|There's no disagreement in this Crossfire show that John Stewart had the upper hand. He's an experienced comedian who can come back with a quick line to outwit probably any talking pundit. However, was his analysis correct? Should Crossfire be more than theater? And as far as blame, is this the media's fault? CNN in particular?
As a cartoonist I can usually see through bullshit just as well as a stand-up comedian and the bullshit is that John Stewart didn't chastise the audience. Instead he kept playing up to them. Who's at fault if Crossfire becomes theater because their ratings are dropping? The goddamn audience! News is commercial. It has to turn a profit or it can't fund itself. If you want hard news you're going to have to read, not watch TV. TV is a visual medium and by it's very nature it must visually captivate you. That's why the McNeil-Lehrer Hour was tax-funded on the "charity drive all the time" PBS channel.
And who maybe could have contributed to that idea that "news should be entertaining" ? Could it be shows like The Daily Show which takes news and makes it into "fun"? If The Daily Show is put up against a hard news show which one do you think would bring in more viewers. The Daily Show of course. It's even claimed that more young people go to The Daily Show for their news source than any other show. Doesn't John Stewart think there's something wrong with that?
If John Stewart were honest in wanting to maintain the integrity of TV Journalism he would stop making a joke out of it. He would stop providing competition to it. It is his competition that has driven the average news show to be more entertaining because it has to compete with him and his style of lighthearted commentary. I'm not making the argument that he should quit The Daily Show, I'm pointing out the hypocrisy. I like The Daily Show and I don't think Crossfire has to be hard news. My entire view hinges on the viewers--they are at fault and they are responsible for demanding hard news. The majority of viewers don't care and so there are no effects on profits. If the viewers made an effect on profits by refusing to watch "theater" as their source of news then the format would change. It's as simple as that.
So I think it's bullshit when John Stewart acts so smug and demands that Crossfire be anything more than entertainment. The whole premise is debate compacted into an hour, could it be anything more than entertainment? Of course you'll get snippets of what the current debates are but you can't do a real debate in an hour with commercial interruptions. It's nonsense to think so.
If you want real news try reading. Or try government funded TV that doesn't have to compete such as the BBC or PBS. But to chastise CNN who does have to show a profit is not fair. John Stewart if he had any balls would have gone after the audience. It's their demand that changes how a news show presents the news. But if John Stewart chastised the audience then he knows how well that would go over.
I don't think there was anything brave in what he did on the Crossfire show. He simply made Paul Begala look speechless and Tucker Carlson look silly because those two couldn't answer honestly in a theater arena and were outgunned by a comedian. A comedian will always win in such scenarios. I remember seeing Dennis Miller go after a guy on Politically Incorrect who was saying there were no WMD's in Iraq. Miller was wrong but he still made his opponent look like a fool through comedy. Both Stewart and Miller are extremely sharp with wit; doesn't mean they are always right.
Tucker and Begala are not comedians. They were hosts responsible to their producers and to their talking points. They are not completely autonomous and open to speaking the truth about the media. If Tucker Carlson had made the point I was making here he would have been booed by the audience and a bunch of self-righteous supposedly unbiased journalists would have jumped all over him. It just wasn't a fair fight.
Written by Jeff Swenson