Commentary Magazine


Topic: The Daily Show

Will ‘The Daily Show’ Be Doomed by Political Tone Deafness or Prejudice?

If the naming of a new host on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show yesterday was treated as bigger news than a comparable switch on a broadcast news show, it’s no surprise. The Daily Show may have more influence on the nation’s political discourse than most traditional journalism outlets. Indeed, as crazy as it may sound, it could be that those looking for an event comparable to Trevor Noah’s succeeding Jon Stewart might have to go back to Dan Rather following in the footsteps of Walter Cronkite on CBS in 1981. But with such outsized influence comes the same level of scrutiny. Within hours of his appointment being publicized, observers were rightly wondering how a South African with little knowledge of American politics could replace Stewart. Just as important, an examination of Noah’s tweets revealed him to be someone who traffics in bad jokes at the expense of women and Jews as well as showing signs of the anti-Israel prejudices so prevalent in his country. All of which shows that The Daily Show’s odd reign at the center of American political life may be coming to an end.

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If the naming of a new host on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show yesterday was treated as bigger news than a comparable switch on a broadcast news show, it’s no surprise. The Daily Show may have more influence on the nation’s political discourse than most traditional journalism outlets. Indeed, as crazy as it may sound, it could be that those looking for an event comparable to Trevor Noah’s succeeding Jon Stewart might have to go back to Dan Rather following in the footsteps of Walter Cronkite on CBS in 1981. But with such outsized influence comes the same level of scrutiny. Within hours of his appointment being publicized, observers were rightly wondering how a South African with little knowledge of American politics could replace Stewart. Just as important, an examination of Noah’s tweets revealed him to be someone who traffics in bad jokes at the expense of women and Jews as well as showing signs of the anti-Israel prejudices so prevalent in his country. All of which shows that The Daily Show’s odd reign at the center of American political life may be coming to an end.

In an era in which humor seems to be more important than analysis or reporting, Stewart became the king of commentary. Throughout his long run, Stewart amassed a huge audience, many of whom relied on his often vulgar and consistently left-leaning rants and “reports” consisting of heavily edited interviews with leading figures for their news. Indeed, Stewart’s impact on American politics was greater than his audience since clips of his routines on leading issues of the day were widely distributed via social media. Liberals relied upon him to confirm their prejudices about the right while conservatives would seize upon those moments when he would skewer the left as indications of when their opponents had gone too far.

But while his takes on the news were more often wrong-headed than insightful, they were also the product of a clear command of American politics. While Noah can certainly pander to the same liberal biases that Stewart reflected, it’s difficult to see how his sensibilities can possibly have the same outsized influence of Stewart. Since the show’s producers know this, perhaps what they want is more of an international feel to the show and less American political knowhow. But it is precisely this tilt to international prejudices as opposed to domestic liberal angst that is the source of the growing concern about Noah.

Taking issue with political satire is a fool’s errand. Stewart’s barbs are not intended to be sober commentary or analysis. They are polemical broadsides meant to confirm the views of most of his left-leaning audience and to offend those on the other side of the issues. Though his lapses into pure empty-headed liberal prejudice and attacks on Israel are indefensible, he generally knew that there was a line that had to be drawn between his satire and more rabid, prejudicial material. That is precisely why Noah’s tweets about Israeli belligerence or Jewish stereotypes are so troubling. For all of his obvious shortcomings and the dubious nature of his authoritative position, he rarely if ever sank as low as to make jokes about overweight women or Jews in the manner that Noah seems to have employed.

There’s a huge audience for this kind of thing in the entertainment marketplace. In comedy, the only thing that counts is funny and if Noah generates laughs on the same scale as his predecessor, he will succeed.

But even in the world of cable comedy playing off the news, the cracks about Jews and women are not likely to strike the same chord as Stewart’s jibes. Even if Noah’s politics are roughly similar, by tapping someone with very different sensibilities than those of Stewart, it remains to be seen as to how Noah’s approach can possibly maintain The Daily Show’s position as the arbiter of liberal political cool. Though his coronation as the new host was a huge deal, the betting here is that his eventual replacement will not be considered quite as important. The ascendancy of this program illustrates the changing nature of the media and American politics. But if Noah flops, whether through tone deafness about American politics or by letting slip the crude anti-Semitism that comes through in his tweets, it can change just as quickly again.

