>After the latest Jon Stewart beat down of a media lowlife (in this case, an entire channel, CNBC, as represented by Jim Cramer and Rick Santelli) for providing entertainment and calling it news, a similar script is playing out that did when he went on Crossfire to tell Carlson and Begala “You are hurting America”
Here is the original Daily Show video collage of CNBC missing the boat on the financial crisis, Cramer going on Scarborough Country to complain, and the entire episode when Cramer came on, or only the full Jim Cramer interview (it had to be edited down). You must watch the entire interview. You just must do it. Honestly, it is just great great television. It also works very well because Cramer actually takes Stewart and the interview seriously and makes some of the typical media arguments well enough for Jon to very effectively skewer those ideas. In this interview (not having watched his show) he is actually somewhat sympathetic, in that he is genuinely regretful. That is an emotion that I don’t think I have seen on television. Because Jon is clearly using Cramer as an example here (“this song isn’t about you”), unlike Crossfire, but as an example of the whole us vs them attitude (in this case main street vs. wall street) and the assumption that we have the media is on our side, when, as Jon points out, not only are they not on our side, but they are sitting on the sides, watching us get cheated, and cheering for the other side. This really holds true for just about every bit of media out there, in terms of this crisis (or even the disaster of the last eight years). Maybe if they were actually on our side, we would be willing to pay for the content that they provide, seeing it as valuable, instead of just buying stuff that they happen to advertise next to the news.
But back to the Jon Stewart media takedown script:
The “victim” expresses disbelief that someone who is “just a comedian” could criticize them.
Jon Stewart responds by saying exactly, I am just a comedian (I follow a show where puppets make crank calls) , you are supposed to be a journalist, reporting the news, not entertainment that has some sort of arbitrary and loose connection to the facts.
Jon always wins (or at least so far).
But they are both wrong.
Jon Stewart (and his underappreciated staff) are satirists.
He takes the media to task for providing entertainment, and calling it news, but he is providing the news, and calling it entertainment.
His viewers know this. The Daily Show bits have a kernel of truth. In fact, they are not really funny if you are not aware of the truth being mocked. And sometimes, when it is really good, you didn’t realize the truth until you saw it being mocked.
This kernel of truth is why he is actually more trusted than most “real” newsmen. It is not because people just think he is hilarious. This is why comedy is hard, because it is really a very delicate relationship which hinges on trust. Think about George Carlin.
Why can’t we compare him to Mark Twain, or Jonathan Swift, and call him the satirist of our time? The Onion is called a satirical newspaper. Why are Jon’s brilliant YouTube and cable news collages (by the way, a lot lower tech than you might think, scroll down to the 4th comment) not seen as incisive satire. It is high time we accepted that The Daily Show is a piece of media satire that would make Twain proud.
Acknowledging Stewart as a satirist would acknowledge his grasp of both political truths, but also that he has feelings about this. Given that his combination of these feelings (I think a bit of truth I remember about a long profile of him by Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times was along the lines of “we wake up really really angry in the morning, and have to make it funny by the afternoon”). This is when satirists shine, when there is a lot of stuff to be angry about. And there is never really a shrotage of those things.
One of the common talking points of his “victims” is that he is applying some sort of double standard, by only attacking people who aren’t on his side of the political spectrum. “Speaking truth to power” – Scarborough says this, and then say, hey, he picks on us little guys. But Jon Stewart’s response is that the media has power.
“CNBC could be an enormously powerful tool of illumination”
These cable news networks have the eyes and ears of their countrymen, that is power. Just ask the most powerful character in Catch-22, ex-Pfc Wintergreen, who controlled the mail room. Rush Limbaugh is owning up to his power (as being the current leader of the opposition party in this country), but somehow whenever cable media figures are caught like this by Jon Stewart, they do the “awww, poor little old me” routine.
Jon Stewart has earned our trust, as a layman, as someone who wakes up angry about the same things we are angry about. So when he says to Jim Cramer
“It feels like we are capitalizing your adventure” – we buy it, we let him speak for us, even though we know that he is not a layman, he is a millionaire himself. He hosted the Oscars! But we don’t call him a celebrity misusing his bully pulpit. Why? Because he earned his pulpit, by earning our trust. Not with pratfalls, silly faces and impressions (a running joke on the show is that his impressions are awful) but by waking up mad as hell, and making that anger into laughter, without patronizing us by side-stepping the truth of that anger.
I imagine Jon would say it doesn’t quite work if you take it too seriously. If he did this every week, it would start to get tiresome (although there are plenty of worthy targets). And we can stomach the anger with the sugar coating of silly photoshop puns, and there are some cheap laughs.
Ultimately, I think Jon is saving journalism, not only by practicing it, but by policing it. It is good to see that someone is putting the trust that they have built to good use.