television. Yes, the show is often silly. Yes, it follows a show about puppets making crank phone calls. Yes, Stewart’s questioning of his guests is, shall we say, uneven (which is an odd criticism considering the nature of the show). But, also yes, the pointedness of the satire and the depth of media literacy combine to expose and attack the ills of our media environment like no other show on television. And it’s funnier ‘n hell!

Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson are easy targets because they take themselves seriously while participating in one of the worst abominations ever inflicted on news audiences. They are beyond embarrassment, which I suppose is a good thing for them because Stewart showed them for the vacuous fools they are. Stewart exposed the fact that shows such as Crossfire are puddle deep in intellectual content and without merit in journalistic content.

CNN ought to be embarrassed. But if one sets up a 24-hours news network one must fill 24 hours with programming. And because of the type of medium television is, it must be filled with drama.

Let’s take a look at what Stewart said to Carlson and Begala. I have abstracted from his comments these propositions about the news media and civic discourse:

  1. Partisan fighting is not debate.
  2. Actual debate would be good for citizens.
  3. Shows such as Crossfire exploit political sound bites for dramatic gain at the expense of civic understanding.
  4. Partisan ranting in the guise of journalism, and presented on a news network that appears to take journalism seriously, hurts America.
  5. Journalists, even opinion journalists, should “work for America,” i.e. their first loyalty should be to the people.
  6. Many opinion journalists (and revolving-door pretenders) have allowed themselves to become part of the information strategies of politicians, i.e. many opinion journalists can no longer be thought of as independent of faction.
  7. Partisan ranting on shows such as Crossfire do not qualify as civilized discourse.
  8. The news media have a responsibility to encourage civil, civic discourse.

I agree with each of these points. To be sure, some are based on assumptions. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as we are willing to adjust our thinking as we learn.

Thinking and learning and listening are, however, three things Carlson and Begala are incapable of, as the transcript clearly shows. These guys cannot hear Stewart. He walked into their house, slapped them in the face intellectually, and demonstrated the idiocy of their show. They were put off that he wasn’t being funny (although he was!). They knew enough to be insulted, but they did not know enough to realize how correct Stewart is about what Crossfire is and the harm it causes.

To realize these things, however, would require that Carlson and Begala care about civic discourse and the public they should be serving. They don’t. They are entertainers. They are partisan hacks, just as Stewart charges.

There’s been a lot of talk about a report by the Annenberg Public Policy Center showing that viewers of The Daily Show know more about the presidential campaign than viewers of some news programs. And as I said, the reason for this may be that to understand the humor one must understand the news. I’d be willing to bet that Crossfire and The Daily Show attract very different audiences. But I would also suggest there may be one big similarity: both audiences seek entertainment.

It’s just too scary to contemplate the possibility that people tune in to Crossfire looking for information and knowledge.

October 16, 2004

Jon Stewart, civic hero…

Jon Stewart made Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala look like fools during his appearance on CNN’s Crossfire–something the usual suspects cannot and will not do. Read the transcript carefully because you’ll see the naked truth of the damage such vacuous, rant-filled, news-talk programs do to our civic discourse. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry.

November 4, 2002

Jon Stewart, press critic…

Jon Stewart, the “anchor” for The Daily Show on Comedy Central, knows a thing or two about real TV journalists (and, I suspect, like me, he considers that job title a bit of an oxymoron). He appeared on CNN’s Reliable Sources and demonstrated how satire can be an effective rhetorical and critical technique. And that means, necessarily, that entertainment of a certain kind can play an effective and responsible role in civic discourse. Good satire, however, is not the kind of common denominator schlock Stewart decries here–joking with host Howard Kurtz about who between them is the real journalist:

STEWART: Well, yes, you could host “CROSSFIRE.” What’s that got to do with journalism? I mean, that’s just a couple of knuckleheads. I mean, the promo for that is Bob Novak in a boxing outfit. I mean, for God’s sakes, somehow I don’t imagine Edward R. Murrow ever putting on the satin robe and going, “I’ll destroy you.”

Stewart’s making biting jokes about political coverage is entertainment with a message (perhaps because I like the message). Robert Novak in a boxing outfit is simply embarassing. Worse, such stunts suggest a lack of seriousness unbecoming to a news organization.

September 27, 2013

No Adults Left At CNN

The adults have left CNN; the children are in charge.

How is it possible today not to understand the importance of, and indeed practice, the ethic of transparency?¬†If we’ve learned nothing else in this technological revolution sweeping the news media it is this: an interactive media — the only kind left standing — demands transparency.

The argument is simple: In a media situation where anyone can report, publish, and be noticed, transparency (in purpose, methods, and ¬†ethos) becomes the new umbrella ethic, the new route to credibility — the willingness to be open about who you are, what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. This is the opposite of the view from nowhere — the false notion that journalists can or should be “objective” in philosophical stance, that their news comes from some place apart from the pressures and intentions of the real world with no purpose other than to inform. (What journalists need to be are custodians of fact who operate with a discipline of verification¬†— and be transparent about it.)

So we learn that the rebirth of the wretched¬†Crossfire includes the abandonment of transparency — no obligation to report conflicts of interest to the viewer.

Well, to be fair, Crossfire ain’t journalism. And, really, given the excesses, excuses, mistakes, and silliness pointed out regularly by Jon Stewart, can we really call CNN an outlet for journalism? Maybe a couple hours per day.

This show is a vampire. Jon Stewart only wounded it before. Who will drive a stake through its evil heart and kill it for good?