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Liberals to Exit the ‘Daily Show’ Biodome

The real challenge in writing about Jon Stewart’s announcement that he’s leaving the Daily Show is the fact that every time you think you’ve seen the perfect hysterical reaction from the left, someone else tops it. I was sure that when the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty tweeted yesterday that “For people under 30, Jon Stewart leaving the Daily Show is the equivalent of the Beatles breaking up,” the silliness had already reached its apex. But of course, I was the silly one for thinking that.

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The real challenge in writing about Jon Stewart’s announcement that he’s leaving the Daily Show is the fact that every time you think you’ve seen the perfect hysterical reaction from the left, someone else tops it. I was sure that when the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty tweeted yesterday that “For people under 30, Jon Stewart leaving the Daily Show is the equivalent of the Beatles breaking up,” the silliness had already reached its apex. But of course, I was the silly one for thinking that.

Because then I was directed toward the New York Times front page, where the Stewart news and the news about NBC’s Brian Williams being suspended (for apparently fabricating war stories) shared a headline: “Williams Suspended, at Low Point in His Career; Stewart to Depart at High Point.” But that absurdity, too, could be improved upon. You might think it’s unfair to Williams–who was an actual news anchor, on a network news program–to be lumped in with the comedian who hosts a clip show of actual news reports to make fun of them. But that’s not how the news media themselves saw it. CNN’s Christiane Amanpour highlighted the shared headline and tweeted:

Screen shot 2015-02-11 at 5.24.12 PM

There really was something amazing about that comment. Stewart became enormously successful by showing clips of people like Amanpour and then making faces at the camera. Yet Amanpour readily suggests that it’s the comedian, and not the network news anchor, who has “authority” to speak on the issues of the day. It tells you something not just about Stewart, but about the media in general.

In that sense, the Williams suspension really does belong in the same breath as the Stewart departure, at least as far as the press is concerned. If reports are true, they’re both satirizing, in their own way, the news. One of them is just being open about it. And it is the fake newsman who is truly admired, because his fake news confirms the left’s ideological predispositions. It does not seem to dawn on liberals what follows from this: the fact that to bring their worldview in line with the news, it has to be fabricated.

Stewart is a form of escapism, then, for the left. But he’s been around so long, and become such an “authority” (at least according to CNN; keep that in mind for future reference), that they stopped escaping into his reality for a half hour a night and instead simply moved there. At some point during the Bush administration, the left simply decamped and took up permanent residence in StewartWorld–a world that Stewart himself, repeatedly, stressed was fake.

But you could also see how they could be fooled. Stewart put real effort into creating this false reality. For example, one of the most controversial interviews Stewart conducted was with Jonah Goldberg. It was not controversial because Goldberg is conservative; it was controversial because the interview ran long and Stewart handed the tape over to Edward Scissorhands to edit. The resulting mashup was choppy and disconcerting, and it turned out that that was because Stewart had to stack the deck. “Largely left on the cutting-room floor,” Goldberg explained later, “were some important points that might have made my book seem a bit more nuanced.”

If you’ve watched the Daily Show over the years you’ll understand why Stewart did that. A fair fight is one that leaves Stewart at a deep disadvantage. John Yoo, Cliff May, and other conservatives ran circles around Stewart when he brought them on the show. (May famously left Stewart so punch drunk the staggering host called Harry Truman a war criminal, for which he apologized soon after.)

Now compare what Stewart did to Goldberg with how he treated Elizabeth Warren on her first appearance on the Daily Show. Warren was nervous and unprepared, as this Vox piece explains:

And her nervousness shows — she hesitates before she answers, and she even forgets the name of a TARP program she herself was trying to explain to him. In her memoir, Warren herself characterizes the first part of the interview as “terrible.”

So what did Stewart do? He “rearranged his show to give her more time,” and coached her on her messaging. Of course he did.

