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October 15, 2004

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Speaking Truth to Pundits

Via Romenesko on my beloved Poynter.org, we have this exchange from today’s “Crossfire” on CNN. Jon Stewart and Tucker Carlson:

STEWART: You know, the interesting thing I have is, you have a responsibility to the public discourse, and you fail miserably.

CARLSON: You need to get a job at a journalism school, I think.

STEWART: You need to go to one. The thing that I want to say is, when you have people on for just knee-jerk, reactionary talk…

CARLSON: Wait. I thought you were going to be funny. Come on. Be funny.

STEWART: No. No. I’m not going to be your monkey. …

STEWART: I watch your show every day. And it kills me.

CARLSON: I can tell you love it.

STEWART: It’s so — oh, it’s so painful to watch. …

CARLSON: Is this really Jon Stewart? What is this, anyway?

Seriously, go read this. It’s amazing. You never see anybody actually get challenged in a real way on CNN. (Isn’t that weird?) But here’s an exception.

It goes on and on. Carlson and Begala try to duck him — try to drag the show back into the realm of empty media fluffery — but Stewart won’t let them:

STEWART: Yes, it’s someone who watches your show and cannot take it anymore.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: I just can’t.

CARLSON: What’s it like to have dinner with you? It must be excruciating. Do you like lecture people like this or do you come over to their house and sit and lecture them; they’re not doing the right thing, that they’re missing their opportunities, evading their responsibilities?

STEWART: If I think they are.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: I wouldn’t want to eat with you, man. That’s horrible.

STEWART: I know. And you won’t. But the thing I want to get to…

BEGALA: We did promise naked pictures of the Supreme Court justices.

CARLSON: Yes, we did. Let’s get to those.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: They’re in this book, which is a very funny book.

STEWART: Why can’t we just talk — please, I beg of you guys, please.

CARLSON: I think you watch too much CROSSFIRE. We’re going to take a quick break.

STEWART: No, no, no, please.

CARLSON: No, no, hold on. We’ve got commercials.

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART: Please. Please stop.

CARLSON: Next, Jon Stewart in the “Rapid Fire.”

STEWART: Please stop.

CARLSON: Hopefully, he’ll be here, we hope, we think.

Robin-sig.gif
Posted October 15, 2004 at 7:44 | Comments (8) | Permasnark
File under: Journalism

Comments

I saw the exchange in question, in between reports on the latest in "MaryGate" on CNN, and it was even more awesome than it reads. Carlson especially was visibly uncomfortable. My coworkers and I were sitting in the office, cheering, even as Jon Stewart trashed the holy hell out of our profession. Wonderful!

Posted by: Matt on October 15, 2004 at 08:15 PM

By the way, here's the BitTorrent link to the video.

Posted by: Matt on October 15, 2004 at 10:43 PM

Ooh, I also found the video here.

To clarify, though, J.S. didn't really trash all of journalism, did he? He just trashed the stupid kind that makes you dumber, i.e. cable news.

Posted by: Robin on October 16, 2004 at 06:09 AM

OMG! I just watched it! This is such an amazing video clip, in so many ways.

Please note the audience's repeated affirmative applause.

Posted by: Robin on October 16, 2004 at 06:19 AM

One of the criticisms of Stewart's performance in the MeFi thread about it is that he doesn't offer any substantive complaints beyond "you're hurting America," or any suggestions as to how the media could do a better job. I think that's fair; I also think that's not his fault. In the space of 15 minutes, he has to shift this discussion from a fluffy little dialogue about the Daily Show book to a heated exchange over the competence of Carlson and Begala, while the two hosts are visibly struggling to keep it fluffy (clearly not expecting this from Stewart, although if they'd read the media chapter in his book, they probably should have), and while having to be funny about it. He did all that with panache.

But you do have to dig a little bit to get at the meat of his critique, and I think it extends beyond cable news, at least to the entire political press corps. When he begins to make his case, the first piece of evidence he cites is Spin Alley, the post-debate hub of (ostensibly) all the journalists covering the debates.