April 23, 2013

Journalism Needs More Dicks

I think we have reached a new low in journalism.

During the past few big news events, I’ve found myself wondering, as I watch and read, just how badly the various news organizations are screwing it up. I’m defining “screwing it up” as failing to act as custodians of fact with a discipline of verification. I’m going to over-generalize from that and assert that news now appears to be partly about the entertainment value of watching¬†journalists¬†get it wrong long before they get it right.

I base that over-generalization on this assumption and prediction (really stepping in it now): No one will lose their jobs over any of this. And no one will lose their jobs the next time. Which ensures there ¬†will be a next time. And a next. And a next…

Let’s check in with Jon Stewart.

He starts off the sketch by asserting that The Daily Show is hard on the news media because “we are dicks.” I’ll agree if part of the definition of being a dick is doing the necessary work of critiquing the performance of the news media and holding it to standards that ought to define it.

Journalism needs more dicks.

January 19, 2011

Idioms and Metaphors

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Tonal Recall
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> The Daily Show on Facebook

The Daily Show clip demonstrates just how silly language issues can get.

But I think it’s particularly important now to draw a distinction between legitimate American idioms and metaphors based on firearms versus violent rhetoric.

The -killing suffix is an entirely legitimate American idiom. We can certainly argue about the merits of “job-killing” in the context of healthcare legislation, i.e. whether or not that is as accurate description. To suggest that -killing in this context is doing the same kind of cultural damage as “second amendment remedies” is just nutty.

Before we can begin any real examination of violent rhetoric in American society (particularly our politics), I think we must bracket out legitimate idiomatic and metaphorical expressions based on firearms. American English is full of these expressions — many, I would argue, used everyday by people who don’t even realize the expression is based on firearms. Example: lock, stock, and barrel.

I would put “reload” in that same category of standard American expressions because it is an idiom meaning roughly to “re-energize.” Sarah Palin’s use of it in the context of “don’t retreat” still doesn’t rise to the level of violent rhetoric because we use “retreat” — a military idiom — to mean roughly “backing down,” “giving up” or “going to a safe place to reconsider.”

I am not suggesting that standard idioms and metaphors cannot be employed as violent rhetoric. What I am suggesting is that their use is so ingrained that we must be careful not to label as violence standard forms of speech used in appropriate ways.

I think before this entire conversation about civility and violent rhetoric can move forward, we must do a better job of defining what we actually mean by violent rhetoric.

Just as nutty as suggestions that standard expressions are evidence of ¬†violent rhetoric are suggestions that a “climate of discourse” had nothing to do with the Tucson shooting. To be sure: We do not know — and may never know — to what extent the (low) quality of our political discourse played in this catastrophe. It doesn’t actually matter because that climate — that context — always plays some role in suggesting the range of acceptable behavior. The climate helps make such things possible (as do many other things) to some extent (we should try to figure out to what extent).

This is also why we cannot and should not place specific blame on individuals for “causing” the Tucson shooting. What many people in politics and the media are guilty of is degrading the climate of discourse that then places violence somewhere at the edges of acceptable behavior.

Example: Sharron Angle’s “second¬†amendment¬†remedies.” This can mean only one thing: shooting people. The second amendment is about two things: 1) the right of citizens to keep and bear arms and 2) the right of the people/states to form militias. The purpose was to make sure that we the people had at our disposal the means to protect ourselves, including protecting ourselves from¬†actual¬†government¬†tyranny. Sharron Angle most certainly did engage in violent rhetoric outside the bounds of standard America idioms and metaphors. She most certainly is¬†guilty¬†of degrading our civic discourse, in my opinion.

It is possible, I suppose, to argue that she is reacting to actual tyranny and, therefore, is well within political bounds and, therefore, rhetorical bounds. I wonder, however, what that would look like if, say, the election results had gone a different way.

Who would be the first to “pull the trigger”? — and I do not mean,¬†idiomatically, “getting things started.”

August 25, 2010

Where Is Journalism?

You might be operating under the assumption that news organizations and the journalists who work for them cover the news (whatever that is). You might even be right (depending upon what news is).

Here’s a bit of news that mainstream journalism has so far failed to fact-check or cover: FOX News, a product of News Corp., is apparently owned in part by the very man that the “journalists” in the segment below accuse of being a money man for radical Islam.

How should we know this?

I would hope by some act of journalism, i.e. reporters acting as custodians of fact with a discipline of verification with the primary purpose of giving citizens the information they need to be free and self-governing.

Instead, it was an act of satire. Behold:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
The Parent Company Trap
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

If true, Jon Stewart has exposed a massive failure of journalistic ethics that has the effect of making it more difficult for citizens to be free and self-governing.

Journalistic lapses of ethics — willful ones such as this¬†appears¬†to be — are news ¬†precisely¬†because good journalism is important.

So, is it true? Hello, New York Times? This is your backyard. (Not even the Daily News is touching it.)

Don’t hold your breath. American journalism refuses to hold itself accountable; it refuses to keep an eye on the franchise. It loves questioning the practices of other organizations — governmental and private. But itself? Forget it.

I have no beef whatsoever with the slant(s) of FOX news. I think good journalism can be practiced with a slant(s) because what’s important is that stuff I mentioned about about custodians, disciplines, and purposes. You don’t need a false objectivity to¬†practice¬†these values. I would argue that a false objectivity makes it more difficult to practice these values.

When a news organization fails, thus hurting the public, I’d prefer American journalism be the first to point it out and let Jon Stewart make jokes in the wake.

UPDATE: The New York Times covers the story, but not in print.

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