It became a well-known accepted fact, at least among non-leftists brave enough to be interviewed for sketches on the show, that the Daily Show producers simply re-cut interviews dishonestly in order to make it look like their marks said ridiculous or offensive things. (Here’s a column on it from Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle titled “Don’t Ever Appear on ‘The Daily Show’.”)

So what do liberals do now that, about a decade after running out of jokes, Stewart’s throwing in the towel? There will be a period of mourning, sure. But in the long run, it has to be helpful for them to be forced out of the StewartWorld and back into reality. (Comedy Central may try replacing him, but as the reactions to Stewart’s departure show–“the Beatles,” etc.–StewartWorld requires Stewart to possess its full force and “authority.”) My hope is that we’ll see a transformation similar to what happened to the Truman Show’s lead when he realizes it’s all fake and there’s a whole (real) world out there. Perhaps they’ll challenge the limits of the biodome they’ve called home and venture out in search of the truth.

Or maybe it’ll be too much for them. But I think even if they struggle at first, they’ll adjust. The real world can be exhausting for a follower of Jon Stewart, but it’s worth the effort.

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Liberals and the Federal Favor Trap

Many conservatives have a conflicted attitude toward Jon Stewart. He can be clever, and he sometimes trains his sights on Democratic foibles, but for the most part the ridicule on his show is aimed at conservatives in public life. But Stewart’s transformation over the years into a hectoring, standard-issue liberal means his monologues and interviews often demonstrate clearly and pithily what conservatives don’t like about the big-government left.

And he did so last night, in his extended interview with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Stewart, ever in search of Republican hypocrisy, tried to tag Christie with the label because Christie accepted federal disaster relief funds after Hurricane Sandy but balked at setting up a state Obamacare exchange. This is how the conversation went:

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Many conservatives have a conflicted attitude toward Jon Stewart. He can be clever, and he sometimes trains his sights on Democratic foibles, but for the most part the ridicule on his show is aimed at conservatives in public life. But Stewart’s transformation over the years into a hectoring, standard-issue liberal means his monologues and interviews often demonstrate clearly and pithily what conservatives don’t like about the big-government left.

And he did so last night, in his extended interview with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Stewart, ever in search of Republican hypocrisy, tried to tag Christie with the label because Christie accepted federal disaster relief funds after Hurricane Sandy but balked at setting up a state Obamacare exchange. This is how the conversation went:

Stewart: So New Jersey is in trouble, and it needs the federal government to step in. And you go to them and you say I need this amount of money. And there’s some horse-trading. But for the most part, they’re going to deliver at least $30 billion to the state of New Jersey, wouldn’t you say? Or maybe even a little more?

Christie: I’m hopeful.

Stewart: At the same time, they want to set up exchanges for health insurance in New Jersey, and you don’t want to do that.

Christie: Well, I don’t want to do it right now.

Stewart: When they’re doing it.

Christie: Well, no. Here’s the issue, Jon, and why I vetoed it. I’m asking them a bunch of questions about how much this is going to cost and everything else, and they won’t answer my questions.

They argued for a bit about whether the Obama administration was being forthcoming enough, and how much money it would ultimately cost New Jersey to set up the exchange. Here is Stewart’s response:

Stewart: So my point to you is, but when you need it for hurricane relief, they don’t come to you and say: But wait a minute, how exactly is this going to go? What is the money going to go for? How are you going to spend it?

Christie: Sure they do.

Forget for a moment that Stewart was wrong, as Christie pointed out, and just peer into the mind of a contemporary liberal. Sure, the government will be happy to help the stranded, the people who just lost everything in a natural disaster, the people with nowhere to go. But first, says the liberal, don’t you think you should do something for the president?

Everything comes with strings attached, even in the case of a natural disaster. Christie pointed out that not setting up a state health-care exchange doesn’t prevent people from getting insurance through the federal exchange the government would set up instead. And he reminded Stewart that when other hurricanes and natural disasters hit around the country, the federal help to those states was paid for in part through New Jersey taxpayer dollars, so this is hardly a case of the victims being greedy.

