By Joshua M. Patton
When does news become comedy or vice versa? The way I have watched the news in recent years is to watch all three of the big cable networks, take it to the Internet, and try to determine what part of the various reports are news and what parts of it are bullshit. The three cable news networks suit this manner of watching the news perfectly. CNN is always a good place to start, because they try to fit as many stories into one block of programming as possible. However, this leaves their discussions – specifically between the anchors and the pundits – to only scratch the surface of any significant story. MSNBC is clearly in the blue corner as most of their coverage is mostly favorable to the mainstream democratic agenda, Pat Buchannan notwithstanding. They do not hide their bias, but I feel they are rather responsible in presenting the issue before they start pontificating. Keith Olbermann is by far the worst of the lot. He makes broad leaps, but they always seem to spring from facts. I notice no outright deception. Their snide remarks can be rather witty and perhaps after a few years, it will become more of a serious outlet. And that leaves us with Fox News.
So when does comedy become news? The answer I would offer is when comedians have more integrity than the newscasters when it comes to truth-telling. To be fair, the truth is the basis for all great comedy or satire and unfortunately the same cannot be said about journalism. Two of the most renowned names in journalism, Pulitzer and Hearst, sensationalized stories and sometimes wrote outright lies to boost their circulation. This practice in journalism is largely credited for drawing the United States into the Spanish-American War, to liberate the Spanish colonies from Spain. It seems as if this is the business model of Fox News and it is working so effectively that Hearst and Pulitzer are either rolling in their graves or sporting huge boners.
For over 10 years, Comedy Central has made a late-night daily news satire the foundation of their entire primetime line-up. Since Jon Stewart and his staff have taken the helm of the show, the show became a mockery of all that is terrible about the news and the newsmakers. It was on the night of November 10, 2009 that The Daily Show may have ascended to the level of shows that it often satirizes. A clip from the Sean Hannity program was played where he and Congressional moron Michelle Bachmann discussed a rally that she held last week against healthcare. Footage played over their conversation and the first piece showed a few groups of people trickling towards the rally site on a clear fall day. Then with only the word, “Earlier” in the upper-left of the screen, a multitude of people were shown, however the trees and the sky were different from the first clip. At one point, Hannity comments about the respectable size of the crowd “for a Thursday.”
It didn’t stop there. The eagle-eyed staff at The Daily Show was able to discover when the exact same clip of video was shown: during a segment on the Glenn Beck program. The exact same shots of the crowd were shown at what was actually a tea-bagger rally. Hannity claimed it was an accident, taking only a few seconds at the end of his program to address the issue. Typically the problem many have with Fox News is that it skews events so that it best fits in with the particular narrative they are trying to deliver rather than analysis of the events of the day.However to deliberately mislead the viewing audience is perhaps the worst kind of Yellow Journalism.
While it makes me feel a little dirty to view it, I don’t actually mind the insertion of opinion into any news story, even on Fox News. Journalism is the watchdog of democracy and it requires two distinct elements to fulfill its responsibility to the average American. The first is that there be clear and factual coverage of the events of the day, regardless of the subject matter. As such, the perfect combination would be a mixture of facts, eyewitness reports, and/or interviews with the newsmakers themselves. The second leg of journalism is the pundits. Their opinions and analysis serve to explain the news that was just delivered so that the average American could understand them. A successful version of this would be a discussion between two reasonable people on either side of an issue moderated by an anchor with only the agenda of equal exposure in mind.
Sadly, that formula does not translate into huge ratings and advertising dollars. Thus the sensationalism and the general overtones of fear that seems to permeate throughout all of Fox News. Glenn Beck may be almost certifiably insane, but he knows how to work this formula. From his Strangelovian segment called “The War Room,” to his chalkboard talking points that often spell a word that explains what exactly is so terrifying.
For example, in one of these sessions Beck wrote a number of things on the board and began to circle the first letters of each word. Soon at the top of the board were the letters, O-L-I-G-A-R-H. He then said that there was one letter missing, so I thought the absence of the letter “C” was, inexplicably, on purpose. He then writes a letter “Y” on the board, presumably for “Oligarchy.” Later, when trying to explain this particular error, rather than laughing it off as a goof, he explains that he also intentionally left off the C because of all of President Obama’s “czars.” A “czar” is in charge of a particular government initiative, a position in the administration pioneered in a white cowboy hat by none other than the Gipper himself.
While the original meaning of “the fourth estate,” referred to the press against the other three estates of clergy, nobles, and commoners, an effective press is essentially a third branch of the government. Sadly, it seems that the fourth estate has become nothing other than a trashy reality show. How soon until we have the first season of “Who Wants to Be A Legislator?” where contestants go through challenges to earn a place on the ticket. No one votes in primary elections anyways; why not make it easier by dialing in your vote each week? Joke though this may be, we would at least get to see the core of these slick bastards that have the highest political ambitions. Who breaks what alliances? Which one drinks too much? And imagine the hook-ups! Instead we have journalists that repeat talking points given by political handlers and freely admit that what they are reporting is “spin.”
So it is up to comedians like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Bill Maher to ask the important questions that are not being asked by the mainstream media. However those that aren’t fans of this type of comedy are missing a significant part of the story outside of the pre-determined narrative that the producers of these news organizations are paid the big money to dream up. Or perhaps they transcribe what is given to them in a parchment hand-delivered by the wealthy and signed in the blood of the poor. Thus a parasitic vine of influence that has wound itself deep within the Legislative, Executive, and even Judicial branches of government, has also found its way into the media.
Religion and simple lust for power are all contributors to this problem, but without money the other two are powerless. Using a scheme that depends on lobbyists in Washington and the might of lucrative advertisers, it is becoming increasingly easier to buy a network. Network News in fact, a hulking dinosaur increasingly becoming irrelevant, is struggling to remain effective and that translates into trouble turning a profit. Of course profit is the business of business and it isn’t as if publicly financed media would make much sense. No the actual people to blame are everyday average Americans. The disinterest in political and current events, media laziness if you will, created a hole in the market that can only be filled by a large, snarling beast with blood on its teeth and coupons in its hands. We asked for this by skipping civics in high school, if you’re high school even offered the course. We asked for this because rather than take time to watch what is happening in reality, we escape to the reality of others in programming that rarely, if ever, looks is comparable to actual reality.
I believe in freedom of the press very deeply, that includes the freedom of certain media outlets to consist of only the opinions of bastards and assholes. Still there is a responsibility to the profession of journalism that seems to have been shoved into the corner, perhaps because of the influx of non-journalists getting the microphone for hours a day. The press has a duty to inform the people about what is happening and we the people have a responsibility to stay informed.That dirty, God-hating, Communist Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “Rules are not sacred, principles are.” It is okay to break the rules in journalism and honestly the best journalism usually comes from breaking the rules. Yet it is not okay to deviate from the basic principles inherent in responsible journalism: to educate, to inform, and to explain.
The goal of this column, this site, this entire movement of which Naked World Post is but a small part, is for the people of this country to be fairly represented in the halls of Congress and in print and on the airwaves. We don’t have time for bullshit or the pageantry of the whole relationship between politics and the media. A site like this is the best place for that. After this article there is a comment section where after you read this, you can add to the discussion. It’s democratic media. Join me each week to either examine what stories have been either gotten wrong in the media or not told at all. It is not all gloom and doom, my friends. I believe in this country and its people, one of the reasons I served in the military. To criticize one’s country and its officials is the exact opposite of un-American; it is practically patriotic as long as it is based on reason and solid moral or ethical ground.