July 11, 2005

Blurry lines…

Tucker Carlson is a media clown. I do not mean that (entirely) negatively. He joins a long list of such clowns who have populated the news media for more than 100 years. They are out-sized personalities (more often in their own minds than in fact) who become caricatures of themselves and, eventually, stereotypes. They serve a purpose: A media clown helps citizens identify by sight ideological and/or partisan information and commentary they may be seeking, i.e. a readily identifiable icon.

On page 21 of this week’s The New York Times Magazine you’ll find an ad for Carlson’s new show The Situation. There he is, smiling knowingly and wearing the clown costume we’ve come to expect–dark suit coat, striped shirt, loud bow tie, and Ivy League geek hairdo.

Clowning by way of costuming is nothing new and hardly worth complaining about or even mentioning. But this ad makes Carlson’s clowning all the worse by suggesting something that is pure poppycock: that a TV talking-head show can somehow help you “know the situation.” The headline reads: “Watch Tucker at 9. Know the situation by 10.”

[I’ll pause a moment while you laugh.]

The medium of television, of course, is capable of no such thing in such a short period of time, and Carlson–a thoughtful conservative for the most part in my opinion–surely knows this. Whether he cares or not is another matter. And I submit his clowning as proof that he does not.

The ad goes on to claim that The Situation is a “show so fast, it’s changing the pace of news.”

[I’ll pause a moment while you cry.]

This is a good thing? Part of the problem with journalism today is that it’s too fast, which also means it’s too shallow. That’s fine for television so long as citizens know enough not to take too much of it seriously. What really hurts is that print media follow TV’s lead.

[I’ll pause a moment while you cry some more.]

As has become clear, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is not for the dull and disengaged. And after the ass-whooping Stewart delivered on CNN’s now (blessedly) cancelled Crossfire, it appears to me that The Daily Show is one of the best sources of media criticism on television. It’s also entertainment. It’s also serious in its way. But it should never be confused with news.

What should we confuse The Situation with? The ad continues:

Now there’s a fresh, fast take on the day’s top stories. Hosted by one of the most provocative minds in cable news. Lively. Engaging. Entertaining. And sometimes just plain funny. It’s news a whole new way.

Setting aside the violence this does to the concept of the sentence, I wonder if MSNBC actually believes it can mount a credible challenge to The Daily Show (which is exactly what this show seems to be doing).

[I’ll pause a moment while you laugh.]

They didn’t call Howard Beale the “mad profit of the airwaves” for nothing.

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