Later on in the interview, the two came back to this subject. Stewart said he thinks Republicans don’t want the government to do anything unless they themselves need it, in which case their needs rise above those of others. Here’s the example Stewart puts forth to make his stand:

Stewart: For instance, two wars that were not paid for with tax cuts and all those things, yet God forbid a woman wants birth control paid for on her health-care plan, that’s government waste. Not everybody believes that their tax dollars are being paid correctly, but we live in a society.

Christie: But now what prevents us though, and what’s destructive about having a debate about that?

Christie’s answer was appropriate: Welcome, Jon Stewart, to a democracy. But notice Stewart’s logic: If fighting a war to defend the United States is the government’s responsibility, then so is taxpayer-funded birth control. If government’s job is to do anything, then its job is to do everything. And when the government helps its citizens, it expects that favor to be returned.

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‘Spontaneous Eruption of Pro-Mubarak Sentiment’

Here’s America’s best satirist, Jon Stewart, on the “spontaneous eruption of pro-Mubarak sentiment from everyday Egyptians trained in the art of whip-based crowd control.”

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Mess O’Slightly-to-the-Left O’Potamia – Pro-Mubarak Demonstrators
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> The Daily Show on Facebook

Here’s America’s best satirist, Jon Stewart, on the “spontaneous eruption of pro-Mubarak sentiment from everyday Egyptians trained in the art of whip-based crowd control.”

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Mess O’Slightly-to-the-Left O’Potamia – Pro-Mubarak Demonstrators
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> The Daily Show on Facebook

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What We Had Here Was Not a Failure to Communicate

The day before the election, the New York Review of Books posted a rant about right-wing radio and TV hosts by Yale professor David Bromwich.

Regarding Rush Limbaugh, Bromwich mixed faux analysis (“Limbaugh seldom speaks overtly about race,” but “no careful listener can doubt that race is an element”) with personal insults (Limbaugh is a “demagogue” with a “sadistic streak” who “mixes truth and falsehood at pleasure” and is “almost infantile in his self-love”). Bromwich’s analysis of Glenn Beck was that he is a “charlatan” with an “alarmingly incoherent personality” who exerts his “strongest enchantment” when he “goes awry.” Nuanced.

It was surprising to see an article composed of little more than ad hominem attacks published in a journal with intellectual pretensions — but perhaps it simply reflected the well-known fact that left-wing intellectuals are hard-wired to write like that when they are scared.

Bromwich’s piece was a reminder of the leftist tendency to oscillate between love of the people in the abstract and disappointment in actually existing people. Two years ago, the people who attended Obama rallies were the people we were waiting for; two years later, the president’s press secretary told them to get drug-tested, the vice president lectured them to stop whining, and the president warned them he was beginning to think they were not serious. And those were the supporters; opponents were branded class enemies.

Bromwich attributes Obama’s political problems not to his policies or programs but to the absence of an effective communications strategy:

Looking back, one feels it was an astonishing negligence for the Obama White House to embark on a campaign for national health care without a solid strategy for fighting the tenacious opposition it could expect at the hands of Fox radio and TV.

Bromwich does not indicate what the strategy should have been — only that it should have been solid (solid strategies are the best kind). But if you can’t convince the public of your program when you have the mainstream media (CBS, NBC, ABC), public television (PBS), the most established cable news network (CNN), the “news” show most watched by young voters (The Daily Show), and unlimited access to the bully pulpit, it is not likely that your problem was the hands of a single network. More likely it was the people.

The day before the election, the New York Review of Books posted a rant about right-wing radio and TV hosts by Yale professor David Bromwich.

Regarding Rush Limbaugh, Bromwich mixed faux analysis (“Limbaugh seldom speaks overtly about race,” but “no careful listener can doubt that race is an element”) with personal insults (Limbaugh is a “demagogue” with a “sadistic streak” who “mixes truth and falsehood at pleasure” and is “almost infantile in his self-love”). Bromwich’s analysis of Glenn Beck was that he is a “charlatan” with an “alarmingly incoherent personality” who exerts his “strongest enchantment” when he “goes awry.” Nuanced.

