Thursday, March 19, 2009

My Take on Stewart-Cramer

Once again, I find myself unable to just comment on this:

The thrust of KW's post is that the news media has, again, lost their mind and have been devoting time to something that on the whole, is not that important. But I think dismissing Jon Stewart for whatever nonsense he's done in the past is wrong.

My thoughts on "The Daily Show" are actually complex. To be fair to Stewart, Comedy Central, and the show itself, they came out and admitted that the whole thing was silly. They mocked the whole "showdown" thing and the embarrassing media coverage it had garnered. Stewart says in the interview, "We're both snake oil salesmen, but at least we label the show as snake oil here." And later, Stewart laments that he's even in this position, wanting to go back to non-political commentary. Stewart also mentioned in an interview on the old CNN show "Crossfire" that he should not be the source for political commentary because the show that precedes his is "a bunch of puppets making crank calls."

However, on the flip side, this all seems to be window dressing. It is an anti-criticism tactic to hide behind "it's just a comedy show" when you make your living pointing out the hypocrisies of the media and politicians. They have mostly authors and political figures as guests. If the show was "only" a comedy show, then Stewart and Comedy Central would focus on the entertainment industry, skits, pratfalls, and so on, much like a David Letterman or Conan O'Brien, or like what the show was with Craig Kilborn. It isn't honest to say their aims are just "to make you laugh."

As to Stewart's past as a cog in the comedy machine, first a stand-up comic and then appearing in a lot of stupid movies, this doesn't scream "Edward R. Murrow" but it's unfair to judge one's validity in journalism because of past endeavors. If one is able to articulate valid remarks and pointed criticism, it makes no difference what that person did before. I would imagine many journalists have done stupid things in their pasts as well, maybe getting their starts as a "good news" reporter interviewing zebras at the zoo.

Unfortunately, there are few good journalists, and no one is asking the hard questions. It is silly that Jon Stewart is the guy who does this on a regular basis. The show has pointed out so many things that are wrong with the media and politicians: it is absolutely incredible that they find footage from years ago, pouring over what must be miles of boring tape, and call people out on their nonsense. What other show describing themselves as "hard news" does this? I think this is another good point that "The Daily Show" brings out. I think they are incredulous that they're the ones who have to do this. The very thing that is their bread and butter is something they don't want to be their bread and butter. They actively wish that real news organizations would do this so they wouldn't feel compelled to do so.

Maybe it's like that scene in The American President when Michael J. Fox, as Lewis Rothschild, pleads with the President (Michael Douglas) to go out and be a leader:

People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they'll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They're so thirsty for it they'll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there's no water, they'll drink the sand.

To which Douglas replies:

Lewis, we've had presidents who were beloved, who couldn't find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don't drink the sand because they're thirsty. They drink the sand because they don't know the difference.

I think if you change the words "leader" and "leadership" to "smart journalism" that's the point I'm trying to make.

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At 3/19/2009 04:38:00 PM, Blogger Kennelworthy said...

Yeah, there's nothing in there that I really disagree with. I guess I just feel like Stewart wants it both ways. He wants to be able to call real politicians out in a real way, but from behind the security blanket of the "I'm just a silly Comedy Show."

To concede on your point of the snake-oil-ness... yes, Cramer is just as much about making money and entertaining as Stewart is. And Stewart generally is more willing to admit he shouldn't be taken seriously. I'm still not sure that means Stewart should be the one dolling out awards or rebukes for journalistic intergrity.

Here's my real opinion: It's all bullcrap. Fake news, real news, Cramer's show, Wikipedia, textbooks... it's all filtered through someone's opinion and none of it is unbiased. There is no pure source of information. There's probably a lot less separating The Daily Show from the Evening News on CBS than we care to admit, at least in terms of whether the content of the show is there for journalism purposes or for entertainment. Clearly both care more about ratings than anything else.

I don't for one second mean to sound like I'm defending Cramer. Instead, I meant to attack Stewart--more accurately, to attack those who were praising Stewart for this interview. It's ridiculous to think that either one of them is more of a journalist than the other. It's preposterous to suggest that Cramer and Cramer alone could have or should have saved us from this crisis. It's absurd for a fake news show to slam another news/entertainment show and then try to absolve themselves by saying "Hey, we're only comedians here... what do we know?" That's the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer tactic.

I don't hate Stewart. I like him and his show a great deal. But this interview was a huge step over the line between "fake news" and "real news" and I just didn't feel he had earned the right to tell others to be more journalistic. The quote where he tells Cramer "It's not a f***ing game!" That kills me, because The Daily Show has spent a dozen years making a game out of the news. For them to now tell others "you can't do that... only we can do that" is stupid to me.

And yeah, I wasn't seriously saying his appearance in bad movies means we can't let him grow--I'm sure you know that. I should not judge Stewart's right to be a journalist just because he has an entertainer's past. By the same token, Stewart shouldn't be judging others journalistic merit either... which is all I really meant to say in the first place.

At 3/20/2009 01:04:00 PM, Blogger Mike said...

I agree with both of you, I believe. Jon does like to have it both ways - to be taken seriously when he wants and comedically otherwise - but is also incredulous that he has to be the one to point out some obvious inconsistencies. The traditional news media is just lazy, lazy, lazy. I've stopped watching the 24-hour cable news networks, and am giddy that newspapers will soon be on the way out. Whatever takes it's place will be much better, even if it takes a decade or so. We aren't being served now.

But no, none of this is real news. We are fed sand and we not only take it, we eat it happily, lapping it up like a starving dog. People LOVE this. The only way to get to the truth of the situation is to dig deeper. But that often isn't worth your time.


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