Daily Show

Jon Stewart = Neil Postman

Oops...I guess I sort of left my regular readers hanging.  I promised this last week.  I found myself to be much busier than I expected last Thursday, and now I have sort of lost my energy for this post.  But since I said it was coming, here you go. Jon Stewart deals in what he calls “fake news.” He is thoroughly self-deprecating, and often laments that he is taken seriously by so many.  In reality The Daily Show is not so much “fake news” as it is commentary on the news.  Most of the Jon Stewart shtick is to point out how terrible news coverage is.  This video I linked to as a prelude to these thoughts illustrates this perfectly.  In it, he shows that CNN did a fact check on a Saturday Night Live sketch, while not even questioning a senator on his views of healthcare reform.  Then there is a barrage “leave it there” quotes.  This is the way that CNN doesn’t bother with fact checking.  They just bring in 2 points of view and debate.  Then end whenever it’s time for a commercial.

The daily show has repeatedly done critiques of the same sort on the networks and each of the cable news channels.

You might say that this is just rampant cynicism and not Neil Postman-like criticism of the news.  But even if it is just cynicism, it illustrates the same point – television news is in terrible condition.  Clearly Stewart is no Postman in terms of gravitas (to use a good cable-news word), and he is much more political, but his criticism is valid nonetheless.

The only thing lacking from Stewart’s criticism is the why.  Postman explained the why. News is terrible because the news organizations exist to make money, not to protect the first amendment.  If it is more profitable to show debates than truly look at the issues being debated, then debates will continue.  And Saturday Night Live is simply more interesting than charts and graphs looking at the financial impact of a given healthcare reform bill.

Neil Postman

I wonder if anyone who reads my blog has any idea who Neil Postman was? He was what I, and wikipedia, will call a cultural critic.  His most well-known book is Amusing Ourselves to Death, the thesis of which is that the ignorance and destruction of the future will not come in the way Orwell prophesied in Nineteen Eighty-Four, but the way Huxley prophesied in Brave New World.  That is to say, the downfall of intelligence is not in the form of oppression or governmental control, but in the form of a change in media to one that is enjoyed and desired, but consequently requires no thought.  In other words, our entertainment is making us stupid.

Also in Amusing Ourselves to Death Postman describes what he calls the age of show business.  He says that in this age, entertainment has become the greatest virtue of all, and the things that go with it must be accepted, whether good or bad, merely because they are necessary.  (e.g. Choosing the attractive news anchor over the articulate one.)  He explains how the terse nature of visual media, particularly television news, has the effect of removing the importance from every issue.  He even discusses how TV-izaition has resulted within other media forms.  The result is magazines with virtually no articles and newspapers with extremely short stories.  Postman claims this has destroyed news. Keep in mind that he wrote this book in 1985, long before the internet

He also cowrote a book with Steve Powers called How to Watch TV News.  I will give you the takeaways from the book more or less, straight from chapter one.  1.)TV is an unsleeping money machine. 2.) Management, not journalists, make news decisions based on business considerations. 3.) Decisions of what is newsworthy are based on what keeps viewers watching so that they will see commercials.

Tomorrow.  Why Jon Stewart is the modern Neil Postman

CNN responds to TWIT

Last week on This Week in Tech the panel had a prolonged discussion about how the "24 hour" cable news networks didn't cover the uprising over the Iranian elections whatsoever.  Twitter, however, had a lot of first-person information.  (Just have a look at the hashtag #Iranelection) Then today I saw this clip from the Daily Show

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John Stewart is busy making fun of CNN for never being accurate.  (I'm no CNN fan, but it's not quite a fair characterization.)  However, to me the story is that CNN is reacting to the criticism levelled against them by TWIT.  Namely that they have slipped into irrelevance and that the real news breaks on Twitter.  CNN is attempting to be relevant and timely.  They are also simultaneously trying to discredit Twitter and using it as their only source.  Any user of Twitter knows that it is really the quickest place to see breaking news.  It needs to be used as a reference rather than as a source, but when something happens (just look at Iran) you will see it there first.

At least CNN pretends to recognize this fact.  Even if they are being snarky about it, they know that there is news getting out of Iran mainly via Twitter.