It was surprising to see an article composed of little more than ad hominem attacks published in a journal with intellectual pretensions — but perhaps it simply reflected the well-known fact that left-wing intellectuals are hard-wired to write like that when they are scared.

Bromwich’s piece was a reminder of the leftist tendency to oscillate between love of the people in the abstract and disappointment in actually existing people. Two years ago, the people who attended Obama rallies were the people we were waiting for; two years later, the president’s press secretary told them to get drug-tested, the vice president lectured them to stop whining, and the president warned them he was beginning to think they were not serious. And those were the supporters; opponents were branded class enemies.

Bromwich attributes Obama’s political problems not to his policies or programs but to the absence of an effective communications strategy:

Looking back, one feels it was an astonishing negligence for the Obama White House to embark on a campaign for national health care without a solid strategy for fighting the tenacious opposition it could expect at the hands of Fox radio and TV.

Bromwich does not indicate what the strategy should have been — only that it should have been solid (solid strategies are the best kind). But if you can’t convince the public of your program when you have the mainstream media (CBS, NBC, ABC), public television (PBS), the most established cable news network (CNN), the “news” show most watched by young voters (The Daily Show), and unlimited access to the bully pulpit, it is not likely that your problem was the hands of a single network. More likely it was the people.

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The Comedy Central President

Timothy Noah at left-leaning Slate is nervous about the upcoming Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart rally:

There’s still a lot we don’t fully understand about the Tea Partiers and the political independents who have lost faith in Obama. But one thing we should all be pretty clear on by now is that they hate, hate, hate anything that smacks of elitism. The spectacle of affluent 18-to-34-year-olds blanketing the Mall to snicker at jokes about wingnut ignoramuses and Bible thumpers will, I fear, have the effect of a red cape waved before a bull. Stewart and Colbert aren’t supposed to want to affect the midterm elections, and for the most part I believe they don’t. But let Republicans regain the House (and maybe even the Senate) in part because Comedy Central used mockery not merely to burlesque political protest but also, to some inevitable extent, to practice it—and I think Stewart and Colbert will be sorry they came.

Well, if it will make him feel better, the House is already pretty much lost, and the Senate isn’t going to be decided by sneering comics. It does, however, remind us that the “cool” set was originally entranced with the “cool” candidate Obama. Why? Well, aside from liberalism (Hillary Clinton had that after all), they shared a contempt for the Bible-and-gun huggers, a suspicion that their fellow citizens were dolts and racists, and a confidence that they were smarter than just about anyone else. Appropriately, in the final week of the campaign, Obama is appearing on The Daily Show. The host and his audience are indeed the president’s base.

Noah is nervous that it’s dangerous to the liberals’ cause to take this act out in public, where the voters might get the idea that Obama’s supporters are snickering at them. Well, they are. And Obama’s affinity for those who ooze contempt for Americans goes a long way toward explaining why he is now so estranged from the people he seeks to lead.

Timothy Noah at left-leaning Slate is nervous about the upcoming Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart rally:

There’s still a lot we don’t fully understand about the Tea Partiers and the political independents who have lost faith in Obama. But one thing we should all be pretty clear on by now is that they hate, hate, hate anything that smacks of elitism. The spectacle of affluent 18-to-34-year-olds blanketing the Mall to snicker at jokes about wingnut ignoramuses and Bible thumpers will, I fear, have the effect of a red cape waved before a bull. Stewart and Colbert aren’t supposed to want to affect the midterm elections, and for the most part I believe they don’t. But let Republicans regain the House (and maybe even the Senate) in part because Comedy Central used mockery not merely to burlesque political protest but also, to some inevitable extent, to practice it—and I think Stewart and Colbert will be sorry they came.

Well, if it will make him feel better, the House is already pretty much lost, and the Senate isn’t going to be decided by sneering comics. It does, however, remind us that the “cool” set was originally entranced with the “cool” candidate Obama. Why? Well, aside from liberalism (Hillary Clinton had that after all), they shared a contempt for the Bible-and-gun huggers, a suspicion that their fellow citizens were dolts and racists, and a confidence that they were smarter than just about anyone else. Appropriately, in the final week of the campaign, Obama is appearing on The Daily Show. The host and his audience are indeed the president’s base.

