Calhoun’s Can(n)ons, for April 3, 09
(Note: The Can(n)on’s print version will be on brief hiatus while The Bay News goes through some budget reconfigurations. Meanwhile, I’ll try to post here on the same bi-monthly schedule.)
A few years ago, I asked my sister where she got her news. With a straight face she said, “Jon Stewart’s, The Daily Show.” I thought she was joking. She wasn’t. So I started tuning in Comedy Central’s cable “fake” news show and discovered she was right. If you wanted to understand what was really going on, The Daily Show was the place to discover it.
The satirists and comic writers that make the show so deadly were some of the first to smell a rat in the ginned-up rush to war, and were relentless in pointing out the growing disconnect between what the Bush administration and the mainstream news was telling the American public. The show was also brilliant at deconstructing and satirizing just how much the mainstream news media had become propaganda or mere infotainment -- “theatre” in the literal sense of the word, complete with splashy, exciting graphics and the network’s specially composed “war news” theme music. And as for the carefully controlled “embedded” reporters, The Daily Show was merciless in presenting their own embeds -- fake reporters in their fake cammo-duds standing in front of fake green-screen projections reporting fake news with their faux-serious faces. It was the stuff of wicked satire that reminded the viewer that they really should take a closer, more critical look at the “real” news.
Even more astonishing, in the financial meltdown that left the mainstream media looking more than ever like the watchdog sleeping nowhere near the chicken coop, Jon Stewart turned into a credible newsman. The transformation began when Stewart and his band of merry writers stared asking an astonishingly simple question: Why didn’t CNBC, the cable show that’s all Wall Street, all the time, see this mess coming? After all, that’s all CNBC does – report 24/7on Wall Street’s every twitch and wiggle. Among some of the clips Stewart showed were ones of CNBC’s “Mad Money” man” Jim Cramer touting Bear Sterns shortly before that company tanked. Well, Cramer went on various other networks to whine and complain that Stewart was taking him out of context, which was the worst possible tack to take with a satirist with a large staff and endless video clips. Before long the kerfluffle was being played up in the mainstream media, and the stage was set for a fake confrontation on the fake news show.
But instead of silliness, what occurred was both sad and funny. Instead of pig’ bladders and funny beepers, once Jon Stewart had Jim Cramer in his sights, he suddenly turned into Edward R. Murrow and started asking the questions the mainstream media stopped asking years ago: Who is Cramer and CNCB serving? The American public or the corporations that own CNBC? What responsibility did CNBC (and, by extension the entire media) have to investigate Wall Street “shenanigans” – Cramer’s word. In short, with Cramer standing in for our entire media, there was the question – who do you serve?
The answer, of course, is found in a column by Alessandra Stanley in the New York Times, who correctly observes that “ . . Mr. Cramer and CNBC stood to profit from the [Daily Show] encounter. In today’s television news market, that cable network and its stars are like the financiers they cover: media short-sellers trading shamelessly on publicity, good or bad, so long as it drives up ratings. There isn’t enough regulation on Wall Street, and there’s hardly any accountability on cable news; it’s a 24-hour star system in which opinions – and showmanship – matter more than facts.”
A 24-hours star system in which opinions – and showmanship – and ratings and money – matter more than facts. Cable news, mainstream TV news, newspapers, talk radio, blogs and not a single watchdog serving the public good in sight: Just ratings and money and entertainment and whatever serves the corporate interests.
So, if you want to know what’s really going on, you have to watch a very funny fake news show. Which, come to think of it, is actually not funny at all.