His first actual complaint to Carlson and Begala is "you are part of [politicians'] strategies." He then calls them partisan hacks, which is the laugh line. But the accusation that they merely advance the distortions of the political message machine could apply again to any of the poli-press.

I might, of course, be blindered by the fact that I include most political coverage in the category "the stupid kind that makes you dumber," and I'd like to think Stewart sides with me.

Here's an excerpt from the Democracy Inaction chapter on the media (caution -- strong language, clear the room of all little kids and also Ralph Reed):

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy. It serves to inform the voting public on matters relevant to its well-being. Why they've stopped doing that is a mystery. I mean, 300 camera crews outside a courthouse to see what Kobe Bryant is wearing when the judge sets his hearing date, while false information used to send our country to war goes unchecked? What the fuck happened? These spineless cowards in the press have finally gone too far. They have violated a trust. "Was the president successful in convincing the country?" Who gives a shit? Why not tell us if what he said was true? And the excuses. My God, the excuses! "Hey, we just give the people what they want." "What can we do, this administration is secretive." "But the last season of Friends really is news." The unmitigated gall of these weak-willed ... You're supposed to be helping us, you indecent piles of shit! I ... fuck it. Just fuck it ...

It's probably the only moment in the book where the humor isn't coated in the delicious candy shell of irony. I understand why. I mean, politics -- pretty much by nature -- will naturally descend into deceptive, superficial trash. That's expected, and there's not a giant heap anyone can do about it. The media's supposed to be the one brake on that road to decline, and we're clearly not. Not here.

Posted by: Matt on October 16, 2004 at 01:26 PM

See, but I still think that's cable news: "300 cameras outside a courthouse," "you are part of their strategies," diving into Spin Alley after the debates, etc. Newspaper reporters don't do that -- or, if they do, it's not all we get. I'm not defending the political press corps, but I do think that the cable news channels are the very worst, and it is their dysfunction that drives a lot of the problems with coverage in other media (e.g. an inconsequential issue gets blown out of proportion on cable and so newspapers decide to address it [e.g. the Mary Cheney thing]).

Posted by: Robin on October 16, 2004 at 03:11 PM

Oh, I definitely think cable news dragged political discourse to a new low, but I think the print media are perfectly complicit in keeping it there. (The Mary Cheney thing? Both Howie Kurtz and Timothy Noah track the origin of that "story" to The New York Times. Spin Alley? The provenance of all, print and broadcast, except Adam Nagourney. Recycling campaign talking points? Both print and broadcast reporters have made it a fine art.)

I'll never quite forget that it was The New York Times that started the "Where's Judy Dean?" meme, which was probably the first time I'd ever seen a story with absolutely no news peg cause such political tumult. Usually, the cable pundits need at least a sound byte they can replay or an image they can show over and over to make any topic jump the shark, but The New York Times just reached into Jodi Wilgoren's hat, pulled out Judy Dean, slapped her on the front page, and five days later, there she was, on the campaign trail. I'd like to see Tucker Carlson do that.

Actually, maybe it's just The New York Times we need to get rid of. But I digress.

To quibble over which is worse ignores the larger problem, which I think is that both print and broadcast political media must drastically improve if our politics are ever going to get any better. If I'm a radical on the point of the media's mediocrity, it started when I read this article. (In fact, Matt Taibbi's entire oeuvre, especially with the recent launch of the search for the worst campaign journalist in America, should serve to set you on the road to radicalhood post-haste.) I'm frustrated to the point of desperation with the depth of our coverage, or lack thereof.

Posted by: Matt on October 16, 2004 at 09:25 PM

that was awesome.............beyond the contraints of awesomeness. awesome times ten. awesome G-force explosion.
aaaaaawwwwwwwwwweeeeeessssssssoooooooommmmmmmmeeee!

Posted by: Lily Sloan on October 17, 2004 at 10:19 AM
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