Noah is nervous that it’s dangerous to the liberals’ cause to take this act out in public, where the voters might get the idea that Obama’s supporters are snickering at them. Well, they are. And Obama’s affinity for those who ooze contempt for Americans goes a long way toward explaining why he is now so estranged from the people he seeks to lead.

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Obama: Beyond Mocking No More

On yesterday’s The Daily Show, Jon Stewart has some fun at the expense of Barack Obama, announcing A** Quest 2010. Go to the three-minute mark to see Stewart aim his wit and humor at Obama (though the entire bit is worth watching).

Stewart, who is liberal, is one of the great satirists and comedians in the world today. (He is also more intellectually honest than many of the liberal commentators who continue to make comically stupid excuses on behalf of their “sort of God.”) When Stewart goes after President Obama in the manner he does, it tells you how much things are changing. Once upon a time, Barack Obama was thought to be beyond mocking. No more. (h/t: Ed Morrissey/HotAir)

On yesterday’s The Daily Show, Jon Stewart has some fun at the expense of Barack Obama, announcing A** Quest 2010. Go to the three-minute mark to see Stewart aim his wit and humor at Obama (though the entire bit is worth watching).

Stewart, who is liberal, is one of the great satirists and comedians in the world today. (He is also more intellectually honest than many of the liberal commentators who continue to make comically stupid excuses on behalf of their “sort of God.”) When Stewart goes after President Obama in the manner he does, it tells you how much things are changing. Once upon a time, Barack Obama was thought to be beyond mocking. No more. (h/t: Ed Morrissey/HotAir)

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RE: Newsweek Squeak

John, I wanted to follow up on your post on Newsweek by linking to this interview between Jon Meacham and Jon Stewart on The Daily Show [it can be found here and here]. During it, Meacham says this:

I do not believe that Newsweek is the only catcher in the rye between democracy and ignorance, but I think we’re one of them. And I don’t think there are that many on the edge of that cliff.

Ah, no.

For years I had subscribed to Newsweek, though I dropped the subscription last year, when I thought the magazine took a dive for the worst. I found the “new” Newsweek to be horrible in layout and in many (though certainly not all) of the writers it regularly featured. Jacob Weisberg and Jonathan Alter are not vital to the success of the American Republic. Trust me.

Regardless of your views about the quality of Newsweek, though, the notion that it is one of the “few catchers in the rye between democracy and ignorance” is risible. It was a liberal-leaning newsmagazine that mirrored almost perfectly the conventional wisdom of the political class. It was not, and never has been, indispensible, close to indispensible, or marginally indispensible. In fact, American democracy and American public discourse will not be one bit worse off when it disappears from the scene.

My three children will do fine growing up in a world without Newsweek.

Meacham also insisted that Newsweek has been “one of the very few common denominators in a fragmented world.” It actually has not been that.

Newsweek represented a point of view that was philosophically liberal. In some years it did that better than in other years. But it was not a “common denominator” for us, as much as Meacham wishes it were. And I, for one, believe the “fragmented” media world we live in is far superior to the one that came before it. The consensus that existed among journalists when their profession was dominated by Time and Newsweek, by ABC, NBC, and CBS, by the New York Times and the Washington Post, was stupefying. The narratives were virtually all the same because the worldviews of reporters were almost all the same. What we had were a “herd of independent minds” trying to tell us how to think, which stories were worthy of our attention, and how to process those stories.

Today we live in a far more interesting, variegated, and informed world. There are now genuine clashes of ideas — and facts can now be checked in a way they never were in the past. (See Dan Rather’s and CBS’s reliance on bogus documents for a “60 Minutes” report charging that President Bush received favorable treatment in the National Guard, something that two decades ago could have cost Bush the presidency instead of Rather his job.)

It isn’t a perfect world by any means. And I’m not in favor of a world in which there are only commentators, only bloggers, only opinion-makers. We still need newspapers and news organizations that report and break news. For example, the New York Times, whatever its drawbacks, still provides excellent coverage of international affairs. During the Iraq war reporters like John Burns, Dexter Filkins, and Michael Gordon provided outstanding coverage.

