Two of my favorite people in the world — Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow – will be on the television this evening for what, I imagine, will be a lively discussion about lowly state of the American news media. First, however, they’ll need to sort out a misunderstanding that has developed in the wake of Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity.
At the crux of the matter is the perception among progressive commentators that the message of Stewart’s and Stephen Colbert’s October 30 rally implied a false equivalence between, their fact oriented journalism from a liberal point of view, and the propaganda which freely flows from Fox News Channel.
Stewart, who will appear on The Rachel Maddow Show Thursday, Nov. 10, acknowledged his liberal critics in a humorous, self deprecating manner, on his own show, Nov. 8. Stewart featured clips of Keith Olbermann, Maddow, and Bill Maher making their false equivalence arguments, then sarcastically announced the next rally, entitled:
“The Rally to Determine Precisely the percentage of blame to doled out to the left and the right for our problems because we all know the only thing that matters is that the other guys are worse than we are and/or fear” to be held 11-13.
Then, Stewart got a bit more sincere:
Contrary to what people may believe, I do think the rally was about something, just not necessarily what they wanted it to be about, or what they think it was about. If we were in artful in that message, we were in artful. I disagree with their classification of it, but I’m sure we’ll all have a chance to clarify on each others programs for the next ten years. You’re free to disagree…
While I don’t disagree, I fully understand how it could be misinterpreted. I’ve included video of Stewart’s closing remarks from the rally below, but consider this excerpt from the perspective of a liberal television news show host:
…we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies.
But unfortunately one of our main tools in delineating the two broke. The country’s 24 hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems but its existence makes solving them that much harder. The press can hold its magnifying up to our problems bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected dangerous flaming ant epidemic.
Yeah, that pretty much puts all of the cable news networks in the same category. Is that fair to MSNBC? Probably not, but with no specific party, network, or pundit referenced within his speech, it was subject to interpretation.
To be sure, MSNBC has its hyperbolic moments, its magnifying glass has certainly been misdirected from time to time. But, by and large, MSNBC has nowhere near the ant burning prowess of Fox News. I think any regular viewer of The Daily Show would concur, its host would agree with that sentiment.
For those gathered on the National Mall and watching the rally on television, Oct. 30, the message conveyed by its organizers went beyond an assessment of blame. Rather, Stewart, I believe, was offering a reminder that, despite our differences, Americans cooperate on a daily basis and have for some time. Sometimes viewing the world through a cable news lens makes that easy to forget.
Regarding Stewart’s assessment of the American news media as ‘broken’, can anyone say with confidence that he was wrong? Last week I highlighted Maddow’s take down of conservative media outlets for its self sustaining ability to proliferate false news narratives. Within the Nov. 5 segment, Maddow lamented the inability of conventional news outlets to penetrate and effectively debunk such narratives, even when their spuriousness is easily made plain.
… there have always been myths and lies around American politics. But there used to be a process of debunking those things… But the debunking process is gone now. No non-right wing information is allowed to be used to debunk right wing information. So, if conservatives self-confirm something as fact in their close circuit media world, it’s fact to them…
The loss of the inability to debunk is as clear indicator that Stewart was correct. Even when there are proper, well intentioned, ethical news operations still in existence — and Rachel Maddow exemplifies all three — the news media in general, if not broken, is seriously malfunctioning.
Returning to Rachel’s upcoming interview of Stewart, I have no doubt the conversation will be cordial. Hopefully they’ll quickly move beyond the false equivalency skirmish and damaged ego and on to a more constructive discussion about how to fix it.
Watch Stewart’s speech or read the transcript and let me know what you think.
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Image via thedailyshow.com