I meant to write this yesterday, but I’m glad I waited until today, since I now have more material to reference.
Basically, Jon Stewart sat down on Monday morning for breakfast with a bunch of journalists from all across the media spectrum and spoke about his disdain for cable news, and offered a warning to newspapers that they shouldn’t follow their lead.
There were several different reports filed about the speech, but the one I like the best comes from Comedy Central blogger Daniel DiClaudio (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). Just a warning that it is a bit long winded, and reeks of Stewart fanboyism in some parts (DiClaudio claims to not work for or represent The Daily Show), but I also think it’s the most extensive coverage of the breakfast.
Comedian Jon Stewart had some very unfunny words for the media on Monday, calling cable news networks “a giant monster” and urging newspaper reporters not to fall prey to the 24-hour news cycle.
In an informal breakfast with roughly 20 journalists in Denver for the Democratic convention, Stewart, host of the Daily Show, riffed on what he considers a serious hindrance to the First Amendment. He said political television shows “create a false sense of urgency.”
He urged the print media not to buy into television and campaign spin and to dig deep into stories, even if it means burning bridges with sources and not giving readers exactly what they want. “I think my audience would like to see a naked woman smoking crack…but you’ve got to draw the line,” he said.
When pressed on which candidate he supports, Stewart said “Mr. T.” He said both Barack Obama and John McCain “would be decent presidents.” (Author note: I only recently realized Stewart might not be as liberal as some would like you to believe, so this doesn’t come as such a shock to me.)
Wearing a gray T-shirt, khaki pants and a healthy stubble, the “Daily Show” host told reporters at a University of Denver breakfast that Fox’s “fair and balanced” slogan is an insult “to people with brains” and that only “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace “saves that network from slapping on a bumper sticker. . . . Barack Obama could cure cancer and they’d figure out a way to frame it as an economic disaster.”
A Fox News spokesman, who was authorized to give the network’s response to Stewart’s comments but declined to be named, replied that “Jon’s clearly out of touch,” citing a Pew Research Center study showing the network has the most balanced audience in cable news, 39 percent Republicans and 33 percent Democrats. “But being out of touch with mainstream America is nothing new to Jon, as evidenced by the crash-and-burn ratings of this year’s Oscars telecast.” (Author note: And nothing else might have affected ratings, like, say, the writer’s strike that had just ended!? Pinning it on Stewart’s performance is a weak argument.)
It is true that Stewart plowed into cable news. He called Fox News’ fake news coverage a “the biggest ‘fuck you’ to people with brains.” But he also said that Fox does the best job of all the cable news networks, because “they have an idea,” an agenda, something through which to filter their information. Plus, they give their reporters “cover.” Their reporters are free to write their stories as they’ve been told to write them, without fear of reprisal, because the network makes sure that it’s the entity that takes the brunt of the fallout. On the other hand, his view of CNN seems to be a network just bouncing around, following the media cycle, trying to keep up with whatever the big story and the big angle is.
And while he did claim that the 24-hour news channels are ruining political discourse, he did not “declare his love” for newspapers. Not exactly. He did have a lot of great things to say about newspapers and for the reporters sitting around the table before him. But they were definitely not let off the hook.
“I can’t believe that, as reporters, you would walk into a ‘spin room’,” he said, amazed at the journalists’ willingness to swallow the bullshit that the campaign and candidates spoon feed them. “How can you keep talking to people who are lying to you?” he asked. “This loveless marriage [between reporters and politicians] has to be unconsummated.”
What DiClaudio was talking about was reporters dining with politicians in order to create some rapport with them. I’m not sure how common this practice is in national media, but I’ve never heard of it in local media. I’m sure it’d be against ethics policies, for one. Reporters already walk a fine line in trying to get information. One of the biggest criticisms of media (even on the local level) is the rapport reporters can sometimes create with their “beat”; for instance, a reporter becoming friendly with a police lieutenant in order to get the big scoops first.
Which is not to say that they didn’t push back when they felt their egos being stepped upon. After Jon pointed out the problem of dining off the record and fostering personal relationships with the politicians they need to report on (namely that a personal like or dislike of them of human beings, irrespective of their political actions, can’t help but seep into their reporting), one of the journalists quipped something like, “But John McCain makes such great ribs.” To which Jon responded with his chiding (and not trying to be funny) question, “Why do I take this more seriously than you?”
The reporters hit back indeed, asking Stewart what the difference was between them having breakfast with Stewart and dining with a politician. I think Stewart’s explanation of the difference being fostering a relationship with the guy who might have the power to command the world’s most powerful military and asking him about the media was pretty good.
This wouldn’t be the first time Stewart has ripped into the media. He does it regularly on his show, and though in a less serious fashion, the message gets through. And who can forget that infamous exchange between him and Tucker Carlson on Crossfire?
Yet, reporters hitting back at Stewart in good fun, and Fox News giving weak arguments on why he’s disconnected with Americans wouldn’t be the first time he’s gotten flack about his media criticism. I watch Bill O’Reilly, and one day, he and Geraldo were discussing O’Reilly’s recent interview with and interview of Stephen Colbert. Geraldo basically ended up brushing Colbert and Stewart off as people who are only relevant to people who make fun of “ladies slipping on ice and exist in a small place where they count for nothing.”
I’d wager that Stewart is more correct in his view of the media than they are of his show. Finally, I think it shows a lot about the media when a comedian feels the need to get serious about the issue.
(Cross-posted from Poligazette)