We still need journalists reporting on oil wells that explode and leak, British elections being held, wars being fought, genocide unfolding, riots occurring in Greece, and all the rest. The good news is that we live in a world that features both “hard news” and informed commentary, to a degree we have never had before.

In that respect, what we have today is a vast improvement over the past. It also means that the truth and reality of the world in which we live has a better chance of being apprehended by the American citizenry.

I can understand on a personal and a professional level why Jon Meacham is shattered by what has happened to his magazine. But it is a tragedy for Newsweek, not for America — and not for American journalism.

John, I wanted to follow up on your post on Newsweek by linking to this interview between Jon Meacham and Jon Stewart on The Daily Show [it can be found here and here]. During it, Meacham says this:

I do not believe that Newsweek is the only catcher in the rye between democracy and ignorance, but I think we’re one of them. And I don’t think there are that many on the edge of that cliff.

Ah, no.

For years I had subscribed to Newsweek, though I dropped the subscription last year, when I thought the magazine took a dive for the worst. I found the “new” Newsweek to be horrible in layout and in many (though certainly not all) of the writers it regularly featured. Jacob Weisberg and Jonathan Alter are not vital to the success of the American Republic. Trust me.

Regardless of your views about the quality of Newsweek, though, the notion that it is one of the “few catchers in the rye between democracy and ignorance” is risible. It was a liberal-leaning newsmagazine that mirrored almost perfectly the conventional wisdom of the political class. It was not, and never has been, indispensible, close to indispensible, or marginally indispensible. In fact, American democracy and American public discourse will not be one bit worse off when it disappears from the scene.

My three children will do fine growing up in a world without Newsweek.

Meacham also insisted that Newsweek has been “one of the very few common denominators in a fragmented world.” It actually has not been that.

Newsweek represented a point of view that was philosophically liberal. In some years it did that better than in other years. But it was not a “common denominator” for us, as much as Meacham wishes it were. And I, for one, believe the “fragmented” media world we live in is far superior to the one that came before it. The consensus that existed among journalists when their profession was dominated by Time and Newsweek, by ABC, NBC, and CBS, by the New York Times and the Washington Post, was stupefying. The narratives were virtually all the same because the worldviews of reporters were almost all the same. What we had were a “herd of independent minds” trying to tell us how to think, which stories were worthy of our attention, and how to process those stories.

Today we live in a far more interesting, variegated, and informed world. There are now genuine clashes of ideas — and facts can now be checked in a way they never were in the past. (See Dan Rather’s and CBS’s reliance on bogus documents for a “60 Minutes” report charging that President Bush received favorable treatment in the National Guard, something that two decades ago could have cost Bush the presidency instead of Rather his job.)

It isn’t a perfect world by any means. And I’m not in favor of a world in which there are only commentators, only bloggers, only opinion-makers. We still need newspapers and news organizations that report and break news. For example, the New York Times, whatever its drawbacks, still provides excellent coverage of international affairs. During the Iraq war reporters like John Burns, Dexter Filkins, and Michael Gordon provided outstanding coverage.

We still need journalists reporting on oil wells that explode and leak, British elections being held, wars being fought, genocide unfolding, riots occurring in Greece, and all the rest. The good news is that we live in a world that features both “hard news” and informed commentary, to a degree we have never had before.

In that respect, what we have today is a vast improvement over the past. It also means that the truth and reality of the world in which we live has a better chance of being apprehended by the American citizenry.

I can understand on a personal and a professional level why Jon Meacham is shattered by what has happened to his magazine. But it is a tragedy for Newsweek, not for America — and not for American journalism.

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Hillary with Jon Stewart

Hillary Clinton took time out last night to appear on “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart. Neither she or he was all that funny, but–perhaps because her voice was raspy and she looked utterly exhausted–she came across quite sympathetically. She is obviously fighting for her political life. Stewart gave her a small hand in the “hope is overrated” department by joking that he’s been “clicking his ruby slippers together” without result. In the second part of the interview, she made her case for staying in the race, arguing that “big states” like Pennsylvania are important to the Democrats and deserve a say in who the nominee will be. She also claimed that her husband did not wrap up the race until June during his 1992 campaign. Unless she loses both big states today, I think it highly unlikely she will be leaving the race anytime soon.

Hillary Clinton took time out last night to appear on “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart. Neither she or he was all that funny, but–perhaps because her voice was raspy and she looked utterly exhausted–she came across quite sympathetically. She is obviously fighting for her political life. Stewart gave her a small hand in the “hope is overrated” department by joking that he’s been “clicking his ruby slippers together” without result. In the second part of the interview, she made her case for staying in the race, arguing that “big states” like Pennsylvania are important to the Democrats and deserve a say in who the nominee will be. She also claimed that her husband did not wrap up the race until June during his 1992 campaign. Unless she loses both big states today, I think it highly unlikely she will be leaving the race anytime soon.

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The Right Laugh Track

Don’t fret too much if you missed Sunday night’s debut of The 1/2 Hour News Hour. The program—Fox News Channel’s answer to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart—was awful, not a real contender against its Comedy Central rival. It wasn’t just that the jokes on the Fox spoof often failed. That’s par for the course in satire, political or otherwise. It’s that the whole atmosphere of the show was grimly, thuddingly unfunny. The question is, why?

For Alessandra Stanley, the chief TV critic of the New York Times, the problem was the show’s conservative slant—that is, its single-minded focus on targets like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and global warming. The debut completely spares Dick Cheney and President Bush, the constant foils for Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart. As Stanley complained, “The Fox News comedy only leans on the Left.” For his part, the show’s creator, Joel Surnow, one of Hollywood’s few outspokenly right-wing big wigs, is happy to admit that The 1/2 Hour News Hour is “unabashedly coming from a certain point of view. . . . We’re not looking to be balanced.”

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Don’t fret too much if you missed Sunday night’s debut of The 1/2 Hour News Hour. The program—Fox News Channel’s answer to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart—was awful, not a real contender against its Comedy Central rival. It wasn’t just that the jokes on the Fox spoof often failed. That’s par for the course in satire, political or otherwise. It’s that the whole atmosphere of the show was grimly, thuddingly unfunny. The question is, why?

For Alessandra Stanley, the chief TV critic of the New York Times, the problem was the show’s conservative slant—that is, its single-minded focus on targets like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and global warming. The debut completely spares Dick Cheney and President Bush, the constant foils for Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart. As Stanley complained, “The Fox News comedy only leans on the Left.” For his part, the show’s creator, Joel Surnow, one of Hollywood’s few outspokenly right-wing big wigs, is happy to admit that The 1/2 Hour News Hour is “unabashedly coming from a certain point of view. . . . We’re not looking to be balanced.”


But partisan bias isn’t what ruined the show’s debut. Some of the problem was simple execution. Surnow’s fame rests on the runaway success of his action show 24. But his infallible instinct for quick-cut, split-screen drama doesn’t translate into comic timing. Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter make cameo appearances to open the show, pretending to be President and VP circa 2009, and the piece could not have been more leaden. As for the faux anchors behind the news desk, they do one awkwardly scripted set piece after another, interrupted only by a maniacally fake laugh track. Almost no footage of real politicians and activists is used to vary the tempo and lend some verisimilitude to the newscast.

In fact—and here, I think, lies the show’s deeper defect—The 1/2 Hour News Hour seems much less interested in politics per se than in scoring ideological points. The most effective bits on The Daily Show often consist of little more than cleverly juxtaposing quick clips of Bush, Cheney, John Kerry, or Nancy Pelosi doing what politicians do—pontificating, evading, euphemizing. Very often, all the host has to add is a quizzical look or a sly remark.

The Fox show, by contrast, aims to advance arguments and knock down prejudices. It is just as earnest in mocking the ACLU, anti-smoking crusaders, and “angry lesbians” as those groups are in advancing their own agendas. And earnestness, Left or Right, simply isn’t funny.

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